Finding balance between Football and Faith
One of the many questions for the Cleveland Browns this season revolves around the Offensive Line. With Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, they have a strong core to build around. Jason Pinkston was their hope at right guard after a promising rookie season in 2011. An injury sidelined him in 2012 and fans looked forward to his return this year. Unfortunately, he suffered an ankle injury during training camp and has been placed on the injured reserve-designated to return list. Add to that the injury to Shawn Lauvao, and everyone is wondering what will happen to the right side of the line.
Enter 7th round draft pick Garrett Gilkey out of Chadron State. I had the opportunity to talk with Garrett this week and I must say I was pretty impressed with this young man. As a player who is suddenly thrust into a position that is new to him, and with the pressure of protecting QB Brandon Weeden who has a lot to prove this year, Garrett seems more than ready to take on the challenge. He first came to my attention during a training camp scrum with teammate Brian Sanford. He ended up with his helmet knocked off and in a pile, but he fought his way up and showed real emotion on the field. I respect that in a player!
Garrett moved to Sandwich, IL, near Chicago, in middle school. He has four sisters, two older and two younger. His dad has been a Chicago Bears season ticket holder for as long as he can remember, and they would go to games together. A victim of bullying in school, he went to Aurora Christian High School for a change of scenery and was able to get past the troubling early years and make friends who he’s still close to.
I can imagine the hardships of growing up with 4 sisters, but what were the benefits?
GG: I’ve learned to be expressive about my feelings and to be patient. At an early age, my Mom would stress the importance of being gentle. She would tell me that she knew I was going to grow up to be a big man and I needed to learn to be gentle with my sisters and others. This became a challenge when I played on the offensive line â€“ you don’t think of O-linemen as gentle. But I was able to flip the switch when I put on my helmet and go from gentle to tenacious to show my physicality on the field.
How nervous, excited, emotional were you to start your first NFL preseason game in Chicago on Soldier Field?
GG: Pretty excited. It was a very sentimental feeling to be on the field, knowing my Dad was there watching me just like when we would go to games together. It was just awesome!
Garrett went to college at Chadron State in Nebraska. A relatively unknown school to most of us, it was actually recommended to him by his Aurora Christian Coach Don Beebe, an alum of Chadron and former NFL player for the Bills, Panthers, and Packers.
How did you end up choosing Chadron State?
GG: I asked my coach if he thought I could play Division I football. He said no, I wasn’t good enough, so I started looking at D2 and D3 schools. I got a lot of letters from D3 schools but I really thought I could play D2. I talked to the coach again and he said let me tell you about my college, Chadron State. We went for a visit and he talked to the coaches. They offered me a partial scholarship and I accepted.
Did you anticipate playing in the NFL after graduation? Were you concerned about being missed at a D2 school?
GG: Yes, I hoped to make it to the NFL. I thought if my coach could get drafted from Chadron, then so could I. I just had to work hard.
What was your major? What would you do if you weren’t in the NFL?
GG: Special Education was my major. I still have a couple of classes to finish my degree. Either that or Youth Ministry. Working with young people is in my heart, something I feel I’ve been called to do. Since I’m in the NFL, I’m hoping to use this as a platform for working with kids and continuing my work with ministry. Living a missional life is very important to me.
Before the interview, I checked out Garrett’s twitter account – @gagilk73 â€“ and read quite a few articles about him. There is always a mention of his faith along with his football playing. I wanted to know where his faith comes from and how he balances that against a violent sport like football.
I noticed the tattoo on your left arm. Can you tell me about that symbolism? The Holy Spirit Dove and the Star of David?
GG: Yes. The dove represents the Holy Spirit’s descent into Christ when he was baptized. The Star of David is for my grandmother. She has ancestors who are from Israel. The Hebrew words say, “Lord God of Israel.” As a connection to my grandmother and her roots, I feel a strong connection to God’s biblical plan for Israel.
It sounds like Faith plays an important part in your life.
GG: Absolutely. I feel in my heart I’ve been called to lead a Spirit-filled life. It’s very important to me.
How do you balance Faith and Football?
GG: I think that comes from my Mom. She gave me a phrase that I use on twitter and I hope will someday be a non-profit or ministry program – #StandandSlam. It means stand up for what you believe in, who you are at all times and especially in the locker room, but once you are on the field, slam. God gave me a talent for football and I need to use it to the best of my ability. It’s easy to balance because I’m using my gifts and abilities while leading a life of faith.
In college, Garrett played on the left side of the offensive line. With the injury to Pinkston, he has moved to the right. At 6’6″ and 320 pounds, he ran the 40 in 5.33 at the combine, but registered a 1.7 on the 10 yard dash.
Can you still run the 40 in 5.33?
GG: Yes, but that’s not very good really for an O-Lineman. I’m prouder of the 1.7 for the 10. It shows I can be explosive off the line. However, you don’t have to do either of them in a game and I’m very glad I never have to run a timed 40 again!
How has the transition been going over to right guard?
GG: The first few days were strange but I got used to it quickly. I’d like to be ambidextrous and play from either side, if needed. I know I have much to improve on, but I’m very comfortable now.
We also talked a bit about his off-the-field activities. Garrett likes sport or target shooting, the mental challenge of playing chess, and swimming. He’s played baseball and basketball but really doesn’t do either anymore. We’ve all watched the TV Show “Hard Knocks.” When I asked him if the Browns had a version of the Rookie Show where new players do skits or something to poke fun at the veterans and if he performed in it, he pleaded the 5th. Smart young man!
I thought he looked good in training camp and as I watched him signing autographs for some kids one day after practice, I hoped nothing but the best for him. He seemed like a very nice young man. He was playful and engaged during the interview and I remember seeing him seem joyful at training camp, even at the end of a long, tiring practice. After spending time talking to him, I know I was right.
He’s a very nice young man with a strong faith in Christ. And he just happens to play football.
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