A lot of people locally and around the country at all levels of football lately have been asking: Just who is this Gailliard guy who seems to be doing a Forrest Gump at that little college in New England, American International?

It's a fact that when the NCAA gets around to redoing its record book, the name and number at the top of the category for yards rushing in one season in any division will be Kavin Gailliard and 2,653. In second place all of a sudden is Barry Sanders.

Those 2,628 yards Sanders gained at Oklahoma State his junior year earned him college football's major individual award, the Heisman Trophy. Gailliard is one of three finalists for the biggest prize at the Division II level, the Harlon Hill Trophy, to be presented Friday night in Florence, Ala.

"This is great," Gailliard said of his achievements. "But I never stepped on the field thinking about getting anything like that. . . . If I would win the Hill, I'd break bits and pieces of it off and give them to my offensive linemen, if I could."

Small news reports about Gailliard's climb up the statistical charts have caused John Ricca, the athletic director at St. John's High in the District, and others in the area to realize that Kavin Gailliard is the same player they knew for about eight years as Mark Gailliard. His full name is Kavin La-Mar Gailliard, but he decided to go by Mark while playing for various youth league teams around Potomac and for two seasons at St. John's because he admired an older neighborhood star who lettered for four years at Maryland, Mark Mason.

"We knew he would be outstanding," said Ricca, who recalled that Gailliard was a regular at cornerback and wide receiver for the St. John's varsity his sophomore season. Gailliard transferred to Churchill for the spring semester, then moved to Albany, N.Y., where his father lives, for his final two years of high school.

Gailliard is starting to appear on NFL radar screens, because of his achievements at American International (6,523 yards rushing and 70 touchdowns in his career) and what his coach and those who coached against him are saying.

"The best way to describe him is a major-college running back playing Division II," said Bryant College Coach Jim Miceli. With a spot in the Eastern Football Conference championship game at stake, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Gailliard led AIC to a 60-20 victory over Bryant by running for 347 yards on just 20 carries and scoring five touchdowns.

Miceli said NFL scouts should realize what he did: "That kid is faster live than he looks on film, and has great cutback ability. He'll be in somebody's camp."

AIC Coach Art Wilkins was an assistant at South Carolina for five years before taking the AIC job and compared Gailliard to players he watched and coached in the Southeastern Conference: "He'd be a first- or second-round draft choice as a cornerback. He's fast, but not blazing, maybe a step behind what you'd see from a Tennessee tailback. He's been such a headline player for us, but when I read he'd broken Sanders's record my jaw dropped. What more can you say?"

Gailliard's best asset is his fire, how he stirs his offensive line and fights for every yard. Offensive line coach Mike Duggan recalled a play on which Gailliard broke several tackles and, while stumbling, used his free hand as a crutch to keep his knees from touching the ground and surged forward a bit more.

"We do feel a part it," center Ryan McLaughlin has said of Gailliard's glory. "He's easy to block for, because you know that even if you miss a block he's good enough to make things happen."

Sanders clearly had more ability than Gailliard and excelled against far superior competition. But unlike Gailliard, Sanders never played an entire season with a bullet in his neck.

How and why he was shot Gailliard will not say, but police reports said the incident happened around 4 a.m. Aug. 15 near where a party had been held in Albany. That was several hours before Gailliard was to drive the 90 or so minutes to the AIC campus in Springfield, Mass., to begin preseason practice. Albany police Det. Al Metcalfe said yesterday no one has been arrested. Gailliard was released from the hospital the next day and said doctors decided not to remove the bullet "because it wasn't in a dangerous spot and they didn't want to cut my neck."

Malinda J. Gailliard Hyman, Kavin's mother and a hair stylist who lives in Gaithersburg, said her faith kept her from worrying too much during games.

"That bullet must have had some energy," she added, "because he's gotten better."

He surely has. His progression in rushing yards has been 1,098, 801, 1,971 and 2,653. His average per carry this season was 8.7 yards. He broke many, but not all, of the Division II records Brian Shay of Emporia (Kan.) State set last season, including most 200-yard rushing games in one season (eight), rushing touchdowns in one season (32), all-purpose yards in one season (3,064) and points in one season (206). Shay still holds the record for career rushing yards, 6,958.

Gailliard has been on the move all his life. The son of an Air Force father, he was born in Spain "15 minutes after I got to the hospital," his mother said. His father's name is Kevin. But he didn't want a junior, so Malinda decided to change one letter and Kevin became Kavin. It is pronounced Kevin.

The family lived in California, Arizona, Maine and Virginia Beach before settling here when Kavin was 8. After moving to Albany and graduating from high school there, Gailliard said he thought seriously about going to Maryland. But his Scholastic Assessment Test scores arrived late, he said over the phone from AIC, "and I wanted to get in college, so I came here."

Miceli was the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Maryland during that time and said: "We had an interest, but there was an academic problem. One of his avenues was junior college, but he went the other way, sat out a year."

Gailliard said the NCAA gave him permission to play his freshman year, but so late in the season that he chose to redshirt. He said he chose not to transfer, in large part "because I'd bounced around a lot in high school."

There has been other tragedy for Gailliard at AIC. A close friend died just before his first game in 1998 and a much older cousin with whom he had been especially close, Jacklyn Underdue, died of a heart attack this season. His cousin was a special education teacher--and Gailliard said he is on schedule to earn a degree in that major in May.

After one of his five touchdowns against Bryant, Gailliard trotted to the stands near the AIC bench and presented the ball to a former teammate and very close friend, Dave Zanin, who was paralyzed last year when he fell out of a tree stand while hunting.

With Gailliard running for 198 yards, grabbing five passes for 126 yards and scoring four touchdowns, AIC beat C.W. Post for the conference title, 41-20, and capped a 10-2 season. But the Yellow Jackets were not among those chosen for the Division II playoffs.

Gailliard has been named to the Division II coaches' all-America team, and is scheduled to accept two important awards given to New England players before flying to Alabama early Friday for the Hill ceremonies. His competition is Shepherd College running back Damian Beane, who gained 6,346 yards during his career and tied the NCAA all-division record with 34 100-yard games, and Northern Colorado quarterback Corte McGuffey, runner-up to Shay in last season's Harlon Hill voting, who passed for 2,893 yards and 31 touchdowns this season.

His career and the opinion of coaches who have seen college football at all levels suggest Gailliard should have maneuvered to the top division. He said there have been no regrets.

"Not at all," he said. "I've had a great career. I'll get my degree. What more could I ask for?"

Kavin Gailliard Game-by-Game Statistics

Opponent Carries/Yards/TDs

Sept. 4 Northeastern 11/19/0

Sept. 11 at C.W. Post 26/155/2

Sept. 18 Stonehill 16/150/1

Sept. 24 at Bentley 32/270/3

Oct. 2 Merrimack 35/240/2

Oct. 9 Assumption 17/235/3

Oct. 16 So. Connecticut 44/277/4

Oct. 23 at Ithaca 39/303/2

Oct. 30 at Pace 26/236/4

Nov. 6 Bryant 20/347/5

Nov. 13 at Mass.-Lowell 17/223/3

Nov. 20 C.W. Post 37/198/3

Carries/Yards/TDs

Totals 320/2,653/32