Mike Gesicki’s 2015 season didn’t go as expected. Between missed blocking assignments and repeated drops, the former four-star recruit’s career path seemed to be trending downward.
Gesicki could’ve become complacent and accepted his new reality — but he’s a competitor. Instead of throwing a pity party, Gesicki went to work. When everybody hit the showers and went into the locker room after practice, he was out hitting the sleds adjacent to James Franklin’s interview location on the practice field. He keyed on the little things, and it’s paying dividends for him. Gesicki has certainly proven his worth so far in 2016, as he’s enjoying a career year on the field with more than 30 receptions and almost 500 receiving yards.
Coming out of high school, Gesicki excelled in football, volleyball, and basketball at Southern Regional high school in Manahawkin, New Jersey. In 2014 he was named The Star-Ledger’s Boys Volleyball State Player of the Year, while the hardwood would treat him just as well. He finished his high school career as the leading scorer in his school’s history with 1,867 points while being named MVP for New Jersey’s East/West Basketball game — but not before adding a slam dunk contest trophy to his collection.
Gesicki’s freak athleticism and talent helped him field offers from major programs all over the country. The 6-foot-6 tight end held offers from Penn State, Ohio State, Florida State, and Rutgers among others, but spurned the nearby Knights in favor of the Nittany Lions. He was supposed to complement Adam Breneman to form a dynamic duo at the tight end position for years to come, but that dream never came to fruition. Breneman’s career in Happy Valley was cut short after a series of knee injuries forced him out of football and into politics. But, after taking the necessary time to heal, Breneman’s insatiable urge to compete led him to accept a scholarship from UMass, where he leads the Minutemen in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Due to the injuries suffered by Breneman, Gesicki was slated for significant playing time his freshman year. He appeared in 12 games recording 11 catches for 114 yards. Though Gesicki didn’t shine in the stat book freshman year, it was considered a successful season for Gesicki, who assumed the starting role in 2015.
But struggles were evident in 2015. The New Jersey native was expected to fill the void left by Jesse James, but failed to live up to the hype. He finished 2015 with 13 catches for 125 yards and 1 touchdown. Drops and missed blocks became commonplace, building up plenty of frustration in the process.
With the departure of Kyle Carter to the NFL and Brent Wilkerson getting kicked off the team last spring, Gesicki was going to be the man at tight end — whether he wanted to be or not.
At the start of the 2016 campaign the junior tight end said he changed his mentality to better his future. He says he isn’t a different person, but he does think a bit differently. “I don’t care if I walk down the street and nobody knows me, I don’t care if I walk down the street and everybody knows me,” Gesicki said prior to Michigan week. “I don’t care if I make 100 plays on Saturday, I don’t care if I make zero plays on Saturday. As long as Penn State wins, that’s all I care about.”
So far through 10 games this season, Gesicki’s new mindset seems to have paid dividends. As of now the junior has accounted for 37 catches, 499 yards and two touchdowns — markedly more productive than his first two years with the Nittany Lions combined. To add to Gesicki’s impressive season, he’s been added to the John Mackey Award Midseason watch list which is given to the nation’s top tight end at seasons end.
After Penn State’s comeback fell short against Pitt earlier this year Gesicki’s quote summed up the team’s new identity for the future. “We have more heart than in my three years, more than we’ve ever had. We’re not going to give up, we’re not going to quit. We’re going to do whatever it takes to come back and win.”
Since that game the Lions are 7-1 and have positioned themselves for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Gesicki’s been humbled by his success thus far in 2016, and he credits all his hard work for his opportunities that have helped him become successful. “The scary thing about hard work is you can put in all the work in the world and that is not going to guarantee you success, it’s just going to give you a chance to have success,” Gesicki said. From what we’ve all seen in 2016, he’s certainly taking advantage of every opportunity placed in front of him.
His post game comments from last weekend are reminiscent to those from after the loss at Pitt, and reflect the collective mindset this team’s taken as a whole.
With the season winding down, the New Jersey native had time to reflect on Penn State’s 45-31 win over Indiana this past Saturday. Gesicki was asked if the team learned anything new about themselves and responded, “I don’t think we learned anything new. We’re a team that’s going to fight through adversity.” He had a message for everybody still unsure of Penn State’s makeup. “The old stuff we used to go through and kind of put our head down and forget about it, that’s not who Penn State is anymore, that’s not who we are anymore. We are a bunch of fighters.”
With two games remaining in the regular season, the Lions have a chance to finish 10-2 and potentially clinch a birth in the Big Ten Championship game. Gesicki is happy, but certainly isn’t satisfied.
“I think satisfaction will come in January when all of this is said and done. So feeling that satisfaction, that’s not coming for a long time.” Perhaps a New Year’s Six bowl or even a spot in the College Football Playoff will bring Gesicki the satisfaction he’s been craving.