Sept. 18, 2013
By: Betsy Devine
When Robert Gillespie returns to Florida this Saturday, it won't be his first time back to The Swamp.
Gillespie finished his career in Gainesville with 1,854 rushing yards and ranks second among Florida running backs with 96 career catches for 1,091 yards.
But as dedicated as he was during his career as a Gator, that is how much he is focused on helping the Vols to a victory over his alma mater.
"This isn't my first time going back," said Gillespie who also coached against the Gators from 2005-08 at South Carolina. "Obviously I am excited for every opportunity that we get to go play football and play against a really good opponent no matter who the program is. I am excited about every opportunity that we have to go out and coach and play."
During Gillespie's time in The Swamp the Tennessee-Florida rivalry was at its peak.
From 1998-2001, the winner of the rivalry game didn't just have a chance to go on to play in the SEC Championship game, but likely the national championship.
"We always knew that [Tennessee] was a program that you had to respect," said Gillespie. "You always knew that championships ran through these games. I think we look back at the past and the team that won this game was the team that was going to be playing for a championship. Whether SEC or having a chance at a national championship."
The undefeated 1998 Vols eked out a 20-17 overtime victory over Florida, the first ever overtime for either team, during Gillespie's freshman year en route to their national championship season.
Florida responded the following year with a 23-21 win and stunned the Vols with a late touchdown to earn a 27-23 win in Knoxville in 2000.
In Gillespie's senior season it was the Vols who had the last word in a 34-32 December 1st victory, the game was rescheduled due to Sept. 11, which helped Tennessee to the SEC Championship game.
Gillespie remembers each and every one of the games.
"I had two pretty special memories and the other ones, those are the ones that will live with you forever," said Gillespie. "This is one of those games that you will remember for a long time. One of those games that is hard to watch if you lose and you have a lot of bragging rights if you win."
Gillespie is now working to help Tennessee get back to where they once were and make the rivalry as biting as it once was.
"Hopefully we will get Tennessee back to that level where the game means something and these guys understand that if you win this game early in the year it sets the tone for the rest of the season," said Gillespie.
"This game means something," continued Gillespie. "It is SEC play. We try to explain it to these guys that it is our job to start the tradition, to get something started where they can remember it and get it going for the next four years for the freshmen."
Gillespie and Team 117 are amped up and ready to face the Gators at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on a nationally-televised CBS broadcast.
"It is a great rivalry," said Gillespie. "It is one of the best in college football. Obviously being able to be a part of it as a coach is special. Whenever you get a chance to coach in games like this you get excited."
"The players are excited," continued Gillespie. "I don't think that it is going to take much to get these guys fired up."