Gillikin, Fessler families have split interest in Big Ten game

UNIVERSITY PARK — A contest between Penn State and Northwestern will not be the only rivalry renewed Saturday afternoon.

A pair of sibling rivalries will take the forefront for two families as both Nittany Lions punter Blake Gillikin and reserve quarterback/holder Billy Fessler challenge their brothers in the Big Ten matchup.

Gillikin’s twin brother, Tyler, is the starting long snapper for Northwestern, and Fessler’s younger brother, Charlie, is a wide receiver for the Wildcats.

Tyler Gillikin, who was simultaneously recruited with his brother by James Franklin, was selected as Northwestern’s special teams player of the week for his performance against Nebraska this past week.

“I remember going to Blake’s house for the official visits and there were scuff marks and holes all over the walls,” Franklin said. “Tyler used to snap it to him, and he would drop it and do a light punt in the house, so there was stuff all over the place.”

Billy Fessler, who is one year older than the brother that he lived with all summer in Evanston as he completed an internship in nearby Chicago, recalled the recruiting process of Charlie and the moment they realized that the two would have to play each other.

“The night Charlie committed to Northwestern was the weekend before I reported to Penn State,” Fessler said. “We pulled up a schedule of the next four years and realized that we’d play each other twice. That feeling for me and my family and Charlie was pretty special.”

Despite the Nittany Lions being favored to top the Wildcats, no such favoritism will be shown from either mother.

“I know talking to Mrs. Gillikin this week,” Franklin said, “she’s already got a jersey that’s been made that’s sewed in half,” Franklin said. “She’s going to spend the first half on one sideline and the next half on the other one.”

Fessler, whose mother is a Penn State graduate, expects his mom to wear a similar jersey among a group of 40 Fessler family members with shirts that read ‘House Divided’.

Although the game of football requires an uncanny competitive spirit, both Gillikin and Fessler admire the success and amount of work that their siblings have invested, and wish nothing but the best for their brothers.

“As a brother you hope that he plays as well as he possibly can and has a lot of success,” Fessler said, “but at the end of the day (you hope) the scoreboard has Penn State with at least one more point than Northwestern has.”

Regardless of the outcome, both brothers are able to step back and appreciate the power of the moment in playing their genetic teammate in life.

“(Saturday’s game) is a really big game for my family,” Gillikin said. “It’s going to be a really special week for me and him to see each other on the same field.”

“To walk across the field and see your brother and hug and embrace with him,” Fessler said, “is a moment that we’ve been dreaming about since we were little kids.”