UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A year ago, he wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do, but Penn State offensive tackle Garry Gilliam knew he had options. He was on pace to graduate with a double major this December, and he assumed he would be granted a sixth year of eligibility after this season.
Gilliam discussed the possibility of a playing longer at Penn State for a shot at the NFL and pursuing a master’s degree. He also thought about not extending his eligibility and trying after this year to work for an advertising firm. Now, he has officially decided to end his playing career at Penn State.
He joins wide receiver Alex Kenney and defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz as players who will finish at Penn State even though they have a year of eligibility remaining. They’ll be honored with 13 other seniors Saturday against Nebraska.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien declined to discuss specifically why Kenney, Gilliam or Baublitz decided not to come back for another season.
“I’m not going to get into the discussions because those are personal between myself and some of these guys including Garry, Kyle Baublitz, Alex Kenney,” O’Brien said. “Those guys, basically, they sat down with me and they’ve decided to move on to the next stage of their lives next year. They’d like to be introduced on Saturday, so especially Baublitz and Gilliam. So that’s what we decided to do. Those two guys are great guys. They’ve been really good players for us and good leaders for us. We’re looking forward to watching them play these last two games, especially this last home game.”
Gilliam’s career has been defined by pushing through struggles. He grew up advanced beyond his age, going to the cost-free boarding institution at Milton Hershey School, and he came to Penn State known for his blocking prowess as a tight end. He tore a knee ligament in his sophomore season. It became infected a few months later and he missed the rest of the 2010 season and all of the 2011 season.
His first full season of football was 2012, and as a tight end he caught seven passes for 65 yards. O’Brien moved him to tackle this year. He has started four games.
“We all support him and wish him the best,” center Ty Howle said about Gilliam’s decision.
Baublitz has started eight games this year as a defensive tackle. He has 17 tackles and two sacks.
Of the three players leaving the team with eligibility remaining, Kenney has played the smallest role this season. He hasn’t started any games and has three receptions for 25 yards. Last year, he had 17 receptions for 172 yards.
“It hasn’t probably worked out for him on the field as much as he would have liked it to,” O’Brien said. “But he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
Tight end Matt Lehman also will be honored Saturday. Unlike the other players, his future is up in the air. This is Lehman’s fifth season of college football, after two previous seasons at Penn State and two at Shippensburg.
In the first game of the season against Syracuse, Lehman’s knee was injured and he has missed the rest of the season.
A sixth year of eligibility isn’t impossible, but Lehman’s unusual playing career makes it harder to predict. Penn State likely won’t find out until December or January whether he’ll be back.
“That’s a just in case,” O’Brien said of Lehman being announced Saturday. “I think it’s a special thing when you get introduced in front of the home crowd. So I want these guys, if this is their last home game, to have that opportunity because I think it’s a special thing.”
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.