For Penn State punter Blake Gillikin, attempting to be successful on the football field and in the classroom is “like working two full-time jobs.”
Still, the junior from Smyrna, Ga., has managed his two areas of work just fine. He made first-team Academic All-America earlier this month with a 4.0 grade-point average in his major, kinesiology. He also continued to hone his craft as one of the finest punters in the history of the Nittany Lions’ program, averaging a career-best 43.3 yards.
As someone who describes himself as a “perfectionist,” Gillikin has found a way to succeed.
“It’s really kind of the epitome of a balancing act,” Gillikin said earlier this month at media day in advance of the Lions’ matchup against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl. “It’s being able to shut off the academic piece when you have to focus on football, and shut off the football piece when you focus on academics.
“That’s been really important especially during exam week. It’s been really nice to just be able to focus on your schoolwork and your studies and finishing strong in the classroom.”
As for which aspect comes more naturally to him, Gillikin said he felt it was punting.
“I think I have an inclination to be the best at whatever I try to do,” he said. “My parents really ingrained that in me as a child. I think that really helped me out both in punting and in the world of academia.
“I would say that punting comes more naturally to me because I think you have to have a natural ability before you even can try to punt the ball. But academics were kind of a product of my parents, and my passion and work ethic and stuff like that.”
It was a change from early in his high school career at the Westminster School. Gillikin was preparing to be a kicker, but that objective took a turn during a summer camp when a coach informed his father that he’d make a good punter someday.
In an interview last season, Gillikin said that punting attracted him because of how difficult it was.
“I’m a perfectionist in a lot of facets of life,” he said. “Punting is so detail-oriented. 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.”
He has done pretty well. Going into the Citrus Bowl, his career average of 43.1 yards per punt is tied for second on Penn State’s all-time list. It hasn’t been smooth sailing all season, particularly against Iowa when his first punt of the day was blocked through the end zone for a safety.
There have been more good days, however, especially against Rutgers where he boomed punts of 70 and 67 yards.
Gillikin will return next year for his final season of eligibility with a goal of repeating as an Academic All-American and graduating in December. He also hopes to improve his punting in the offseason and attract the attention of NFL scouts.
“It’s going to be a lot of work just developing my leg speed, especially this year,” he said. “I’ve talked to more coaches about how to develop because punting is a lot different in terms of weightlifting and training and stuff like that.
“So it’s just being able to develop myself in the best way I can and then hopefully just having a more consistent season next year and getting on some teams’ radar after that.”