Addison Gillam says he is not being recognized on the Colorado campus these days any more than he was when the fall semester began back in August.

If Gillam has his way, that won't change, despite being one of the most successful freshmen college football players in the nation. He likes being just another face in the crowd when he's not on the football field.

But if he continues to perform at the level at which he has started his career, he is going to have to get used to notoriety.

Gillam is leading the Pac-12 Conference in tackles and ranks fourth nationally. He is one of only two freshmen ranked among the top 50 in tackles in the nation and the other freshman, Steve Longa from Rutgers, is a redshirt freshman. Gillam already set a freshman school record with 18 total stops in a loss to Oregon last week.

Fellow students might not be doing double takes in lecture halls or the dormitories but Gillam can't hide from the fact he has quickly become one of the most sought after interviews when CU practices end each day. It's the price of making plays.

"I just keep thinking to myself, 'Don't let it get to your head,' " Gillam said. "It can be over at any moment. So I just got to keep playing through every game and not look ahead. Just keep playing as hard as I can."

Gillam's maturity and focus are no surprise to the men who coach him now, the men who coached him in high school, the man he calls his best friend and the man who raised him.

"He's almost too good to be true," CU coach Mike MacIntyre said this week. "He does everything right and works at it and very humble."

MacIntyre and his coaching staff were the only Football Bowl Subdivision coaches to offer Gillam a scholarship when they were coaching at San Jose State in 2011.

The story of Gillam's recruitment actually starts at Sacramento State where CU running backs coach Klayton Adams used to coach before joining MacIntyre at San Jose State.

Adams first saw Gillam play as a sophomore at Foothills High School in Palo Cedro, Calif., near Redding, and made a note to keep tabs on him.

"You see a big, old 6-3, 215-pound dude returning punts and running the football and you go, 'Whoa,' " Adams said.

Even though Adams and MacIntyre were the only major college coaches to offer Gillam a scholarship, he almost declined the offer after attending a camp at San Jose State the summer before his senior season.

"He left that camp basically saying, 'There is no way we're going to San Jose,' " Gillam's father, Brian Gillam, said. "Nothing clicked really."

But Adams and MacIntyre persisted and eventually developed rock solid trust with Gillam and his family. He signed with San Jose State as part of the 2012 recruiting class but agreed to delay his enrollment until January of this year, a practice known as greyshirting.

That decision ultimately benefited the Buffs who hired MacIntyre and his staff in December. And now it's benefiting Colorado fans who are watching a budding star make an unmistakable impact on the Buffs' defense at middle linebacker.

"I'm always trying to run to the ball and get to everywhere, be part of the tackle or part of the play or anything," Gillam said explaining his approach to the game. "I think that is just the biggest part."

MacIntyre's move to Colorado was fortuitous in other ways for Gillam. The Boulder area couldn't be better suited to Gillam's interests off the field. He loves spending time outdoors hiking, bike riding, snowboarding, backpacking and fishing. He tried fly fishing for the first time when he came to CU this summer.

Sitting out last season might be playing a part in how well Gillam is doing now. It made him hungry for the game. He's also a year older than he would have been right out of high school and he spent last fall training hard with his best friend, Andrew Boetjer, a 26-year-old personal trainer who works with dozens of athletes in Northern California.

"I've trained a lot of athletes in the past," Boetjer said. "I mean hundreds and hundreds of athletes and I train a lot of them pretty much the exact same way, really hardcore training and pushing them to the max, but Addison has always had this really self-determined drive. He's always had this really deep desire to outperform his own best. He's always kind of competing against himself to be better each game

"Any time he does something whether it be great or not, he always finds the small kinks in it that he could have done better. That always helps him improve."

Coach Bryan Hamilton always recognized Gillam's talent as being above average while he coached Gillam in high school. But he realized Gillam was special during a crucial rivalry game against Shasta High School in Gillam's junior season.

Gillam's team rallied from 28 points down with Gillam leading the effort to get over the top. He made a crucial stop on third down in the fourth quarter playing linebacker and then returned the punt giving his team good field position to start the game winning drive. At running back, he made a key run on fourth down to keep the drive alive and finally capped the comeback with the go-ahead touchdown run. Hamilton said it all happened in less than 2 minutes of game time.

"That's all three phases of the game right there in crunch time in a huge game against a cross town rival in a conference championship game," said Hamilton, who is now the offensive coordinator and associate head coach at Shasta College. "I wish we had a ton of him. He was a joy to coach and we sure are proud of him."

While MacIntyre was the only FBS coach to offer him a chance to play at the highest level of college football, he wasn't the only coach to spend time with Gillam in the recruiting process. Gillam admits he has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to playing against some of those coaches who passed him up. Some of them are in the Pac-12 Conference.

"It's always nice going into games knowing a coach who gave you a little bit of interest or something but then didn't talk to you any more," he said.

Brian Gillam describes his son as quiet, humble and loyal. He said watching his son succeed so early in his career and make a name for himself nationally has been surreal for him, his wife and Addison's two sisters. He confesses he has been the epitome of a proud father lately around the propane business he owns and operates.

"I'm sure everyone around here is getting sick of it, but we're really proud of him," Brian Gillam said.

Brian Gillam said his son was forced to miss time during his high school career because of foot and shoulder injuries and not being able to play in those situations has taught him to enjoy every moment when he is healthy and playing. Addison Gillam is playing like football means everything to him.

"You've probably heard this a lot, but you can hit people and it's legal," said when asked why he loves the sport. "It's a good stress relief, you know? I just like having a team cause it's like they're all your family and everybody is close and knowing they will always have my back."

Contact staff writer Kyle Ringo at ringok@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/kyleringo.