The truest fans of football will always know what the most important position is on the field: a kicker. Often times, the game comes down to an extra point or field goal.
Look at the NFL playoffs over the last couple years, and even recent collegiate games. Without a good kicker, there aren’t many teams normally winning the close games.
Luckily, for the Lewisburg Patriots, they happen to have one of the best kickers in the state. Tanner Gillis, the kicker/punter for the North team in this year’s Bernard Blackwell North/South All-Star game, has had an incredible career on the field. And it almost didn’t happen.
After the end of his freshman team’s season, Gillis went to watch the Patriots take on Byhalia. Sitting at the top of the student sections, in full cowboy attire, he started to hear people yelling his name. The starting kicker had gone down with an injury. Gillis was up. After a scramble at halftime, Gillis found a random jersey, helmet, pants, and shoulder pads, and went into the game. From then on, the rest is history.
“It is really a story that I will tell my kids about,” said Gillis. “How often is a kid yanked out of the stands and goes in to play a game? Man, it was awesome.”
As incredible as his story has been on the field, what he is doing off the field might just top his accomplishments on the field.
For every field goal or extra point that Gillis makes this season, money is being donated to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a foundation created for cancer research. The donations are based on a pledge system, in which people pledge a certain amount of money for every kick made. It all started at a kicking camp in Atlanta, Georgia, when Gillis’ mom pointed out the stand.
“My mom pointed to it, and so we went over there to check it out,” Gillis related. “It said ‘Alex’s Lemonade Stand’ on the front and the lady told us all about it. I knew right then it was what I wanted to do. I could either kick and it not mean anything, or I could kick and have some real meaning behind it. It just feels good to just play for something a lot bigger than yourself.”
Before the Patriots’ game with Southaven, Gillis had made 28 total kicks this season. When asked about his season thus far, Gillis says, “I’m blessed, honestly. I’ve been given this God-given talent, and to be able to use it for something good is incredible. There are kids in a bed right now, going through chemo, and I’m able to help. I really wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Gillis is yet another stellar player on and off the field for Lewisburg, which is a testament to how head coach Matt Gehrke runs his program.
“He really just embodies our core values here,” Gehrke noted. “Service is a big thing that we try and do here, and to see him really take that to heart has been awesome. I’m just really proud.”
Thus far, Gillis has raised a whopping $1,500 this season and is hoping to achieve his goal of $2,000.
“It is a big goal, so my biggest message is to just please donate for a great cause, and I will try and just keep making these kicks,” says Gillis, “It definitely adds some extra pressure, because you realize that it’s so much bigger than a couple of points.”
Gillis is hoping to join the University of Memphis next fall, where his head coach, Matt Gehrke, played college football.
To donate to Gillis’ fundraiser, go to alexslemonade.org, and search Tanner Gillis.
Alex Gomez is a DeSoto County sportswriter who contributes to the DeSoto Times-Tribune.