An opportunity led to Mike Gesicki returning to Penn State for his senior season
Penn State’s Mike Gesicki celebrates after defeating Wisconsin to win the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. Penn State won 38-31. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Mike Gesicki knew something had to change. In fact, many things had to change.
The all-star, three-sport high school athlete from New Jersey had arrived at Penn State fresh off a recruiting process that took him to national contenders in the college football world with hopes of becoming a phenom in a hurry, but things weren’t exactly going as planned following the 2016 season, two years removed from his decision to pick the Lions over Ohio State and many others.
By now, you’ve heard the stories of the tight end’s extra blocking sled work post-practice, his renewed sense of purpose under offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and tight ends coach Ricky Rahne, and his growth on an off the field that proved everyone who picked him as a bounce back candidate right.
The numbers, 48 receptions for 679 yards and five touchdowns last year with blocking improvements that metrics can’t describe, tell just half the story.
A trip to Gesicki’s Twitter account tells the other, a tale that begins back when No. 88 fired off this tweet on Sept. 6, 2015, a day after Penn State lost in stunning fashion, 27-10, to Temple.
“No more talking, just do it.”
Instead of ceasing social media chatter, though, Gesicki shared or originated about 20 more messages between the loss to Temple and the loss to Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl that capped a forgettable season for many, the tight end included.
In fact, at one point along the way, he shared that he was snapshotting social media criticism as motivation. One can only wonder now, though, if it wasn’t actually more of a deterrent.
Especially considering how things played out after Gesicki sent this tweet on Jan. 4, 2016:
“Back to work,complete silence this offseason. Work hard and let your actions speak. #Delete“
This time, he followed through. His next tweet came on Jan. 4, 2017:
“Exactly one year later. So much can change. Motivated more now than ever. Penn State Football may be back but still plenty left to build on.”
The difference over the 365 days between tweets? Eleven wins, a Big Ten title, a trip to the Rose Bowl, and the kind of confidence a player and team need to go even further.
That’s why Gesicki is back in blue and white for one final season being able to leave school early and declare for the 2017 NFL Draft. And, while it was likely never a question that he was returning, confirmation of it was beyond good news for the Nittany Lions.
“There were a few aspects that played into me coming back; one, first and foremost, was the guys that we had coming back for another year,” Gesicki said on Tuesday. “We have a bunch of guys back that are veteran guys, we’re an older team now, and we have a chance for success that we’ve been shooting for, for a few years now.
“I didn’t want to see that opportunity pass by. There are some big steps to improve my game and make my game better, as well.”
Little guessing is needed to figure out the big steps; they are increased speed, improved ability to break tackles, becoming dominant as a blocker, and continuing to consistently catch the football.
Keeping on weight will help in all of those areas, which is why it has been a big focus this offseason, because unknown to those watching from afar, it’s been a struggle, and so Gesick went about changing that with head strength coach Dwight Galt.
“There was a lot going on [his winter workouts] to help improve my strength,” Gesicki said. “There was a time during the season when I dropped down; I started the season at 252 [pounds], then I’d drop down to 240, I’d get sick sometimes, so trying to build my weight up.
“I got it up to about 258 pounds [this winter], which was big for me, and I was able to run and jump and do everything at a high level.”
It’s the level he’ll need to play at this fall to improve his draft stock and help Penn State go further up the college football mountain than it did a year ago.
An opportunity he didn’t want to pass up.