In his collegiate career, Gilliam passed for 5,213 yards and 50 touchdowns, leading TSU to back-to-back Black College National Championships in 1970 and 1971. He was known to be one of the most popular players in Tennessee State history. He gained his nickname because his name was heard all along historic Jefferson Street, which runs near the TSU campus. Gilliam was an All-American in 1970 and 1971. He went on to be drafted in the 11th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1972 NFL Draft. He made an immediate impact with the Steelers as he became their starting quarterback in 1974, and led the team to a 4-1-1 start.