Many want to play a professional sport because of the money, fame, and to achieve greatness. But for Massachusetts Pirates wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, it all started with a promise.
Gilyard, a Florida native, knew at a young age what he wanted to do with his life when outside playing with his cousin.
“My cousin and I were playing stickball outside and I tossed the ball and smacked it clear over the double fence,” Gilyard said. “I just remember me looking up and saying ‘yep. I’m gonna be a professional football player and buy my mother a Cadillac.'”
Sitting with fans after their most recent win against the Carolina Cobras, he highlighted his story during an autograph session.
“I’ve overcome a lot to do one thing to keep one promise that I made when I was your age,” Gilyard said to a young fan. “If I had my phone I would call my mother right now and she would tell everybody here that ‘my baby boy told me at seven years old he was going to do everything in his power to make sure that I was ok.'”
Gilyard set out to do just that when he received a full scholarship to the University of Cincinnati after earning numerous accolades playing at Flagler Palm Coast High School including the Class 5-A First-team, Class 5-A All-State selection, and MVP of the Florida Coast All-Star Game in 2005.
He redshirted in 2006, his first season with the Bearcats, and won the Scout Team Special Teams Player of the Year Award. The following year, Gilyard played a few different positions including special teams, where he blocked punts in back to back games and started seven out of 12 games at wide receiver.
In Gilyard’s final two college seasons, he would be named an All-American twice in 2008 as a kick returner and in 2009 at wide receiver. He featured in the Big East First-team twice in those same years as well as also being named Big East Special Teams Player of the Year.
Gilyard waited but didn’t get a call on the first day of the 2010 NFL Draft, or the second day. But with the first pick in the 4th round, the then St. Louis Rams selected Gilyard. His first promise had been fulfilled.
Determined and not forgetting what he said to his mother at the age of seven, he took the money he made with his rookie contract and put his plan into motion.
“The first thing I did when I got drafted, I didn’t buy me a house, I didn’t buy me a car, I didn’t by nothing,” Gilyard said. “The first thing I did was call my mom and I said ‘mom I got you a car’ and I told her she had to fly out and come get it.”
His mother flew out to see her son play against the San Francisco 49ers and after the game, he sent a taxi to pick her up and brought her to his home where he fulfilled his second promise.
“The dealership pulls the car around with a huge bow on it all the way across the street,” Gilyard said. “I called my mother outside saying somebody in the driveway and I’m coming down the stairs like I was going to fight the person and she’s running out behind me screaming no.”
In front of her was the car and a 17-year promise fulfilled.
“Right there my job was done,” Gilyard told the young fans. “My mom sat down and she cried and she thanked me and thanked me but then she asked me ‘why baby? Why a brand new car?'”
A man of his word, he told his mother why.
“Mom I promised you when I was a kid I was gonna get you a car,” Gilyard said.
“You sure did,” his mother said.
With the end of the story, he gave one parting message to the young fans to give it your all no matter what you do.
At 31-years-old, Gilyard brought spirit and determination to the Massachusetts Pirates that has rubbed off on the players including his quarterback Sean Brackett.
“Obviously Mardy is a tremendous athlete,” Brackett said. “He knows how successful teams and players prepare, practice and take care of their bodies. He is now the OG Vet and has become a vocal leader for us, especially for the younger players on the team. He has a huge heart and cares for all of his teammates like his own brothers and family. Great player and person.”
Wide receiver Bones Bagaunte hasn’t just seen his teammate’s influence with the Pirates, but he has indeed felt it as the two have been as close as siblings, even playing together in college at Cincinnati.
“That’s my brother, we feed off each other,” Bagaunte said. “He’s a [savage]. He knows the game inside and out so if we miss reading coverage or running routes he’s there and vice versa for the rest of the receivers.”
The physical and leadership aspects of Gilyard’s game trickled down to his head coach Ameer Ismail as well.
“He brings a great pedigree,” Ismail said. “He’s got a lot of experience that guys don’t have, he’s money, he’s got great hands, he does a good job, he’s a spiritual leader, he brings us up in prayer and he’s going to do what’s necessary offensively to get the win.”
While Mardy Gilyard has not won a Super Bowl or been named to the Pro Bowl or given All-Pro honors, the journeyman receiver’s heart is full for accomplishing the mission he gave to himself with the promises he made to the ones he loved.