D.J. Gillins, who hails from Jacksonville, Fla., was one of the more heavily pursued signal-callers in the country coming out of high school. Gillins was ranked the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by 247 Sports, No. 9 by Rivals and No. 17 by ESPN.com. He was rated as a four-star prospect by all three services, as well as a three-star by Scout.com.
The former Under Armour All-American enrolled at Wisconsin in January of 2014 and went through spring drills. His freshman season he took a redshirt. The 2015 campaign entered with a new quarterback and head coach. They decided to play him at receiver the last six games of the season. The former first team All-State selection from Jean Ribault High School knew deep down he wanted to play quarterback so he transferred last spring to Pearl River CC.
Gillins was on a roll as he immediately took the starting job and was set for a breakout season with Pearl River CC, but he hit another pot hole. This time it was a torn ACL injury.
"Man, that was tough," Gillins said. "I've never gone through an injury. I felt sorry for myself for about a day, but then I decided I would just come back stronger and better than ever."
He doesn't look at his experience at Wisconsin as a lost cause either.
"They do such a great job of developing you on the mental side of things. I learned so much in how to read defenses and study film. I think they really prepared me for the next step."
That next step appeared to be SMU. He committed to the Mustangs in October.
"They have just stayed loyal to me throughout my recruitment. They were the first school to offer me. I also love their offense, and it's a chance for me to play early."
Things became complicated when Ole Miss offered a couple weeks back.
"I actually went and worked out for them this summer at their camp. I got a good feel of what it's like to work with coach (Dan) Werner. When I tore my ACL in the opening game I didn't think anything was going to come out of it. We stayed in contact the whole time but nothing really got serious until a couple weeks back. That's when coach Werner called and offered me. He just told me to come up there for an official visit and talk things over."
Gillins made the trek this past weekend with his parents to take in the Egg Bowl. The Rebels got thumped by their arch rival but that didn't have a negative impact.
"It was a great trip. My family loved it too. The Grove was amazing. I've never seen anything like it. I just wanted to get up there and see it for myself. I wanted to see what the team chemistry was about and the game day atmosphere. I got a chance to spend a lot of time with their coaches and go over everything. They are going to be a really good team for the next few years. They have so many freshmen who are playing right now. They had a lot of injuries in that game so I knew they weren't playing with a full deck. I'm excited to see how they look down he road with all of those young players."
Gillins also focused on the Ole Miss offense during the game.
"I watched them on TV when they played Florida State and Vandy. I just wanted to see the offensive system up close and how they call their plays. It's an exciting offense to play in for a quarterback. They probably have the best young group of receivers in the country and their offensive line are all underclassmen. It's a really cool system with how they run their RPOs. It really fits my skillset nicely."
Before going back home from his visit on Sunday he had a one-on-one meeting with the Ole Miss head and quarterback coaches.
"They just told me about the opportunities to play at Ole Miss. They are only returning two quarterbacks next season. They need someone with some experience to come in there and compete for the job."
Gillins has taken in official visits to both SMU and Ole Miss. Now it's decision time.
"Vandy wants me to come up there for a (official) visit, but I'm probably done with my visits. I'll do a lot of praying about it and talk it over with my parents. I'm just anxious to play. Both SMU and Ole Miss have freshman quarterbacks coming back who played this year, but there's going to be competition wherever I go. I just have to get out there and compete this spring and try and win a job. I'm already running and should be cleared in February to start full contact again. I'm taking my finals this and next week and I'll make a final decision by December 12th. Right now I just have a lot of thinking to do."
Yancy Porter is the recruiting analyst for the Ole Miss Spirit and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org