By Christina Rivers
David Gilreath, WR #18
Hometown: New Hope, MN
College: University of Wisconsin (Badgers)
David Gilreath first attended Minneapolis Washburn in Minneapolis, Minnesota, before transferring to acclaimed Robbinsdale Armstrong High School for his senior year. Gilreath lettered in baseball (3 years) and track (1 year) as well as in football (4 years). Specializing in punt returns, Gilreath was also a top-quality rusher and receiver. He was amongst the top 75 prep prospects in the nation at wide receiver, a member of the Detroit Free Press‘ 25 Midwest’s Best and was ranked as the number six prep player in Minnesota.
His prep career totals were impressive. Gilreath had 153 total receptions for 2,496 yards and a rushing record of 1,022 yards. His senior year at Robbinsdale Armstrong, Gilreath rushed 28 times for 504 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught 26 passes for four touchdowns and 424 yards. Gilreath returned 16 kickoffs for 358 yards and one touchdown while also recording 13 punt returns for 185 yards.
His ability to athletically play different positions caught the attention of college coaches at Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Iowa State and Ohio State. Although he initially committed to Minnesota (Golden Gophers), coach Glen Mason was fired and Tim Brewster took over. Brewster couldn’t convince several players to stay, including Gilreath. Instead, Gilreath went to Wisconsin and had a great career. “I didn’t think it was a big deal, the de-commitment” Gilreath said, “I think [Wisconsin] was the best decision of my life.” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema certainly appreciated the young man’s talents. Bielema said of Gilreath, “[David] had a huge impact…and hopefully some indications of more great things for him to come in the future.”
In 2007, Gilreath played in 13 games as a receiver and as the Badgers’ return man. Named first-team Freshman All-American by Rivals.com and Scout.com, Gilreath was also named second-team Freshman All-American and first-team Freshman All-Big Ten by the Sporting News. He set new records for Wisconsin by posting 967 kickoff return yards in a season and had 189 yards in one game. Ranked 14th in the country, leading the Big-Ten, Gilreath had a 14.0-yard punt return average.
His success continued for the next three years of his collegiate career. When he got his first opportunity to play against Minnesota, it was a homecoming of sorts. In front of 22 friends and family, Gilreath put up 226 return yards to help Wisconsin win, 41-34. Gilreath said, “I never got to play in the Dome when I was in high school.” It had been a dream of his and came to fruition when he played so well. In 2008, Gilreath finished the season with 1,747 all-purpose yards. He was named Big-Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week after he rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana. He was a member of the second-team All-Big Ten (coaches) team and an honorable mention Sophomore All-American by Collegefootballnews.com. In 2009, he was second on the Wisconsin team with 984 all-purpose yards.
2010 was a big year for Gilreath. He led the team in punt return yards, kickoff returns and kickoff return yards. It was his second year in a row to be second on the team in all-purpose yards. Gilreath was third on the team in receiving yards and fourth in receptions and rushing yards. The exceptional play earned him the honor of being named Wisconsin’s Special Teams MVP. As the only player in Wisconsin history to score a receiving, rushing, punt return and a kick return touchdown, Gilreath finished the year as the Big Ten all-time leader in kick off return yards (3,025).
Why this potential four-way threat went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft is unclear. In July of 2011, Gilreath was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Indianapolis Colts. They cut him only to re-sign him to the practice squad until he was finally released on October 25, 2011. The St. Louis Rams picked him up and placed him on their practice squad in November. On December 27, 2011, the Buffalo Bills signed him to their practice squad. His journey to the Steelers took a lot of patience, but on January 20, 2012, the Steelers signed him. He had an excellent showing in spring training camp in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
In the preseason game against the Colts (Aug. 19, 2012), Gilreath caught five passes for 78 yards and was named the Steelers Digest Player of the Week. Gilreath turned in an excellent game against the Colts, but insisted, “I had played well in all phases last year. I mean really good – like a 45-yard punt return.” He admitted that he felt he was inconsistent in Indianapolis during the 2011 preseason. Gilreath’s biggest play was a 41-yard catch and run. “I did something I was supposed to do,” Gilreath said humbly. During the preseason, Gilreath caught five passes for 78 yards.
Emmanuel Sanders predicted Gilreath would be called up to the active roster to replace injured Antonio Brown. Gilreath laughed about his own prediction as to when it might actually happen. “I don’t know. Probably when there’s one receiver left.” On November 12, Gilreath moved up to the number four receiver spot. Keenan Lewis has paid Gilreath huge compliments and championed Gilreath’s chances at more playing time. Lewis credited Gilreath for helping get himself and the Steelers’ defensive backfield ready for games.
In the two games that Gilreath has been activated, he has had two returns for 8 yards. Barely seeing playing time, he also logged one end-around that went for 7 yards. With Jerricho Cotchery now injured as well, Gilreath should be in a good position to see more playing time. His quickness and ability to help, not only the offense but the special teams as well, is something the Steelers desperately need right now.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.