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Gillespie runs wild in starting debut

The junior, who replaced Earnest Graham, scores two TDs.

By DEBI JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- After teammate Robert Gillespie was named the starter for the Gators opening game Saturday, running back Earnest Graham said there were no hard feelings.

Gillespie, after starting three games last season, then proved why he was named the starter.

The junior rushed 17 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns to lead the rushing attack during Florida's 40-19 win against Ball State.

"We knew it was going to be one of those games where we'd have to control the ball on offense," Gillespie said. "We didn't feel like we played up to our expectations tonight. Coach (Steve) Spurrier was disappointed in our offense."

The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Gillespie's reign as the starting tailback was almost short-lived.

He sprained his right toe on a swing pass from quarterback Jesse Palmer late in the third quarter. Initially, Spurrier said Gillespie might miss the game against Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, but after a visit with the trainers, Gillespie said he would be good for the next game.

"Coaches say always be prepared," he said. "You just always have to be prepared because you never what is going to happen."

Gillespie also caught two passes for 22 yards and recovered a Bo Carroll fumble. After attempting to field a punt, Carroll dropped the ball and Gillespie fell on it.

At the time, the Gators were up by 14.

"It was a situation where my eyes got real big," he said.

Gillespie's performance was a personal best for the Hattiesburg, Miss., native. He surpassed his career high of 108 yards rushing and tied his high with two touchdowns.

Gillespie continued Florida's streak of having a 100-yard rusher in 63 games.

Running backs coach Lawson Holland said the backs played well but could use some improvement.

"(Gillespie) played pretty hard for the most part," he said. "I couldn't fault our effort. We've just got to play a little more aggressively."

The Gators rushed for 136 yards, the longest of 25 coming from Gillespie.

Graham, who rushed eight times for 19 yards, stood by the coaches' decision to name Gillespie the starter.

"Robert deserves it," Graham said. "He played the best in the scrimmage, he played better than I did."

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