National respect still on the mind of Penn State’s Mike Gesicki
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki hauls in an 11-yard touchdown pass during the second quarter of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Ca. on Jan. 2, 2017. Joe Hermitt | firstname.lastname@example.org
It would have been easy to gloss over a comment Penn State senior tight end Mike Gesicki made to USA Today in a story published on Monday.
That’s because the story wasn’t about Gesicki.
Instead, it was a feature on Saquon Barkley, the Lions star junior running back, becoming a national name to know in 2017 after a pair of impressive seasons in blue and white that have him in the Heisman Trophy conversation as a junior.
What does that have to do with Gesicki, you ask? Take a look at his quote in response to why Barkley isn’t already a national story (which is debatable in its own right):
“If he’s at Ohio State, people are blowing up; if he’s at Alabama, people are blowing up,” Gesicki told USA Today. “But he’s at Penn State.”
The implication, of course, is that the Nittany Lions are not viewed through the same prism as the Buckeyes, Crimson Tide, and others on a national scale despite winning a Big Ten title, securing a trip to the Rose Bowl, and winning 11 games for the first time since 2009 before a 52-49 loss to USC in Pasadena, Calif., ended what had been a storybook 2016 season.
And, by the same logic, neither is Barkley compared to those programs’ stars.
A reason for that belief comes from PSU being left out of the four-team College Football Playoff despite winning their conference while the Buckeyes made the postseason tournament after losing to the Lions.
It confirms any wonders about whether Penn State might enter this season, head coach James Franklin’s fourth, with a bit of a chip on their shoulder despite a season many didn’t see coming that has since propelled them to a No. 2 recruiting Class of 2018 and preseason top-five rankings from multiple outlets.
It comes from the players believing they have more to prove, which will lead to more earned respect. Gesicki believes they’ve already earned some, too.
“I think we made positive strides to get the respect we deserve,” Gesicki said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday morning. “But there were moments through the  season; I mean, we knock off Ohio State, and there were still people who were not favoring us the following week against Purdue. That’s not a knock on Purdue, they’re a great football team, but that’s just a prime example of something like that.”
Penn State played with that motivation from outside, despite Franklin’s guarantee that the program focused on solely the next opponent – and only what was being said inside the program – down the stretch, as Gesicki recalling sitting in the team hotel before games, listening to television analysts knock the Lions, seemed like an agitation not yet forgotten.
Of course, he, and surely his teammates, know there is only one way to put any doubters behind them for good: win the Big Ten again, and then reach the CFP.
The season is so far away, he noted, but once it arrives, they’ll have their first opportunity to head down that path.
“It’s a bunch of stuff we can’t control,” Gesicki said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think it affects us. But I do think we deserved more respect toward the end of the season and were starting to get it, and rightfully so.
“All in all, we just have to do what we have to do week in- and week-out, so just focusing on spring ball. Excited for the Blue-White game.”
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