No pads, no cleats -just a business suit

Though he enjoys playing football, USF's Ryan Gilliam prefers a career in the financial field.

Published December 21, 2007

TAMPA - It's not a scene you see often: A college football player runs to the sideline during practice to clarify a statement made to a reporter, to make sure he hasn't said anything that will merit a fine from the National Association of Securities Dealers.

Meet Ryan Gilliam, a senior cornerback who will be one of the fastest players on either team when USF meets Oregon in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31. He might also be the only one who has passed his Series 6 financial exams, or the only one with a coveted job lined up at Smith Barney.

He'll finish his college career in El Paso, Texas, against the school he attended for two seasons before transferring to the Bulls in 2005. Coach Jim Leavitt said he knew Gilliam had the speed and athleticism he wanted in a football player, but he liked him more for his potential in the classroom.

"I didn't really push him to do well in football or not do well in football," Leavitt said. "I just told him to come out and focus on (his) degree. He's gotten a couple of 4.0 averages, and as a football player, he's outstanding."

Gilliam is the rare college athlete who holds a job during his sport's season; he worked two days a week in the fall at the Tampa office of First Investors Corp., a financial firm, trading his pads for a suit each Tuesday and Thursday.

"It takes a lot to do that, and doesn't leave a lot of time for down time or social time," said Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon, who works in USF's athletic department and has been a mentor to Gilliam. "It's a very constructive use of his time, and when you hear about that, you just say, 'Man!' He's very organized and uses his time well."

Gilliam credits Selmon, the former Bucs star and USF athletic director who now works in fundraising for the Bulls, for his interest in the business world. Gilliam was inspired by the way Selmon continued his success after football, developing the chain of restaurants that bear his name.

"In his offseasons, he worked at a bank every year, and after he retired, he still worked at a bank," said Gilliam, 22. "I never was great with numbers, but I was always good with people. This is a field where you deal with both. He sparked my interest, and I did some research and found it to be something I thought I could be successful in."

Gilliam was a nationally touted recruit out of Tallahassee's Lincoln High but has never been able to meet those high expectations on the field - though at USF, he has been blocked by fellow seniors Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams, who are both expected to play in the NFL next season.

He has a career-high 14 tackles this season, but is a different kind of success story, someone other USF players can look to for answers on how to juggle the many demands of their busy schedule.

"The difficult part for me was trying to find time for football, my schoolwork, my wife and work," Gilliam said. "... It was hard this season, and my grades fell a little bit. I didn't get all A's; I'm going to get one B. My wife didn't leave me, and Leavitt's still letting me play a little, so I guess I pulled it off."

Gilliam said Leavitt has pushed him academically by using him as an example of a student-athlete, and that has given Gilliam more reason to excel. He has taken time to speak at area high schools, stressing the importance of education and taking advantage of opportunities.

"I wasn't always a great student. What drives me is if I don't do well in something, (my teammates) think they can't do it," Gilliam said. "... I don't think I'm anybody special, but when (Leavitt pushes me), it makes me be on top of my game."

Gilliam, who will soon be honored for the third straight year on the Big East All-Academic team, has finished his classwork for a degree in criminology and would like to be a CFO or a high-level investment banker. He sees a niche in handling assets for professional football players - some of his high school teammates are now in the NFL, including the Chargers' Antonio Cromartie and the Cowboys' Pat Watkins.

"They have a lot of money now, but they don't trust many people," Gilliam said. "Having someone in the field I'm in, I'm blessed to already have some clients (down the road)."

He starts in the spring in Tampa at Smith Barney, an international company that boasts nearly 10-million clients and more than $1.5-trillion in client assets. He hopes to stand out because of his personality and because of his background on the football field, where his role model got his start.

"I can't speak enough about Lee Roy Selmon," Gilliam said. "He's terrific. His stature, his character, the way he presents himself - I dream one day that when someone speaks of me, they'll speak of me like Lee Roy Selmon."