Alex Gillett didn’t want his college career to be over, but that’s exactly how the landscape looked three games into his senior season.
Before being one of 11 wide receivers the Green Bay Packers brought to training camp this past week, Gillett was a two-year starting quarterback at Eastern Michigan University.
After a 54-16 loss to Purdue on Sept. 15 to fall to 0-3 on the season, however, Eagles coach Ron English made the decision to supplant Gillett with sophomore quarterback Tyler Benz as the team’s starting quarterback.
The news was disappointing, but forced Gillett to get creative.
With his quarterback future in doubt, the 6-foot-1, 214-pound Gillett decided to make a change of his own in approaching the coaching staff about a switch to receiver.
Unknowingly, it was a move that would save his football career and later earn him a shot with the Packers as an undrafted free agent this summer.
“They just made the change,” said Gillett, who completed 349-of-660 passes for 4,453 yards, 35 touchdowns and 34 interceptions in his four years at EMU. “I got benched at quarterback and I didn’t want to sit out my senior year, so I thought where else could I help at? Receiver was kind of where it was.”
Considering his background as a running quarterback, Gillett felt he was capable of making the in-season switch. He still attended quarterback meetings, but began lining up with the receivers in practice.
He finally found the field during the final five games of his college career, grabbing 14 passes for 132 yards and one touchdown. After not being taken in April’s NFL draft, Gillett attended separate tryouts at different positions – as a receiver with Washington and quarterback with Kansas City.
Neither team bit. Instead, he bided his time until the Packers called for a tryout in May before adding him to their wide-open receiver competition.
“It’s definitely a different experience going from quarterback to receiver, but I think that also helped me,” Gillett said. “I know what the quarterback is looking for and how he sees things, so that helps me get in the right spots.”
Thus far, Gillett has received plenty of snaps with injuries to seventh-round rookies Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey, and street-free agent Sederrik Cunningham opening the door to the field.
Gillett, 22, falls in a long line of undefined college athletes the Packers have taken an interest in, a list that includes Randall Cobb, Sam Shields, James Nixon, Diondre Borel and Curenski Gilleylen.
Where exactly Gillett fits will be determined in the next month, but a switch to receiver definitely hasn’t hurt his chances at extending his football career.
“The expectations after definitely higher in the NFL compared to college. Game is maybe a step faster, but it’s always football in the end,” Gillett said. “I just really wanted a shot wherever I went and this is the place that gave me an opportunity. I’m just happy to have it.”
Editor’s note: This is the first installment of the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s “Getting to Know” series that will run throughout training camp and looks at some of the rookies, undrafted players and new additions to the Packers’ roster this offseason.