It wasn’t a tough decision for Garry Gilliam to move from tight end to offensive tackle.
It was his idea to gain nearly 40 pounds and it came to him during a moment of snacking clarity.
“For me to stay at like 265, 270 (pounds), which is basically a tight end regardless, I was eating grilled chicken and salad, pretty much on a diet to maintain my weight,” Gilliam said. “I knew that if I just ate like a normal athlete I could easily put on the weight. With my frame, there was no reason why I couldn’t.”
The hulking, 6-foot-6 Gilliam was confident he could pack on the extra bulk to become an effective, every-down tackle. Coach Bill O’Brien was skeptical at first.
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After all, Gilliam had already proven himself an adequate blocker and capable receiver. He managed to haul in seven catches for 65 yards. But it wasn’t enough for Gilliam, who figured his playing time would remain stagnant as Penn State has a host of viable tight ends.
“Obviously my playing time wasn’t as much as I wanted it to be,” Gilliam said. “But the offensive tackles weren’t as deep as they needed to be and I thought I could contribute in that aspect. I was more of a blocking tight end so why not focus solely on blocking and make that my position? With all the tight ends we have anyway, why waste a decent blocker when (we could be) better across the board?”
So O’Brien heard Gilliam out, met with his staff to talk it over, then phoned the tight end shortly after the season finale in November. The switch was approved. Gilliam was free of his diet.
It proved to be perfect timing as Gilliam took the opportunities to pack on weight with tackle-sized portions during Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Once he got back for winter workouts, Gilliam went to work in the Lasch Building with strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald. In the spring, he checked in at nearly 290 pounds. By the time training camp started, Gilliam, who played at around 260 pounds last season was up to 303 pounds.
“I think the fact that my frame is the way it is, especially helped me to be able to put on a lot more weight,” Gilliam said. “Definitely being in the weight room with Fitz, increasing all my weights to kind of push myself to just fill out my frame as fast as I could.”
Gilliam is also intrigued by a chance to play along an NFL offensive line one day. He feels he has a better shot to make an NFL roster as a tackle. He’s already shown improvement. After coming into training camp relatively inexperienced at tackle, Gilliam has positioned himself as a probable starter against Syracuse. O’Brien said either Adam Gress or Gilliam will start at right tackle.
But there’s still a chance Gilliam could return to his old position every now and then should Penn State need him.
“You'll see him at either tackle, might see him at tight end,” O’Brien said shortly after training camp began. “He's going to play.”
And he’ll likely do so in a speedy manner. Gilliam’s teammates said it’s hard to notice his physical transformation. Due to his height, Gilliam carries the added weight well. He hasn’t sacrificed speed or athleticism, either.
“I told him, it was just crazy how he kept all his quickness and speed and stuff like that while gaining that much weight,” defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said. “I know me personally, I gain a couple of pounds, I feel like I’m moving like a turtle. That’s pretty impressive to me to see that.”
Now, Gilliam can’t measure his success on catches and yards. Instead, he’ll use another non-statistical category to gauge his progress.
“The happiness I got out of catching a pass as a tight end, now I get the same happiness out of picking up a blitz or picking up a stunt on the offensive line,” Gilliam said. “It’s just as satisfying for me personally.”
Heat on the horizon
Penn State experienced issues with heat early last season when players were plagued by cramps inside Beaver Stadium against Ohio and on the road at Virginia.
Against the Cavaliers, the heat and humidity got so bad that the letters on the backs of Penn State’s jerseys began peeling off. Equipment manager Brad “Spider” Caldwell had his wife sew on each letter following the Virginia game so they aren’t likely to flake off the nameplates this time around.
But the heat is still likely to be a cause for concern. It is expected to be near 90 degrees with a chance of thunderstorms at MetLife Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“You just take care of your body,” Jones said. “Eat right, eat the right foods and drink enough water and Gatorade to make sure you’re hydrated for the game.”
O’Brien said Penn State has taken strides to keep his players’ legs fresh this training camp. While the Nittany Lions ended many training camp practices last season with gassers — long, cross-field sprints — they’ve avoided over doing it this season. Instead, a lot of practices have ended with upper body conditioning.
“I believe we’ve done a better job of that this year,” O’Brien said. “I really do.”
Run-ons earn scholarships
The week started on a high note for five Penn State players who all found out they had earned scholarships for this season.
O’Brien met with a few members of his staff and recommended guard Bryan Davie, defensive linemen Carl Nassib and Tyrone Smith, cornerback Devin Pryor and running back Deron Thompson for scholarships. And although Thompson is the only one who has played in a game, each player received aid for this season.
After conferring with his staff, O’Brien informed the five players of their scholarships and then told the team.
“What I did was I watched these guys over a long period of time,” O’Brien said. “Each guy has been on our team for a while. We don’t just hand out these things like candy. You have to earn it and these guys have earned it.”
O’Brien said he does not expect the added scholarships to throw off the final count when Penn State must be down to 65 scholarship players before next season starts per NCAA sanctions. Penn State entered the season with 67 players on scholarship.
While Penn State opened as a three point favorite when most betting lines were first published this week, the Nittany Lions have widened the gap.
According to multiple odds makers, Penn State is favored to win by more than a touchdown now.
Bovada, Glantz-Culver and BetOnline all have Penn State as eight-point favorites while 5 Dimes lists Penn State as 8 1/2 point favorites. Sportsbook.com, Wagerweb and BookMaker all have Penn State as nine-point favorites.