Stuart Gillin fell in love with football when he was in second grade.
Every fall, the Gillin family would spend half their weekends in Pullman, watching the Washington State football team.
Gillin’s father, Albert, is the pastor at First Presbyterian in Walla Walla.
And when they moved to town a decade ago, a member of the church gave them season tickets.
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That love for the Cougars, football and a lot of hard work has led Gillin to a two-way starting role for the Blue Devils.
“If he can stay healthy and he can play like I think he can, he has a chance to go play somewhere,” Walla Walla coach Eric Hisaw said.
Gillin is talking to Montana, Idaho and Whitworth among others.
He will start at linebacker and running back for the Blue Devils this fall.
At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Gillin is a force to be reckoned with on defense
“I’ve played linebacker since third grade — it’s been my love,” Gillin said. “I think I have always been the aggressor. That is where I feel comfortable.”
But he also is the fastest runner in the Mid-Columbia Conference, running a 10.8 seconds time in the 100 meters.
He qualified for the state track meet as part of Walla Walla’s 4x100-meter relay last season, despite running with a nagging hamstring issue.
He hopes to have a big season, though he must replace Jonah Hoe, who put up one of the best years Walla Walla has ever seen, setting a slew of school records in the process.
“I wouldn’t say there is any pressure to live up to Jonah,” Gillin said. “It is a new season. You can’t compare the two. We are just going to go out and win football games.”
The Blue Devils won four games last season, after going winless when Gillin was a sophomore.
He was supposed to start at linebacker that year, but broke his ankle two days before the season started.
He missed the first five games and then played out the string.
Last season’s team and individual success — he was honorable mention at linebacker for the Mid-Columbia Conference — appears to be paying off in practice this summer.
“We know what it takes to win now,” he said. “The training is different, the practices are different, the games will be different.”
Part of the difference is players like Gillin, who go out of their way to make sure the slew of youngsters on the team have direction and coaching.
“He is out there every time and he wants the guys to get better,” junior linebacker Willie Hayes said. “Sometimes you get those guys that are super good but selfish. He is nothing like that. He is a great team player. He gives pointers, things to make us better and make the team better.”
Hisaw agreed with Hayes, saying Gillin is one of those rare players that not only wants to lead, but also teach other players how to lead.
“He is very competitive, but he wants (his teammates) to understand what he understands so they end up playing better too,” the coach said. “He has life in perspective. Football is not everything to him. When we are between the lines that is all that matters, but in between (games) he is a very level headed, respectful young man.”
w Craig Craker: 582-1509; email@example.com; Twitter: @Craig_Craker