The Not-So-Secret Success of Penn State Punter Blake Gillikin
The football players that get the most attention play quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. The placekicker is thrust into the spotlight in high pressure situations. Defensive players garner recognition for a sack or an interception. Not many people talk about the punter. Penn State punter Blake Gillikin deserves to be talked about. Gillikin is one of the best punters in the country and has been since he stepped on campus in 2016.
Before Happy Valley
Gillikin hails from Smyrna, Georgia. He attended The Westminster Schools. As a senior he had 41 punts averaging 45.2 yards per punt. Furthermore, he had 19 punts downed inside the 20 yard line that year. He also helped Westminster to its first Class AAA Georgia State Championship since 1978. In the finals, Gillikin took the role of placekicker and punter where he recorded two 60-yard punts.
Coming out of Westminster Gillikin was a three star prospect according to ESPN, Rivals, and 247Sports. In addition, ESPN ranked him as the number eight kicker/punter in the class. In his time at Penn State, he has broken many records and has garnered national attention. He has proven that stars and rankings do not always accurately gauge talent level.
Gillikin’s Record Setting Freshman Season
Entering 2016, Penn State was not fairing well on special teams. The punting duo that the Nittany Lions were using before 2016 was not reliable. Thus, fans were hopeful when Gillikin arrived on the scene.
As a true freshman Gillikin started in all 14 games at punter for the Nittany Lions. He had seven kicks downed inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, averaged 42.8 yards per punt, and had a long of 69 yards. That year he became just the third true freshman since 1946 to start at punter. He finished the season 30th in the country and 3rd in the Big Ten in punting average. His 69 yard punt came in the second game of the season against Pitt and is the second longest punt by a freshman behind Anthony Fera’s 74-yarder in 2010.
In the 2016 Rose Bowl against USC, Gillikin helped the Nittany Lions control field position by averaging 50.8 yards per punt. The performance set the Penn State record for punting average in a game. He also recorded his first tackle of his career in the first quarter of a game that went back-and-forth until the end.
Finally, to finish out his freshman season, Gillikin broke the Penn State season punting average record with his 42.8 yards per punt. He surpassed the record set by Jeremy Kapinos in 2003. On top of his Penn State record setting performance, he was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. He was also a candidate for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate punter. Most importantly, he finished the academic year with a 4.0 GPA.
No Sophomore Slump Here
The 2017 season started off right where Gillikin left off in the Rose Bowl. He had 18 punts downed inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, averaged 43.2 yards per punt, and had a long of 57 yards. If that was not enough to solidify Gillikin as one of the best punters in the nation, he also posted the fourth-best coffin wedge average in college football with a 89.84. The coffin wedge average is generated by GPR Punting Rating and is equivalent to a quarterback rating for punters.
While the on-field stats are important and help make Gillikin into the player that Penn State fans have grown to count on, it is what he consistently does in the classroom that makes him special. At the end of his sophomore year Gillikin earned a 4.0 GPA in all four semesters of his college career. This dedication earned him Academic All-Big Ten and he was selected as a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. As a kinesiology major this is no easy task. Senior running back Mark Allen stated this week that, “The kid has a 4.0. Never got an A-minus in his life and punts the ball about 60 yards. We give him credit.”
Arguably, it is his drive and determination in the classroom that translates to his commitment on the field.
Penn State punter Blake Gillikin is now a junior. He has two full seasons and three games behind him. The coaching staff awarded his hard-work with a captain spot for the 2018 season. He has embraced his new role. “I try to take on a bigger presence with the team, recognizing that I’m not just the punter and the holder, but a team captain.”
Furthermore, fellow team captain safety Nick Scott gave high praise to the punter stating, Gillikin is “an outlet and voice of encouragement” while still “laying the hammer” when younger players are not doing what they need to.
While he has not started the season off as many are used to, Gillikin is still one of the best at what he does. Through three games he has 12 punts with an average of 43.8 yards, and a long of 58. Against Pitt alone, in the wind and torrential rain, Gillikin had three of his five punts land inside the Pitt ten-yard line. Special teams coach, Phil Galiano said that Gillikin is “extremely special.” Galiano said, “he’s the best college punter I’ve ever worked with.”
As Penn State enters Big Ten play, Gillikin’s punting ability will play a big factor in close games just as it has the last two seasons. When he drops a punt in the opponent’s twenty-yard line the team gains momentum and the fans get loud. He is cherished and appreciated by his teammates, coaches, and the Nittany Lion fans.
He will undoubtedly earn academic honors again this year. It is a good thing too that he values academics. He stated earlier this week that while he is told he could leave early and enter the NFL he would like to stay and finish his degree.
Look out Big Ten, Penn State punter Blake Gillikin will most likely be returning for his senior season in blue and white.