From The Classroom To Special Teams, Blake Gillikin Keeps Shining For Penn State
Punters don’t receive a lot of glory on a day-to-day basis in the football world, but Blake Gillikin remains one of the most important players in Penn State’s football program.
Although Gillikin will run out of NCAA eligibility in a couple months, he may still have a future in Happy Valley.
“I hope that he comes back and is our orthopedic surgeon at some point,” head coach James Franklin said. “That’s how highly I think of him.”
Franklin has plenty of reasons to think highly of his star punter. On top of his excellent season on the field for Penn State, which includes a pair of Big Ten special teams player of the week awards and 24 punts downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, Gillikin is one of, if not the best, students on the team. He has a 4.0 GPA in a pre-med program, so it’s safe to say the punter devotes a lot of time to academics.
Some of that time Gillikin spends on schoolwork actually cuts into practice Wednesdays, and the punter doesn’t pass up any opportunity to get some of that work done in between sessions or on the road.
“I miss practice on Wednesdays for half the time, actually. I have a chemistry lab, which is twice a week for three hours,” he said. “I do about five hours outside of class to prepare for each one of those days. Lot of work for me this semester, but right now, it’s going well.”
“You go to the team hotel — he’s sitting in the hallway with his book out studying,” Franklin added. “There’s not a whole lot of down time for that guy, and he’s obviously done extremely well.”
Although Gillikin said he doesn’t plan on getting an A-, he admitted some of his classes are pretty tough this semester. Time management is one of Gillikin’s keys to academic success, and being a D-I athlete has definitely given the punter a masterclass in that aspect of his life.
It’s not like Gillikin just shows up to practices and games, punts a few balls, and calls it a day, either. He’s one of the Nittany Lions’ eight team captains and the only two-year captain, so he has an obligation to serve as a leader among the team.
As Franklin noted, it can be difficult for special teamers to earn the respect of their teammates. That, however, isn’t a problem for Gillikin at all.
“It’s a little bit vocal, but it’s more about kind of how he goes about his business,” Franklin said of Gillikin’s leadership style. “He’s a ‘yes-sir, no-sir’ guy. He’s very respectful of his teammates and coaches, but he’s also willing to come into my office and have some hard conversations about things he may be concerned about.”
Gillikin was phenomenal in the month of October. His performances against Iowa and Michigan State in particular made the Nittany Lion defense’s job easier by pinning both teams in brutal field positions. Penn State won the field position battle in both games quite handily in no small part thanks to Gillikin’s heroics.
Although academics and sports both occupy tons of Gillikin’s time, he has to choose a favorite. When asked if he prefers getting an A on a tough test or pinning an opponent at its own 1-yard line, Gillikin didn’t need to think about his answer.
“Punt,” Gillikin said. “I came here to play football.”
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