The Gillitwins: Penn State Punter Blake Gillikin And Twin Brother Tyler Reunite On Ryan Field
Brown football scratches still remain on the walls of the Gillikin household from when sophomore Blake Gillikin and his twin brother would practice snapping and punting in their home.
Blake, the punter, and Tyler, the long snapper, left their mark on their Georgia home — starting in the basement, but eventually moving up to the foyer outside their living room. Although Blake promised his parents he’ll eventually paint over the scratches, the marks that persist on the ceiling and walls are symbolic of the lasting relationship between the twin brothers.
As Penn State travels to Evanston this weekend to take on Northwestern, the game will be of special importance to the Gillikin family, a reunion of sorts. Blake and Tyler, who’s now a long snapper for Northwestern, will reunite on the football field for the first time since their high school days — except this time, they’ll be on opposing sidelines. But Blake says the smack talk hasn’t gotten out of hand yet.
“I mean we talk weekly. We’ve just kind of been having casual conversation. We probably talked a little bit more this week, just anticipating seeing each other on Saturday. But nothing too bad. No smack talk yet. Probably [will] say a few things on the field, but that’s probably about it,” Blake said.
He’ll always remember how well he worked with his twin Tyler in their high school days. He believes the communication he had with Tyler was unparalleled.
“I never really knew the importance of a long snapper until he started snapping. That was probably around 7th grade year, when we really started playing like actual football — where you had a whole long snap and punt operation. My dad actually helped him out with that because he snapped in high school as well,” Blake said. “So I mean I just kind of got more comfortable with him and I always knew that guy who was snapping me the ball. I always felt like I could talk to him, which is really important with that relationship. So I’d say probably a brother punter and snapper combo is probably the best that you can get.”
Blake says he and his brother are a lot alike, and so it makes sense that he sees a lot of similarities between their choices for college destinations.
“I visited both [Penn State and Northwestern] during the recruiting process a lot. I think both head coaches really care about their players a lot. I think Pat Fitzgerald is probably one of the better coaches in the NCAA. My brother was really attracted to him — he’s their special teams coordinator, actually. So I think that’s probably a really unique thing that they have going there,” Blake said. “Obviously I think I’d probably compare our [Schreyer Honors College] here to kind of their academics. He’s also doing really well academically, which is kind of why he picked [Northwestern].”
Coach James Franklin, who remembers the brown scratches that line the foyer of the Gillikin household from when he visited the house during the recruitment process, credits the Gillikin parents for doing a great job raising their kids.
“[Blake’s] in the Schreyer Honors College. He’s kind of the whole package. It’s interesting. His parents have done a great job. He’s got a brother who’s the starting long snapper at Northwestern — obviously another really good academic school,” Franklin said.
Franklin said the Gillikins’ mother will be wearing a custom jersey — half Northwestern colors and half Penn State colors — to cheer on her two sons.
Since this is Blake’s first time facing his brother, he said it’s encouraging to know another player on the team has a brother on Northwestern as well. Senior quarterback and placeholder Billy Fessler’s brother Charlie also plays for Northwestern.
“I think it’s really unique to have two sets of brothers on opposite teams. I’m not sure if there’s any two teams in the country that have that. Obviously we have a lot of family coming to the game, a lot of friends. He’s probably going to outnumber me though,” Blake said. “So it’s kind of good to have another guy who’s kind of going through that same experience. Because it’s definitely different. I mean, I’ve never played against my brother before. I don’t really know what it’s going to be like. So definitely having that other guy there is going to help out a lot.”
Outside of football, the fraternal Gillikin twins, who wanted to attend different schools, even have the same professional aspirations to become orthopedic surgeons.
“We visited the doctor a lot as we were kids. That kind of all led to us being interested in that. I think we’re very much alike even though we might not look that much alike. So I think that probably contributed to it as well. But I think we always competed head-to-head in a lot of stuff as kids. And I think that’s probably the next step in that competition,” Blake said.
Before they can compete as orthopedic surgeons, however, they’ll compete on Ryan Field this Saturday. The last time Northwestern and Penn State clashed was in 2015 when the Wildcats won 23-21. Back then, both the Gillikins were watching the game in the same house. Now, they’ll both be on the same field. It’ll surely be interesting to see if Blake and the Nittany Lions can take home bragging rights this time around.
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The redshirt freshman has seen increased reps at wide receiver and punt returner this season.
Coming off another conference win, the Nittany Lions emphasized the importance of having each other’s backs in the midst of the Big Ten slate.
“Now, running out of the tunnel at a White Out, it gives you chills.”