Blake Gillikin calls himself a “perfectionist,” a trait that would appear to be required for a punter. And that’s an area where Gillikin has been dazzling for Penn State since his first game as a freshman at Beaver Stadium, where he received a standing ovation for his booming punts.
Gillikin has picked up where he left off last year when he set a program record for a freshman punter with a 42.8-yard average. His average through two games this season is 44.9 yards, good for 22nd in the country.
A native of Smyrna, Ga., Gillikin had designs of becoming a full-time kicker by the time he got to college, but it all changed in his sophomore year at a football camp in Vero Beach, Fla., after a coach saw him punt.
“He actually called my dad and said, ‘Your son has a legitimate shot to be a really good punter,’ ” Gillikin said Wednesday on a conference call. “I never really thought about that because I always wanted to be a kicker. I thought that was kind of where my path was going to take me. That’s what I really liked to do.
“But I think as I got in games and started to punt more, I realized how much it kind of aligned with my personality. You can ask a lot of people – I’m a perfectionist in a lot of facets of life, and punting is so difficult and it’s so detail-oriented that it kind of attracted me. That’s why I really enjoy punting and just the challenge it offers, and kind of how perfect you have to be all the time.”
Gillikin came to Penn State out of the Westminster School in Atlanta, where he was both a kicker and a punter, and became the Nittany Lions’ first scholarship punter since the NCAA restored the program’s maximum of 85 scholarships. His first year was capped by a 50.8-yard average on five punts in the Rose Bowl.
Charles Huff, the Lions’ special teams coordinator, said Gillikin “doesn’t lack confidence” and is ready to take the next step: being consistent with his punts and making it difficult for opposing returners to be successful.
“He’s a very confident young man,” Huff said. “But I think the thing for him is going to be consistency. A lot of people can do it two or three times, but it’s being able to repeat those bombs of kicks when we need them and then pinning teams in when we need them, and then being able to keep returners at bay.”
Gillikin has benefited this season from tremendous work by his coverage team. He has punted eight times for a net return yardage of zero.
“It’s unbelievable how much I appreciate what they do, and I try to let them know that as much as possible,” he said. “You could see it in the Pitt game. Everyone was flying around on the field. I personally didn’t think I helped them out enough, kind of with hang time and distance. They were making plays, which made me look really good, when in fact they deserved most of the credit.”
Gillikin, who posted a 4.0 grade point average in his freshman year and aspires to be an orthopedic surgeon some day, is focused on the Nittany Lions’ next game against Georgia State. But he but looks forward to Oct. 6 at Northwestern when his twin brother, Tyler, a long snapper, will be on the opposite sideline.
“It’s going to be a really special week for me and him to see each other on the same field,” he said. “But we’ll get to that when it comes.”