A helmet, shoulder pads and other protective gear isn’t the only extra weight Kenny Gillum carries this football season.

Gillum, the leading rusher through three games for unbeaten Roncalli, has been blessed with — and to some degree burdened by — a surname synonymous with second and third effort.

“I would say it’s kind of expected of you,” said the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Gillum, a senior and the third of three football-toting Kennys in the family dating back to when his grandfather was leveling opposing linebackers as an All-City running back for Sacred Heart High School during the early 1960s.

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“I’ve been a running back all the way back to first grade, but I don’t feel any pressure, really,” Gillum added.

Gillum’s average of 5.5 yards per carry (240 yards overall) is one of the reasons the Rebels are basking in their first 3-0 start since 2004.

Then again, Gillums and fall Friday nights just kind of go together on Indianapolis’ southside.

During the three seasons current Roncalli head coach Bruce Scifres served as a Rebels assistant (1980-82), Kenny’s father, Kenny Jr., was one of the program’s go-to running backs.

Next was Joe Gillum, young Kenny’s uncle. Tougher than a $3 steak while starring for the Rebels from 1983 to 1985, he remains the program’s career rushing leader with 4,275 yards.

Another Gillum, Mike, earned All-City honors as a Roncalli running back following the 1987 season.

“Mike was the most fullback-like. Kenny Jr. was a quick, hard-to-tackle running back, while Joe was just strong and fast,” said Scifres, whose third-ranked squad in Class 4A is at Plainfield on Friday. “The Kenny playing for us now is kind of a mix between them.

“He probably averages three or four yards after contact. He can cut, has a little burst of speed and is hard to bring down. If I were to summarize Kenny, he’s a warrior. I don’t think he has a choice. It’s in his DNA.”

A fearless Gillum carrying the football isn’t the only continuation of a tradition within the Rebels program this season.

Roncalli’s starting quarterback this season is senior Derek O’Connor. He is the grandson of former Sacred Heart quarterback Bernie O’Connor and son of Scifres’ first field general as the Rebels’ head coach in 1990, BJ O’Connor.

More than a half-century ago, Bernie was handing the football off to Kenny Sr. Now the grandsons are enjoying success of their own.

Roncalli High School is a 1969 consolidation of Kennedy (formerly Sacred Heart) and Chartrand High Schools.

Only 18, Kenny is well aware of the family’s gridiron lineage. He would like nothing more than to be able to lead Roncalli to its first berth in a state finals game in 11 years.

It would make for quite the tribute to his grandfather and uncle Joe, both of whom passed away in recent years.

“We just have guys on this team that make plays,” Gillum said. “We haven’t really played a good game yet, so I feel we still have our best games to come.”

Kenny Gillum pullout


Name: Kenny Gillum

Age: 18

Born: Indianapolis

Family: Parents, Kenny and Maria; sisters, Nichole, 26, Jodi, 24, Stephanie, 20, and Lena, 13

Favorite food: Chinese

Favorite movie: “Pulp Fiction”

Favorite athlete: LeBron James

Favorite team: Indianapolis Colts

Author photo
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.