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Penn State Football: Can Blake Gillikin Punt, Kickoff AND Kick Field Goals?

by on July 08, 2018 8:00 PM

The answer is “yes.”

Yes, Blake Gillikin can punt, kick off and kick field goals and extra points for Penn State in 2018.

At least he thinks so.

“If I’m needed, I’d love to do it,” Gillikin was saying last week.

Not that Gillikin wants to quit his day job. After all, he’s pretty good at it.

As the Nittany Lions’ punter the past two seasons, Gillikin set the school record for freshmen (42.8 yards) in 2016 and in 2017 he averaged 43.2 yards per punt, earning him second team All-Big Ten honors. He’s seven inches from surpassing Jeremy Boone’s Penn State career record of 43.1 yards per punt.

Still, he’d happily say yes to adding more duties. Credit Gillikin for not punting the question.

“Obviously, I want to be the best punter I can, because that’s what I came here to do,” said Gillikin prior to Lift For Life festivities. “If we have guys who get the kickoff and the field goal jobs done better or just as good as I can, that’s great. Then I can be their holder and their mentor and help them out.”

But…

“But If I’m needed to do all three, I can do that,” said the 6-foot-2, 192-pounder who has med school aspirations. “With my experience and my maturity, I’ll be able to do all three.”

So, make it a qualified “yes,” then. As in, Gillikin thinks he is qualified. And he has the numbers to prove it.

He’ll be a Penn State junior in the fall, and last place-kicked as a high school senior in 2015 as a senior at Westminster High School in Georgia. There, he was a first-team all-state place-kicker. Gillikin made all 54 of his PATs. He also was 16 of 26 on field goal tries, with bests from 52, 53 and 56 yards.

CJF KICKS IN HIS TWO CENTS

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So, maybe, “hell yes!”?

Hold on. Maybe not.

“Obviously, I think Gillikin can do it, and he did it in high school,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said during spring drills, when walk-on placement specialist — and 2018 place-holder — Carson Landis did almost all of the kicking. “We prefer not to do it.”

Franklin said the same thing to Gillikin when the two met after spring practice ended. And Gillikin read about it on the web, too.

“Coach Franklin, obviously, has voiced his concerns about more responsibility,” said Gillikin. “I had a conversation with him in the spring. I want to do whatever I can to help this team. If that’s being the holder and being the punter, then that’s fine. If it’s being all three, that’s fine. If it’s just being the punter, that’s fine. I know he’s voiced his concerns to the media about me trying to do all three.”

Entering preseason camp, the battle for the No. 1 place-kicking job includes freshmen Jake Pinegar (on scholarship, from Iowa) and Rafael Checa (a preferred walk-on from Washington, D.C.). Gillikin has been holding for both of them in summer drills.

“They’ve all done really well. I’ve kicked with them twice,” Gillikin said. “I got them accustomed to the wind that picks up here. They’ve handled it really well; they’ve put themselves in a good position for camp. We’re going to be a lot better this year. They’re going to bring a lot of value. They both hit really pure balls with great ball flight.”

Penn State finds itself in this position because scholarship kicker Alex Barbir left the team in December, after two seasons at Penn State, and Tyler Davis graduated. Davis was the team’s placement kicker in 2016-17, and handled the majority of the kickoff duties in 2017, with 87, while Barbir did six kickoffs.

After making 30 of his first 32 field goals in 2016-17, Davis was just 9 of 17 in 2017, going 3 of 10 on attempts over 30 yards, with two blocks. Last season, Davis made just one field goal in Penn State’s final four games, and three in their final seven contests (from 24, 26 and 30 yards). It wasn’t the best of situations. Gillikin took notice.

“Taking on more responsibility is more difficult,” Gillikin said. “Tyler recognized how his field goals may have suffered when he took on that kickoff responsibility. It’s harder when you start kicking more and doing more to keep your leg in shape. You have to learn to take it easy and make sure you don’t overdo it in practice and you’re ready for game day.”

A NEW METHOD IS AFOOT

Toward that end, Gillikin is looking at modifying his routine — with football and ball.

“I have to watch the amounts of hits on my leg,” he said. “I don’t play any other sports right now; it’s just football. So there’s always the risk of overuse injuries and stuff like that. It’s going to take some discipline to condition my leg to do all three. And spring ball I kind of learned that. Camp will be another test of trying to balance the three. They’re all pretty technically advanced.

“This year, I need to evolve my warmup. I’m going to stop using footballs so much in warmup and I’m going to use little soccer balls. It takes the impact off of your leg. And I need to pay attention to my rep count. If you have a bad day kicking, you want to keep on kicking. You can’t really do that. I think I’m mature enough to handle that at this point.”

OTHER DUTIES, AS ASSIGNED

At the very least — or the most, perhaps — Gillikin can see himself handling the punting, kickoff and holding responsibilities. So can Franklin.

“There is an aspect where he may do kickoff and he’s shown that he’s pretty good at that,” Franklin said in the middle of spring drills. “From all the people we talked to plus the kicking gurus, that’s an easier kind of job to handle with punting and kickoffs where field goals are a lot more technical.”

Gillikin knows such a move would not only help the Nittany Lions, but also be a resume-builder.

“Especially for the NFL,” he said. “A lot of punters try to take on kickoffs. You don’t see punters as field goal kickers. Holding is a big thing. I’ve worked on that this offseason. For the new guys coming in, I want to be the steady hand for them. Being a well-rounded guy, in life and football, will always help.”

It’s that kind of attitude that led to Gillikin being named one of the team’s co-captains — along with quarterback Trace McSorley and safety Nick Scott (although there may be others named closer to the 2018 season opener).

The first game is against Appalachian State on Sept. 2 in Beaver Stadium. Gillikin figures he’ll get the yes/no on how much kicking and holding he’ll be doing this season by then.

“We have to wait and see,” Gillikin said. “I’ve been preparing myself like I’ll be the starter at any position. I’ll still work on holding since I was the starting holder in spring ball. I’ve been working on all facets of my game in the offseason. I want to be ready for any situation and when camp comes around I want to be ready to take on responsibility that I can.

“In camp, it will probably come down to who can be the most consistent and who can handle the pressure," he predicted. “Hopefully we’ll figure it out before the first game.”



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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