Gary Gilliam has been a part of Penn State’s football program for four years now, but he’s not afraid to ask any freshmen for advice.
Why? Gilliam is now a offensive tackle after playing tight end for the majority of his career, and has bulked up for the switch. Now, it’s just about refining his skills and technique --- and he’s always looking for help.
“Even though I’m older than most of them, I haven’t played this position,” Gilliam said. “Even if it's getting a few things from the freshmen --- everyone has something they can give in terms of information. And I’m more than willing and not too prideful to get help from anybody.”
Gilliam approached coach Bill O’Brien in the spring about a possible position switch. Tight end is arguably Penn State’s deepest position with Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Matt Lehman all contributing on offense last year and Adam Breneman and Brent Wilkerson emerging as fourth and fifth options. Gilliam was buried in that depth.
The Carlisle, Pa., native has had an up-and-down career because of injuries. After redshirting in 2009, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in 2010 and didn’t return to the field until 2012, when he caught seven balls for 65 yards.
Gilliam was listed as a Y-tight end this past season, a position for bigger, more physical tight ends with better blocking skills. So the switch made sense. He’s added nearly 30 pounds to his 6-foot-6 frame this offseason.
Gilliam, who has two years of eligibility left, is up to 303 pounds and was No. 2 on the team’s post-spring depth chart at left tackle behind Donovan Smith.
“Now it’s more getting done my technique,” Gilliam said. “Little things. A step here, a step there, where to put my hands. Besides that, it hasn’t been too bad.”
Gilliam is practicing with teammates for the first time in about nine months. His transition to tackle was slowed by a calf injury in the spring.
“It’s nice to just put the pads on for the first time and start hitting again,” Gilliam said. “Because for me, it's been since the Wisconsin game."
O’Brien said Thursday that Gilliam will see the field in one way or another. Gilliam was surprised to hear he may line up at tight end, but said he'll play tackle, guard, center, quarterback or defensive back in order to get on the field and contribute.
“You'll see him at either tackle, might see him at tight end, tackle,” O’Brien said. “He's going to play.”
Steven Petrella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @steve_petrella.