If you watch offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey working out at the Scouting Combine, you’d never believe he ever got bullied: He’s 6-foot-6 and 318 pounds and bench presses 225 pounds 28 times. But Gilkey says there was a time when he was a scrawny kid who didn’t belong on the football field — and it was a former NFL player who helped him turn it all around.
Howard Balzer of the Sports Xchange has a good profile of Gilkey, who is starting to draw attention from NFL teams after playing at a small school, Chadron State College. Gilkey got there after having a tough time at his first high school, then blossoming after transferring to a different high school — which just happened to have a football team coached by former Bills receiver Don Beebe.
“I was undersized and I was actually bullied and ostracized by my entire school,” Gilkey said. “Going into my freshman year, I had a heart operation — very simple, but it prevented me from playing in any sports and doing anything. So, I excelled academically. With that, some of the guys — especially on the football team and the upper cliques — distanced [themselves] from me because I wasn’t able to do the running in the summer and the workouts. . . . I was constantly bullied, constantly picked on. It was a very hard year. Really, I like to tell people that I was just the little redheaded, gingery, skinny-looking [kid]. I was pear-shaped. I had these wide hips and this skinny-looking upper body. I was just a prime target for many of the cruel kids.”
But transferring and working both with Don Beebe and his brother, Dave Beebe, made Gilkey realize he had a passion for football. It also helped that a growth spurt had him up to 240 pounds. By his senior year he was good enough that small colleges wanted him, and Dave Beebe told him he’d eventually be good enough to play in the NFL.
Now Gilkey is showing that his high school coaches had a reason to believe in him, and he says he wants to use his status as a pro athlete to reach out to bullied kids.
“I’m starting an anti-bullying campaign,” Gilkey said. “I have such a great opportunity to be proactive and be encouraging and be a strong force within the community of the west suburbs of Chicago. I plan on being proactive with schools and junior highs and YMCAs, and talking about bullying. I think I have a great position, being my size, and standing up and talking about my experience being bullied, being ostracized and being made fun of. People see me now and think, ‘How could this person ever be bullied?’ I have a great voice and great platform to share those experiences and share my faith, as well.”
Gilkey is viewed as a likely late-round pick. It remains to be seen whether he can make the transition from Chadron State to the NFL, but the team that drafts him will be getting an impressive young man.