Lofty goals

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — His emergence on the field helped Penn State win 11 games and post some of its best punting numbers in years.

The only number that really mattered to Blake Gillikin during his first full semester as a Nittany Lion, though, was the 4.0 grade-point average he posted during the fall.

“That’s my goal every semester,” the Schreyer Honors Scholar said.

The lanky freshman from Smyrna, Georgia, helped the Nittany Lions’ punting unit, which had struggled in recent seasons, make major improvements during the 2016 season. His 42.8-yard average was the third-best in the Big Ten and the best by a Penn State punter since Jeremy Boone averaged 43.3 yards in 2009. Penn State, which hadn’t finished higher than ninth in the conference in punting since 2011, finished third on its way to a league championship.

“It was a really busy semester, if you can imagine that,” Gillikin said, grinning. “You wake up, go to class, go to practice, study hall, and then go to sleep, and then do it all over again. It was a lot, but I think I chose the right classes to take that first semester to try to get the foundation for the rest of my career here.”

Gillikin, who took two classes during the second summer semester, spent six weekends on the road during the fall, including the Nittany Lions’ trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game. Two keys helped him handle his four-class academic load: a lot of time on Sundays studying at the Morgan Academic Support Center, and the advice his parents Walt and Taryn Gillkin, both Division I swimmers in college, had given him about time management.

“You have to make a schedule,” Gillikin said. “That’s absolutely critical. If you don’t know what you have to do, you’re going to forget about something. Especially if you’re tired from workouts and your brain’s not working at its full capacity all the time. You gotta have something written down that tells you what you need to get done, because that sets your goals and lines up what you need to do.”

Gillikin came to Penn State as a biology major but decided to switch to kinesiology. He has had his sights on medical school from a young age, just like his twin brother, Tyler, who is a long snapper at Northwestern.

“Playing sports, I’ve broken a lot of bones throughout my life,” Gillikin said, laughing. “I was always at the doctor’s office, and I thought it was cool what the doctors did.”

Gillikin said his Penn State coaches were excited when he told them of his plans to become a Schreyer Scholar (he is the first football player to do so since Stefen Wisniewski, a three-time Academic All-American who graduated in 2010). He is already enjoying the smaller class sizes.

“I only have 10 people in one of my classes,” said Gillikin, who is taking five classes this spring. “That adds to the relationship to the professor, where the professor knows your name and can get to know you as an individual. That helps out a lot, especially when you’re getting into those difficult assignments where you need to have that one-on-one relationship to get the feedback you need.”

Student-athletes are ineligible to be named to the CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-America teams until they have completed one calendar year, meaning Gillikin, one of 19 Penn State football players who had a GPA of 3.5 or higher during the fall semester, will have to wait a bit longer to achieve one of his primary objectives.

“Maintaining the 4.0 is probably the biggest thing for me,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to be an All-American on the field and an Academic All-American as well. That’s been a standard for me since I got here.”

Last Updated March 08, 2017