Alex Gillett is wrapping up his tenure as a leader on the Eastern Michigan University football team. With the support of his close-knit family and his life-long passion for the game of football, the senior has just finished his last game as a student-athlete at EMU.
The Green Springs, Ohio native was introduced to football by his parents as a young boy, who enjoyed watching his older cousins play at their varsity football games. The support and inspiration from his family and coaches helped him become the competitor he is today.
Playing quarterback for Clyde High School in Clyde, Ohio, Gillett made sure he was a student first and an athlete second. He had collegiate offers to play at EMU, University of Toledo, Princeton University and Grand Valley State University. One of the factors that played into Gillett’s decision to go to EMU was that he wanted to play under quarterback coach Ken Karcher, who left Toledo after the 2008 season to coach at EMU.
As a freshman at EMU, Gillett was on the practice squad for the beginning of the season until the game at the University of Michigan Sept. 19, 2009, where he suited up to be third on the depth chart. After fifth-year senior Andy Schmitt went down with an ankle injury, Gillett took his first snaps as a college football player.
“That game was a blur,” Gillett said, reflecting on his first game at The Big House. “It was a crazy experience and it definitely helped me throughout my college career.”
Sharing playing time with junior Kyle McMahon, Gillett finally earned his first start Nov. 14 for the Eagles’ last game of the season against the Western Michigan Broncos.
Gillett was named the full-time starter as a sophomore entering the 2010 season. On Oct. 16, 2010, he helped the Eagles snap their 19-game losing streak in a 41-38 overtime thriller over Ball State University with the game-winning pass to tight end Ben Thayer.
“I just got chills just thinking about it,” Gillett said. “Everyone was starting to think if this can actually happen, and that finally did, it gave us that confidence like, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ There was a big dog pile when we won that game; it was an awesome
In 2011, the Eagles won the Michigan Mid-American Conference trophy but still fell short of being eligible for a bowl game with their 6-6 record.
“You’re not satisfied with six games, obviously you never are,” Gillett said. “You always want to win them all. We had a pretty good year. We thought we could’ve done better.”
Being voted captain by his teammates to start his senior season, Gillett let his leadership show early in the season. The coaches, however, placed redshirt sophomore Tyler Benz at the top of the depth chart after the Eagles’ 54-16 loss to Purdue Sept. 15.
Gillett, having been a competitor his whole life, was determined to do whatever it took to lead this team to victory. With his 6-feet-1-inch stature, Gillett asked the coaches if he could get some playing time at wide receiver. The coaches approved and he started playing receiver with the game against Bowling Green State University.
After making the switch, Gillett caught 12 passes for 131 yards with a touchdown reception against Western Michigan University, which helped the Eagles keep the Michigan MAC trophy in back-to-back seasons.
The captain played his last game as an Eagle Nov. 23 against Northern Illinois University. He finished his 32-game career with 349 completed passes for 4,448 yards, 506 rushes for 2,388 yards, 12 catches for 131 yards and 50 total touchdowns.
Gillett realized he didn’t always have the greatest successes that he wanted, but always gave it his all and played every snap like it was his last.
His mother Sara Humphrey said her son’s competitive edge comes from an athletically competitive family.
“We’re all very competitive. He gets a lot of that from his grandfather,” she said.
Football is more than a sport of blocking, tackling, throwing and catching. The two biggest life lessons that football has taught Gillett are having integrity and how to deal with adversity.
“Adversity is a big one, we’ve gone through a lot of it here,” Gillett said.
He also described the foundation of the EMU football program as integrity.
“Your word is your bond and what you say is what you do,” he said.
The example he has set for younger kids and teammates around him has made his mother very proud.
“The character he’s had; he’s been through a lot here. He has handled it with class and has been an all-around great kid,” Humphrey said.
Gillett, a biology major and chemistry minor, plans on participating in the NFL Pro Day workouts and playing professional football. If that doesn’t work out, Gillett will look into furthering his education by going into some type of medical school.