INDIANAPOLIS – Today, Garrett Gilkey pushes people around.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Not that long ago, the offensive lineman was a victim of bullying at his Chicago-area high school.
“I came in my freshman year at Sandwich (High School) at about 5-11, 160 pounds, 170 pounds,” Gilkey said. “Most guys were bigger than me. 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 in Sandwich.”
After undergoing heart surgery prior to his freshman year, Gilkey wasn’t able to participate in sports.
That led to more bullying and exclusion from the rest of the football team.
“I was undersized and I was actually bullied and ostracized by my entire school and I was booed a few times in front of the entire school,” Gilkey said. “I was constantly bullied, constantly picked on. It was a very hard year.”
He then transferred to Aurora Christian High School where he hit his growth spurt as a junior, filling out into a lineman’s frame.
His high school position coach called Gilkey into his office after a game during his senior season and told him, "Your footwork is like that of an NFL lineman."
“That’s when that spark came into my life,” Gilkey recalled. “I remember thinking, I’m 17 years old, ‘How in the heck can you say my feet look like an NFL lineman’s feet?’ That’s where it began.”
With the dream of the NFL dangled in front of him, Gilkey set out to play college football.
The only problem was that no Division I schools recruited him.
So, he decided to go to the same school that his high school coach, former NFL wide receiver Don Beebe, attended.
If Beebe could make it to the NFL from Chadron State, Gilkey figured he had a shot as well.
“I’m the first player from Chadron to go to the Senior Bowl,” Gilkey said. “I’m the second player to go to the NFL Combine – Beebe being the first. It’s kind of a cool connection. Hopefully the second player to be drafted; Beebe being the first. Having him as my high school coach, that’s just a really cool opportunity.”
A first-team All-American at Chadron State during his senior season, Gilkey played both tackle positions during his career with the Eagles.
His combination of strength and agility earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl as well as the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
There, he went head-to-head with NFL prospects from BCS powerhouses but took advantage of the even playing field to show that he could compete against the best.
“You know, it was good for me to acclimate myself to the NFL speed of things,” Gilkey said about that experience. “I definitely have things I need to work on but it allowed me to gain that confidence and assure the scouts, the coaches, the GMs and showing them that I’m not a developmental player, that I’m a guy that can come into a training camp and can compete for a job right off the bat.”
Since Gilkey was able to overcome the bullying to become an All-American, straight-A-earning student athlete, he hopes to use his own experiences to help others.
“I’m starting an anti-bullying campaign,” he said. “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.”