The idea of Mike Gesicki was recruited by Bill O’Brien to come to Penn State had many fans salivating at the potential to have Gesicki and Adam Breneman lining up in the same formation. Both players were the top-rated TE recruits in their class, noted for their athleticism and pass-catching, and seemed like the perfect duo to insert into O’Brien’s offense. Of course, things didn’t work out quite as they were planned.
A new coaching staff didn’t deter Gesicki, and despite having established upper-classmen Kyle Carter and Jesse James ahead of him on the depth chart, he played in 10 of the Nittany Lions’ games in 2014. A season-ending injury to Breneman played a role, but Gesicki showed flashes of the player he could be.
With Breneman’s injuries still hampering him, the 2015 season seemed ripe for Gesicki to play a more central role in the offense - but then the season happened. Missed blocking assignments and dropped passes forced the coaching staff to limit Gesicki’s playing. Again showing flashes of something special, it was frustrating to watch Gesicki struggle to consistently make the necessary plays. The tight end group which had looked so promising was starting to look average at best.
The offseason leading up to 2016 brought more bad news with Brent Wilkerson kicked off the team for a violation of team policy. Mike Gesicki found himself the only experienced TE on the roster, and was all but guaranteed a starting position. Fans weren’t the only ones frustrated by his play in 2015, and Gesicki by all accounts took it upon himself to work as hard as possible to become a better player.
In the moments prior to the first game of the season against Kent State, Gesicki said his nerves were on edge. All the work he had put in during the offseason was about to be put to the test. He was well-aware that as a highly touted recruit there was a certain level of play expected from him. A touchdown in the fourth quarter was optimistically thought of as the breaking of a curse. Still, fans were waiting for a more convincing sign.
Then, two weeks later against Temple, this happened:
While it wasn’t instrumental in the outcome of the game (though it certainly helped), Gesicki’s one-handed grab announced to the football world that Penn State had quite a talent lining up at tight end each week. If there was any doubt after the first two games, this catch instilled faith in fans, coaches, and probably Mike, that his sophomore slump was just that.
After a paltry statistical improvement between his freshman and sophomore years - 24 catches for 239 yards and 1 TD combined - Gesicki had the breakout season we’d been waiting for with 48 catches for 679 yards and 5 touchdowns. He was second to Chris Godwin in all three categories, providing a steadfast outlet to McSorley when his primary target was covered.
Heading into 2017 Gesicki looks to be one of the top tight ends in the country, and improvement upon his 2016 numbers seems likely with the departure of Godwin. He’s possibly the most difficult member of the Penn State offense to match-up against and that’s saying a lot with Saquon Barkley in the backfield. That aside, Gesicki is one of several impact players that make the Nittany Lions’ offense very formidable heading into the season. A testament to the benefits of hard work and perseverance, let’s hope Mike continues to build upon his successful junior season.