Penn State's Mike Gesicki proves critics wrong in 2016

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
  • Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki had five drops last season.
  • Gesicki had just 13 catches overall a season ago.
  • This season, Gesicki has 47 receptions for 668 yards and four touchdowns.

Mike Gesicki had five drops last season, but boy did it feel like more.

“You would’ve thought it was 50 the way everyone was talking,” the tight end said with a smile at Friday’s Rose Bowl media day.

Penn State's Mike Gesicki (88) celebrates with DeAndre Thompkins (3) after Gesicki made a 33-yard touchdown reception during the first half of the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin on Saturday, Dec. 3. Gesicki has 47 receptions this season.

Yes, 2015 was a rough season for Gesicki. He had only 13 catches, so those five drops were magnified quite a bit, and the tight end was hearing it, from those bemoaning him in Beaver Stadium to the doubters on social media.

That is, until he tuned it all out.

It got to a point that he didn’t care what hecklers or trolls were saying, and in the offseason, Gesicki had to put it all behind him and focus on improving for 2016.

“If you buy into it and listen to what everyone’s saying, you’re going to have to recover mentally,” Gesicki said. “I blocked everyone out, and I think it helped me in the long-run.”

It seems to have done the job.

The 6-foot-6 mismatch is a critical part of Penn State’s high-flying offense, hauling in 47 catches for 668 yards and four touchdowns this year. The receiving yards and receptions are both single-season records for a Nittany Lion tight end, and they rank fourth and seventh among tight ends in the country, respectively.

All three of those statistics are second on the team, behind only Chris Godwin (50 catches, 795 yards, nine touchdowns).

Compare that to his 13 catches for 125 yards and one touchdown a year ago, and Gesicki has accomplished one of the biggest turnarounds of the 2016 college football season.

It wasn’t a real surprise to his teammates, either.

“We knew Mike was preparing to have a big year,” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said. “We expected him to. He came in with the right mindset and he just started making plays. His confidence grew and went from there.”

Gesicki had a nice start to the season. He caught a 30-yard touchdown in the season-opening win against Kent State and hauled in four catches at Pittsburgh.

But it was his one-handed catch against Temple, a 52-yard gainer, that started turning heads.

From there, the confidence snowballed.

He’s been consistent. Not only is Gesicki without a drop this season — he knocked on wood when a reporter mentioned that — the tight end has also recorded at least one catch in every game this season.

Specifically, he’s been a constant presence in the downfield passing game. The junior, who snared a 45-yard touchdown in Penn State’s win over Michigan State and a 30-yard score in the Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin, has five catches of 40 yards or more this season, tied with Miami’s David Njoku for most among tight ends.

So, about all those jeering him last year? Gesicki believes he wouldn’t be the player or person he is today without the five drops and all the animosity that followed.

During the summer, the tight end would be in bed at 11 p.m. , but was worried someone somewhere was outworking him. He’d pop out of bed and go next door to ask quarterback Tommy Stevens to go throw, or he’d head upstairs to see if wide receiver Saeed Blacknall wanted to go catch some balls.

It was engrained in Gesicki that he wasn’t going to have a repeat of 2015.

And to his credit, he didn’t.

“I put it on myself to work as hard as I possibly could. ... I just didn’t want an opportunity to pass me by because you don’t get this game forever,” Gesicki said. “I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened to me. I’m happy with where I’m at right now, but I’m not satisfied.”