PSU’s Gillikin has bigger goals than just punting

UNIVERSITY PARK — Punting and surgery share a few things in common. Both require great precision and set up the patient or defense for future success. The surgeon and punter must seek perfection in their craft, fine-tuning every small detail.

For Penn State sophomore Blake Gillikin, he’s an aspiring master of both skills.

The Schreyer Honors College scholar with a 4.0 grade point average and starting punter for the Nittany Lions is a pre-med student with a goal of one day becoming an orthopedic surgeon while also being named to the Ray Guy preseason watch list, an award bestowed upon the nation’s top punter.

Gillikin’s self-admitted perfectionist nature is at the root of what drives his elite ability both on and off the field.

“I’m a perfectionist in all aspects of life,” Gillikin said. “Punting is so difficult and detail-oriented that it kind of attracted me. You have to be a perfectionist to be a doctor. You always want to get it right and hope the person heals the right way.”

His success in the classroom is only rivaled by his dominance on the field. A year removed from breaking the Penn State freshman season punting average record, the punter was at it again last Saturday when the Nittany Lions took on Pittsburgh.

Gillikin finished the day with six punts, five of which pinned the Panthers inside their own 20, with one ultimately pinning Pittsburgh so close to its own goal line, the Penn State defense was able to force the Panthers into a safety.

“My goal every game is to put our defense in the best position to be successful,” Gillikin said. It’s a great statistic to have a huge average, but the most important thing to me is pin the opponent to the goal line as close as possible so that our defense has a really good shot at getting the stop.”

Like a good surgeon, Gillikin is keenly aware that success is the result of a team effort.

“It’s unbelievable how much I appreciate what they do,” Gillikin said. In the Pitt game, everyone was flying around on the field. They were making plays which made me look really good, when in fact they need most of the credit.”

The elevated level of play on special teams is not something that has gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. Franklin is well aware of the impact an elite punter can have and the success that follows.

“I think we all realized last year the difference having a big-time punter makes in terms of field position for both your offense and defense,” Franklin said. “He’s continued on a real strong path this year as well. I think the other thing is our coverage units have really taken another step. Combine a really good punter with good athleticism in your coverage unit, and it sets you up for success.”