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Penn State Football: Blake Gillikin and the Business of Punting

by on December 04, 2019 2:44 PM

It's fourth down as Penn State's offense walks off the field, an early season drive only moving the ball a few yards, it hasn't even made it past the 33.

And out walks the new guy, punter Blake Gillikin, a Georgia native who is going to have to get used to all sorts of things this year. Snow for one, winter weather, not to mention punting in front of 106,000 people.

But there's no time like the present to find your comfort. So Gillikin strolls out, takes a deep break, a practice swing of the leg and awaits the punt.

The snap comes, the leg pops, the ball flies and 49 yards later the play is dead. The crowd is already cheering before the ball hits comes back down to Earth, after seasons of inconsistent punting from Penn State's special team's unit, Gillikin is a punting God among men to them. He can punt it far, straight and in the correct direction.

"It was pretty cool," Gillikin recalls, years later with a laugh. "I didn't really expect that because I didn't think I hit it that well. I didn't shank it, but it wasn't a great pop. That was pretty cool. But obviously, don't like to see me out in the field that many times I like to see our team win. So I know, if I'm getting calling a lot, that's probably not gonna happen. But whenever I get the opportunity to kind of maximize it."

That's the irony of being a punter, nobody really wants to see you. It's the kind of work that goes appreciated but also unwanted. 

But for all the ups and downs of his career, of any career really, Gillikin is going to end his at Penn State one of the best punters in program history. Even if nobody wants to see him.

So far Gillikin and his now flowing locks have punted the ball 249 times while at Penn State, 98 of those (39%) downed inside the 20. This season in particular Gillikin has rounded back into form with 42% of his punts have been downed inside the 20, the second highest rate in his career after booting half his punts inside the 20 during the 2017 season.

Although perhaps unfortunately for the other side of this coin, his 72 punts in 2019 are the most in a single season of his career.

It's not the punting that Gillikin takes the most pride in, well he takes pride in everything, but finding ways to help the team isn't always easy when you aren't going to be scoring touchdowns or setting big blocks. Sure you can flip the field, setting up opponents with long fields, but you're always going to be the guy practicing in the corner each week and the guy just trying to stay warm for the handful of plays on game day.

That doesn't mean he can't get his hands on the ball when points are involved though.

"I think the one thing I'm proud of is taking over the holding position, the last two years," Gillikin added. "That's somewhere where I kind of want to contribute my first two years on campus and didn't really get that opportunity. So finally be able to do that was really cool. And then just be able to give our defense, the best fuel position in the country. Obviously they're great. They had a great year. And I like to think I'm part of that."

Currently averaging 43 yards a punt over the course of his career, Gillikin is .3 yards from holding Penn State's all-time record. Short fields to punt from haven't helped that average, in the end it's about where the ball ends up, now how far it traveled. If he doesn't up that figure in Penn State's bowl game, the honor will stay with Jeremy Boone.

But if there is a fitting way for a punter to go out during Senior Day, it's a bomb to remind everyone what you've been all about. So Gillikin once again trots out on the field, once again the guy nobody really wanted to see. He takes a look at the field in front of him, takes a deep breath and waits.

The snap, the swing, the bomb.

72-yards later it's downed at the three.

And four years later the crowd stands and cheers again.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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