Penn State's Mike Gesicki reflects on off-field vow he converted into on-field reality
- Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki had five drops during his sophomore season.
- Last year as a junior, Gesicki emerged as one of PSU's top receiving targets.
- Gesicki has continued to shine this season and is a Mackey Award semifinalist.
Mike Gesicki jotted down the same nine words in a notebook every single day during Penn State’s 2016 spring camp.
"I’m the best tight end in the Big Ten."
Gesicki, now days away from his final game at Beaver Stadium, couldn’t help but reflect on Tuesday afternoon.
“If anybody ever read that, they would’ve laughed at me at that point in my life because you’re not even close to that,” Gesicki said, looking down at the media room dais before picking his head back up. “But I knew what I was capable of.”
Everyone knows Gesicki’s story. In his own words, everybody’s heard it “100,000 times.”
But Gesicki — a projected second- or third-round pick in April’s NFL draft, depending on where you look — was basking in the memories, good and bad.
The 6-foot-6 mismatch, a key cog in Joe Moorhead’s dynamic offense the past two seasons, was a social-media punching bag for trolls and angry fans in 2015. Five drops defined the then-sophomore, not his 13 catches. Gesicki’s confidence dwindled as did his targets.
The 2017 Mackey Award semifinalist actually said wideout DaeSean Hamilton’s favorite joke is that Gesicki and quarterback Christian Hackenberg, friends then and now, “were the duo that never happened” at Penn State.
But when his buddy Hackenberg moved on to the NFL, a new quarterback — and coordinator — entered Gesicki’s life. That worked out just fine, as Gesicki and Trace McSorley have connected for 10 touchdowns in the last 24 games under the direction of Moorhead.
Gesicki, who has a “great relationship” with Moorhead, thought back to a few weeks ago. He was joking with the coordinator at the Lasch facility, recalling his reaction when Moorhead was hired in in Dec. 2015.
“I was talking to Tommy (Stevens), and I was like, ‘Who is this guy? We’re bringing in the head coach from Fordham?’ I was expecting a big-name guy,” Gesicki said with a smile. “(Moorhead) was cracking up on the practice field when I was telling him, and he came back at me like, ‘I was looking at the film, and I was looking for a tight end that could catch the ball.’”
Turns out he’d be just all right. Gesicki had the best catch rate of any Penn State wideout or tight end in 2016 (67.6 percent) and leads the team this season (76.4), according to SportSource Analytics.
For the most part, though, this is all stuff Penn State fans know. He’s been open and honest about those tough times in 2015 before, and Tuesday was no different.
The only thing is — now at the tail-end of a career defined no longer by trials and tribulations, but by advancement and achievement — Gesicki owns the perspective of a guy about to move on.
“I could have packed it in,” Gesicki said. “But that’s not who I am. I’m a competitor. I had goals and aspirations. ... That’s something that I’m very proud of to hold with me and grow and develop and become the player I am.”
Franklin responds to claim that Lions are tipping their plays: James Franklin heard ESPN analyst and former NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s remarks about the Nittany Lions accidentally giving away play-calls.
“I can say that about every offense in the country. There’s tells. That’s what our defense does. That’s what our offense does,” the coach said at his Tuesday press conference. “Are there some things we can do better? Yes, there’s no doubt about it.”
Vilma said Friday on The Russillo Show that he first noticed Penn State’s offensive line tipping a run or pass play in the Northwestern game, a 31-7 win on Oct. 7.
“You knew whether it was run or pass based on one of the offensive tackles. One of the offensive tackles was very, very lazy in his stance,” the three-time Pro Bowler said. “So when it was a pass, he was very upright and you could tell that he needed to kick back and get back for a pass. When it was a run, he was leaning in, he was locked in to make sure he goes and gets his guy.”
Franklin said those tells and tendencies are things Penn State looked at during the bye week’s self-scouting period. In the past few weeks, whether it’s been direct snaps to Saquon Barkley or lining him up behind Trace McSorley in the pistol, the Nittany Lions have tried to disguise their looks.
It hasn’t helped on the ground (100.7 rushing yards per game the last six weeks), but it’s something Penn State’s players and coaching staff will continue to plug away at.
Franklin believes first and foremost what’s important are the “fundamentals and techniques, and making sure we win the one-on-one battles” up front.
The coach, while acknowledging that giving plays away unintentionally can and will happen, also said it hasn’t affected Penn State too adversely.
“I still think we’re averaging 31 points per game,” Franklin said of his offense, which actually ranks 17th nationally with 37.7 points per game. “If everyone knew what we were doing with most of our plays, I think we’d be scoring a lot less than that.”
McSorley a Unitas finalist: McSorley is among five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Award as the nation’s top quarterback.
He joins Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, N.C. State’s Ryan Finley, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.