Now Starters, Gesicki And Godwin Enter The Spotlight
As a true freshman, Chris Godwin played in every game during the 2014 regular season, scoring one touchdown and at least one reception in all but the regular-season finale against Michigan State. He totaled 19 catches for 198 yard — a modest statline for a player one year removed from high school competition. He then nearly doubled his season figures in a single game, grabbing seven passes for 140 yards including a massive 72-yard scoring play in the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College.
Tuesday, Godwin was listed as a starter on the season’s first official depth chart. Joined by tight end Mike Gesicki, another true sophomore that improved as the season progressed, Penn State’s offense boasts a slew of young talent ready to break out. They’re part of a group of nine now-sophmores that played as true freshman last year — a result of a depleted roster due to the now-defunct NCAA sanctions.
“My recruiting class is a very special class on and off the field, we’re a very tight knit group,” said Gesicki. “We hang out a lot, but the biggest thing is that we support each other.”
The prospect of starting as either a freshman or sophomore enticed both Gesicki and Godwin during their recruitment, not so much due to the potential playing time, but because of the apparent trust exhibited by the coaches.
“I think coming here I wanted to play, we all wanted to play as true freshman, the fact that the coaching staff trusted us to put us on the field, I think that was big,” said Godwin.
“It was explained to me that I have the option to play right away, but I need to earn any snap that I’m going to get,” Gesicki furthered. “I would say it played a role in that I respected the coach’s honesty that I’d get to play immediately.”
Though they did both play immediately, their early playing time didn’t come without struggles. Gesicki, who played track, volleyball, and basketball competitively before trying his hand at football, wasn’t used to starting a play with his hand on the ground in a blocking position. Godwin, meanwhile, indicated that he at times struggled learning the play book, and that everything seemed so “new.”
“I never really played the position in high school, it was definitely a huge adjustment,” said Gesicki, who played quarterback when he took up the sport in eighth grade. “Coach Donovan and the upperclassmen guys played such a huge role in my development.”
Now, they’re more in tune with their respective assignments.
“The single biggest different between year one and year two is just being more comfortable,” Gesicki said.
Gesicki, who has adopted the nickname “Little Gronk” after the New England Patriots’ jovial and jocular tight end Rob Gronkowski, suggested that he’s gained a significant amount of muscle. Against Michigan State, in which he recorded a season-high 33 receiving yards, he weighed 232 pounds. During spring practices, he was up to 258. To begin this season, he’ll clock in around 254.
Godwin, meanwhile, has seen improvement through the competitive receivers corps he practices with daily. Up to eight receiver could see action Saturday; it’s a group so deep that Geno Lewis, a star starter last year, is listed as a second-stringer to begin 2015. Godwin made sure to learn from his veterans, each of whom have a different skill to offer.
“Geno and DaeSean [Hamilton] have been helping myself, Saeed [Blacknall] and DeAndre [Thompkins] since day one,” he said. “DaeSean is more of a technician with his routes, I’ve been watching him. Geno is just a competitor, whenever the ball is in the air, he’s going to attack it. I’ve adopted that into my game too.”
Starters or not, both agree every offensive threat will have their fair share of chances to make plays. On the basketball court, however, it’s a different competition. Gesicki listed himself, Anthony Zettel, Christian Hackenberg, and Hamilton as an ideal starting five, leaving no opinion on Godwin’s abilities on the hardwood.