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Former Bills star helps lineman find his way to the draft


You won't hear Garrett Gilkey's name called on the first day of the draft. You probably won't hear it on day two, either.

But by the third and final day of the NFL Draft, it's likely Gilkey's name will be called. And it's likely to be the best name-calling experience the big offensive lineman has ever experienced.

Gilkey is a 6-6, 318 pound lineman who played tackle at Division II Chadron State in Nebraska. That's the same school that produced Bills WR Don Beebe, who was Buffalo's first draft pick in 1989. Beebe played the first six years of his nine year NFL career with the Bills and he wound up playing in six Super Bowls overall.

And Beebe played a major role in guiding Garrett Gilkey through high school, into college, and now into the NFL Draft.

Beebe is the Head Football Coach at Aurora Christian High School outside Chicago.  Eight years ago, Gilkey transferred from his high school in Sandwich, Illinois, about one hour west of Chicago, to Aurora Christian. The reason for the transfer? Gilkey was the victim of bullies.

"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 at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this spring.

"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 myself from me because I wasn't able to do the running in the summer and the workouts. I was booed twice in school. I was constantly bullied, constantly picked on. It was a very hard year."

Gilkey's parents gave him a chance to transfer to Aurora Christian, where he met up with former Bills WR Don Beebe and his brother, Dave Beebe, Aurora Christian's assistant football coach.

"Garrett was one of those kids that I kind of took under my wing and mentored," Don Beebe says. 

"He came from a public school and he was picked on, believe it or not. He was kind of a lanky, different looking kid when he was younger. And he had a heart condition, so he couldn't do any football or any sports, so the kids made fun of him. He transferred after his freshman year in high school for that very reason. "

Gilkey grew physically and emotionally during his time at Aurora Christian. He grew enough for Beebe to recommend him to the coaching staff at Chadron State, Beebe's alma mater.

Beebe says Gilkey developed into an NFL prospect, and a solid young man, during his time at Aurora Christian.

"He really blossomed and really started to gain confidence in himself and his abilities and his faith.  And through that whole process, he has really matured into a pretty nice young man."

Gilkey impressed scouts with his work at the Senior Bowl in late January. And he continued his push up the draft rankings with another solid outing at the combine in February. Most experts have him pegged as a 5th or 6th round pick in the NFL draft later this month.

And he has Beebe to thank for much of his success.

"I'm the first player from Chadron to go to the Senior Bowl," he said. "I'll be 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."

Regardless of where he winds up in the league, Gilkey plans on using his time and his stature to start a campaign for young people who go through the same trials he did.

"I'm starting an anti-bullying campaign," he said at the Combine. "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?'"

Beebe says the bullying that Gilkey endured gives him a unique perspective on the problem.  And he soon will have the platform to help solve the problem.

"That could have driven Garrett in the opposite direction," Beebe says. "But it's probably the fire for him, now that he has a platform, to really exploit that and talk to people."

"He's going to walk into a high school now and talk about bullying, and they're going to say 'What??' Because he's a really big guy."

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