The following is a series that spotlights the contributions of Illinois FCS players to their communities. As Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill says, "If you leave here in four or five years and don’t make a difference in the town that you’re in, then you’ve wasted your time. You’ve got to get an education and here is your platform to make a difference in other people’s lives."
While every quarterback struggles at times with making connections on his passes, Scotty Gilkey, Jr. has delivered on target in the Charleston community.
Last holiday season Gilkey and his girlfriend Taylor organized a toy drive for those in need. This August they put together a school supply drive.
“First, we started with the toy drive in December. We went to Rural King and picked an angel off the tree that they do. There were just a lot of kids asking for things like socks and basic things like that. We wanted to do a little bit extra and that’s why we wanted to do that," Gilkey told Prairie State Pigskin. “I ended up having a car full of toys that just poured out.”
Gilkey caught both the attention and assistance from his EIU teammates.
“I helped out with the Christmas drive and look forward to helping him again,” sophomore Mark Williams said. "I admire what they've done. I look up to it."
A homecoming of sorts
Though his high school days were spent in Tulsa, Okla, the Charleston community wasn't new to Gilkey. His father, Scotty Sr., played tight end at Eastern during the Tony Romo era of the early 2000s.
“I remember being here as a kid," Gilkey, Jr. said. "I remember watching my dad walk out as a captain. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I was always in the stands, so I remember some of the games."
EIU head coach Kim Dameron was the Panthers' defensive coordinator for the 2000 season.
“He went to school here when he was a little boy. He was recruited by quite a few people, but he just always loved this place," Dameron said. “Scotty comes from a great family. Scotty, Sr. was here when I was here (as an assistant under Bob Spoo) the first time. He’s a kid who thinks big picture. For him to have those out of the box ideas with the school drive is something. He’s a special kid. I love having him around.
"Some of those guys you’d toss them the keys to your house and say ‘I’ll be back in a month’ and you know nothing would be bad. That’s Scotty Gilkey."
Starting the year out right
As for the school supply drive, Gilkey said, “I know there’s a lot of kids who come to school unprepared, especially in the elementary age. We thought it would be really cool to send as many kids as possible ready for school. That’s what really matters is education. That will help out in the long run."
Scotty, Taylor, their friends and the EIU athletic department collected supplies. Many brought their contributions to EIU preseason scrimmages.
"It blew up on Twitter again and that's what helped. Thank God for social media because I think we have people donating from all over and mailing in supplies and doing whatever they can do," Gilkey told Journal-Gazette/Times-Courier writer Justin Rust.
Gilkey noted, "A majority of my teammates donated. I just took the two players in the picture with me to unload everything.
"We ended up donating close to 30 backpacks and boxes of supplies like scissors, glue, folders, pencils. So every backpack had its own supplies ready to go!"
Aaron Lock, Carl Sandburg Elementary School principal, said, "We are always grateful for any donations that will benefit our students. We are fortunate to have EIU in our community. The supplies donated by the football team are very appreciated."