Tight End Mike Gesicki Is Ready To Shine In His Second Year
Penn State’s tight end corps is undoubtedly one of the team’s most underrated and deepest positions, as has been the case for the past two seasons. In 2013, three of the team’s top six receivers were tight ends. Christian Hackenberg’s freshman season coincided with great seasons from Jesse James, Kyle Carter, and Adam Breneman. Breneman’s injury in the following offseason opened the door for even more of a by-committee approach in 2014 — while the unit’s collective statistics regressed, it allowed for freshman Mike Gesicki to display flashes of brilliance playing behind the incumbent James.
“Jesse had almost 40 catches last year and was important in the running game, Kyle finished up the year strong in the Pinstripe Bowl, and me and Brent rotated in a little too,” Gesicki explained. “As a unit, we just want to build off of last year.”
Despite his modest rookie campaign, pundits from around the country pegged Gesicki as a potential breakout star — and rightfully so. Gesicki is a quintessential example of statistics only telling half of a player’s story. His freshman season, compared to some of his contemporaries’, is certainly underwhelming:
- Mike Gesicki in 2014: 11 catches, 114 yards
- Adam Breneman in 2013: 15 catches, 186 yards, three touchdowns
- Jesse James in 2012: 15 catches, 276 yards, five touchdowns, honorable mention freshman All-American
- Kyle Carter in 2012: 36 catches, 453 yards, two touchdowns, first team All-Big Ten
But if you go beyond in-game measurements, Gesicki stands out for other reasons. If you ask his teammates and coaches about his style of play, you tend to get answers along the lines of “freak,” “freakish,” and “freakishly athletic.” The descriptions were most likely spot-on in high school too, when he was a four-star tight end recruit as well as a basketball and volleyball star. He led his volleyball team to the 2013 state title, and in basketball, well, check out his sick highlight reel.
Calling him a freakish athlete is accurate.
The New Jersey native could have played his choice of sport at virtually any college in the eastern United States. He was offered scholarships from 19 schools for football, including Ohio State, Florida State, Boston College, and Rutgers. He opted to head to Happy Valley and play under first-year head coach James Franklin and alongside an already-established tight end unit.
Of course, the rest is history — Breneman went down in the offseason and John Donovan’s offense was in disarray behind a beaten up offensive line. Penn State’s tight ends were counted on as blockers while freshmen wide receivers picked up the slack in the passing game. Jesse James and Kyle Carter, the two most experienced tight ends, saw the field the most and Gesicki and Brent Wilkerson rotated in and out of the lineup.
Now, with optimism and positivity surrounding the program in a way that hasn’t been seen in quite some time, Penn State’s offense should be exceptionally better. Almost the entire offense (including the offensive line) will consist of returning starters. Jesse James is now a Pittsburgh Steeler, but Breneman will return as the unit’s most-used blocker. Kyle Carter has been a constant in the offense, having played in 25 consecutive games. The biggest question facing the group is now, “Just how good can Mike Gesicki be?”
He’s 252 pounds, but moves around like a wide receiver. He’s 6-foot-6, and he uses his height and long legs to his advantage when jostling for position on a jump ball, or when gaining separation on a defensive back. He has one of the most intriguing blends of speed and strength of any college football player in the country, and the longer he spends in James Franklin’s system, the more opportunities he’ll have to put his talents on display.
“Now we’re getting Adam back, we got a lot of guys coming back and we’re adding a lot of guys, and this should be an interesting year and a positive year because it’s the second year in the system,” Gesicki said. “There’s no questioning yourself before the snap, it’s just playing fast and playing strong and we’re excited for the season.”
There are plenty of reasons for excitement as Sept. 5 draws nearer, and Gesicki’s one of them. When the ball is kicked off against Temple, keep an eye on No. 88, as he could be set to achieve greatness in year two.