Blake Gillikin’s ‘Perfectionist’ Mindset Driving Penn State Success
Penn State punter Blake Gillikin has a chance to go down as the program’s all-time best at the position when he inevitably moves on to the NFL or medical school after graduation.
The junior specialist from Smyrna, GA, is entering his third season as a starter and his first as a captain for the Nittany Lions. He’s also the lone player on the team with a perfect 4.0 GPA and the treasurer of Penn State’s founding chapter of Uplifting Athletes.
Gillikin has started all 27 games since he arrived on campus in June 2016 as one of the nation’s top punter prospects. He held additional scholarship offers from Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Army, and Northwestern, where his twin brother Tyler is a long snapper.
Gillikin committed to the Nittany Lions on June 21, 2015 before helping Westminster School win its first Georgia 3A state title since 1978 as a senior that fall. He drilled three field goals, including a 53-yarder, in the championship on top of his punting duties.
Gillikin, whose parents were collegiate swimmers at Kansas and North Carolina, had the chance to compete against his brother last October in a 31-7 Penn State win at Ryan Field.
When asked what quality of his has most contributed to his success, Gillikin paused for a few moments before settling on a response.
“Probably that I’m a perfectionist — in all facets of life, both academically, athletically, with how I treat people, everything like that,” he said.
Gillikin has meticulously gone through his routine and taken 113 snaps so far during his Penn State career, averaging 42.96 yards per punt — a mark that’s currently third in school history behind Jeremy Boone and George Reynolds.
With scores of NFL scouts and executives in attendance at the 2016 Pitt-Penn State game at Heinz Field, Gillikin unleashed a booming 69-yard punt that still stands as his career long. He averaged nearly 51 yards per attempt in the 2017 Rose Bowl.
The kinesiology major and a handful of teammates have been rocking some special training camp mustaches this year. It’s unclear if the trend will stick once the season rolls around.
“We actually have some guys with handlebar mustaches,” Gillikin said. “I can’t pull that off ’cause I just wasn’t gifted that way. I also have blonde hair so that doesn’t really help me out.”
Gillikin mentioned Trace McSorley, tight end Danny Dalton, and walk-on linebacker Frank Di Leo as having some of the team’s best ‘staches.
Switching gears, Gillikin discussed the improvement of redshirt senior punt returner DeAndre Thompkins, who will also start at slot receiver for the Nittany Lions.
“He’s just gotten more sure with his catching, working on his breaks, getting off once he catches the punt,” Gillikin said. “I think he’s going to be a real weapon for us this year. I think he’ll just build off the season he had last year.”
Gillikin, who was named to the Ray Guy Award watch list earlier this summer, said he spent plenty of time building chemistry with Penn State’s true freshman kickers during player-led workouts. Gillikin will take over for quarterback Billy Fessler as the team’s holder this season.
It remains to be seen whether scholarship kicker Jake Pinegar or a walk-on like Rafael Checa, Vlad Hilling, or Carson Landis will win the job. During spring practice, James Franklin repeatedly stressed his preference to allow Gillikin to focus strictly on punting and holding.
“Blake is talented enough that if we needed we could move him over and ask him to do other things for us,” special teams coordinator Phil Galiano said at media day.
It appears Franklin will get his wish, however, as Pinegar and Checa have both impressed in the lead-up to Penn State’s season opener on September 1 against Appalachian State. They combined to miss just one of eight field goal attempts during the open media portion of practice a few weeks ago.
“They all hit really good balls,” Gillikin said. “It’s going to be honestly a really hard decision to pick between the four of them. I think all of them can probably handle the situation and the magnitude of the moment as well.”
Gillikin was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection last season, but the graduation of Rutgers’ Ryan Anderson, who barely edged him out, leaves the door open for Gillikin to solidify himself as the conference’s best punter in 2018.
If he continues on this trajectory, there’s little doubt Gillikin will be in the conversation for All-American honors before his time in a Penn State uniform is up.
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