Penn State commit Xavier Gilliam didn’t play football seriously until his sophomore year of high school.
But it wasn’t as simple as Gilliam suddenly discovering he loved and had a talent for the game.
Here’s what happened.
When Gilliam was in the third grade, he went out for a football trout and broke his wrist.
As a result, his mother barred him from playing until he got to high school.
Gilliam stayed athletically active, playing basketball and baseball, the latter of which he became an all-state first baseman. But he always loved football and was ready to play once he got to high school.
Unfortunately for Gilliam, his already long wait became even longer.
His freshman season at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Maryland, didn’t happen because of COVID-19, so Gilliam had to wait until his sophomore year to start playing.
But once Gilliam got his shot, he was ready.
“I knew what I was doing as soon as I got on the field,” Gilliam told Nittany Sports Now.
Gilliam’s father played at Grambling State and Morgan State in the 1990s, so Gilliam was familiar with the game.
But he didn’t burst onto the recruiting scene right away.
Gillam didn’t get any Division I offers during his sophomore year, and the only school that offered him as junior was Boston College.
But once the 2023 calendar year started, the offers started rolling in.
By April, Gilliam had offers from schools such as Duke, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, NC State, Penn State, Pitt, Texas A&M, Wake Forest and West Virginia.
Gilliam was a late bloomer regarding getting offers, but all he needed was one.
“A lot of guys glorify (having) 40 offers, 50 offers, he said. “That’s cool. Of course, everybody wants to have that many offers. But you can only pick one.”
Penn State was the school that Gillam picked, committing during his official visit on the first weekend of June.
IM HOME📍100% Committed!!! pic.twitter.com/eJdlD54lAt
— Xavier Gilliam (@XavierGilliam_) June 4, 2023
It was the first school Gilliam visited.
He went to a camp at Penn State for his first college visit during that sophomore year, before he had any offers.
Even before Gilliam got an offer, he noticed that Penn State cared about him.
“I really appreciated the love that they showed me, even though, at the time, I wasn’t even a (player that had an offer),” he said.
Of course, that offer eventually came for Gilliam.
For Gilliam, Penn State didn’t have to do anything crazy to get him to commit.
“They didn’t really have to offer me anything,” Gilliam said. “I feel like, when you see a guy with a Penn State offer, it’s automatically in their top five or like their top ten, just because Penn State doesn’t have to sell you on anything. Everything, it’s right there. With all the presentions and just being on campus, you could see what they have to offer without them having to say it.”
Gilliam knew Penn State had a lot to offer, but coming into his official visit weekend, he didn’t know if he was going to pick Penn State or Duke.
“I didn’t get to see the dorms, I didn’t get to tour campus, I didn’t learn about their NIL, I didn’t get to do a lot of things,” Gilliam said. “So, on my official visit, it really opened my eyes up, and I really learned about Penn State in a manner that I hadn’t learned before.”
“What I learned is that it is a football town, quite literally. You go to the WAWA, or you go to the Sheetz, and if you’re a Penn State football player, they take care of you.”
Defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton, another Maryland guy, hosted Gilliam on his visit, and the e weekend went quite well.
A big draw for Gilliam is Penn State’s first-year defensive line coach, Deion Barnes, who was a standout player for James Franklin once upon a time.
“Coach Barnes is super cool,” Gilliam said. “He definitely is a young guy, which in my opinion, is kind of easier to have a young position coach like that because I feel like you can really connect closer. Coach Barnes played at Penn State, so he knows campus better than anybody else. He knows what it’s like, and he’s not one of those coaches that gets too fired up.
So what does Barnes see in Gilliam’s game?
“He likes how explosive I am,” Gilliam said. “One of the things I do need to work on… well, not really work on, but just strengthen, is the use of my hands. Playing D-Line is mainly hands, so just working on that, working on identifying pass and run, just stuff like that.”
Gilliam sees himself as a versatile player on the line.
“I can play a lot of positions,” he said. “I can come off the edge. I can drop back into coverage. I can move inside and play the run, you know. So I wouldn’t even try to put a limit on my abilities.”
Gilliam’s visited Penn State three times, but hasn’t been to a game yet. He plans on attending both the season opener against West Virginia Sept. 2 and the White Out Game against Iowa Sept. 23, both of which are at night.
Gilliam won’t be enrolling at Penn State early because county doesn’t allow for a mid-year graduation.
But he plans on coming, and is relieved that the recruiting process is over.
“One of the things that my dad was telling me is that some guys love football, and then some guys love the recruiting process. Some guys love going on the visits and putting a jersey on, and that’s cool, but I’m really a big football guy. So, when I committed, it was just like a big relief. I don’t have to worry about all of these people texting me, calling me. Sometimes it can get overwhelming, not for me, but just in general. So I feel it really lifted a weight off my shoulders.”