Local NFL star from Harrisburg gives back to students

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On every high school football field there are dreams of winning -- winning as a team and winning as a person.

"I think that he serves as an icon for students who really need an athlete and a student and a 'Milt' as well, to be able to become more successful," said Bryan Aviles, a senior at the Milton Hershey School.

Winning like Garry Gilliam did.

"The kids. I could see myself in a lot of those kids' eyes," said Gilliam. At 6'6" and 300 pounds, Garry Gilliam, offensive tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, inspires students like Bryan Aviles.

But like blocking a determined defensive tackle, it was no easy trip down the field, even for one of football's "tough guys."

"The first few years in elementary school it was a struggle, you know, holding pictures of my mom and her perfume box. I remember crying almost every night, crying myself to sleep," Gilliam said.

Vene Shifflett, a single mother living in Harrisburg was struggling to make ends meet.

"That was our apartment," she said as she pointed to the window. "So we would sit there and watch other kids out here play in the street."

But Shifflett just didn't see that as Garry's future. "It was just, it wasn't for him … and I knew that. I knew that."

After agonizing over the decision for two years, she enrolled seven-year-old Garry into the Milton Hershey School.

"We'll come through every now and then and he'll ask that same question: 'Where do you think I'd be mom, if we stayed here?' I don't know. But I wasn't taking that chance," she said.

Asked whether she ever doubted herself, Shifflett said "I did, every day, every day."

Those doubts are long vanished.

"Garry's the type of kid who when he got to class, he was engaged from second-one," said Dennis Moore, Garry's high school professor of anatomy and physiology at the Milton Hershey School.

The same focus he had on the football field, he brought to the classroom and ended up consistently making the Honor Roll at Milton Hershey.

"He had an assignment to make a board game with his group on histology and he used a graphic arts program, spent some extra time to put that together. And I've used it for years as like the perfect example of what to think of a board game," Moore said.

He graduated Milton Hershey in 2009. But every chance he gets, Garry comes back.

"It`s just nice to go back and give them thanks for helping me get to where I am today," said Gilliam beaming.

"That`s Garry Gilliam! That`s what I want to say!" said sophomore Joshua Nash-Vicet after meeting Gilliam during his visit.

And even though he's made it to the NFL, his mentors say it hasn't changed Garry one bit. "He's still very grounded, you know he's not in his mind, he's not bigger than life at all," said Bob Guyer, Garry's high school football coach.

"At the end of the day, the football field is the exact same size. You're wearing the exact same equipment. I mean the people are a little bit bigger but you're playing the same game," Gilliam said.

His fan base here at home? Well, they're watching. "We look at his games on TV and like wow Garry's playing right now and we're like alright, we gotta perform as well," said Aviles.

For Bryan Aviles, it's a simple reminder that dreams of all kinds can become real.

"I looked at the challenges he faced and I looked at my challenges and I realized there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to overcome any barriers that come this way," added Aviles.

"It's a great feeling to be able to help someone else's life and for them to actually tell you that, it's the greatest feeling in the world," Gilliam added.