Player Spotlight: Mike Gesicki
The 2016 Penn State offense defies what has defined Penn State football for its entirety.
Before this season, the Nittany Lions were trademarked by long, time-consuming drives. According to TeamRankings.com, the Lions average offensive drives takes 27 minutes 54 seconds. That is almost two minutes shorter than last year and four minutes shorter than 2009.
The Lions have little trouble scoring under time constraints. This was demonstrated in their touchdown in the waning seconds before halftime against Ohio State.
Three major factors account for this faster paced offense: this is the system coach Franklin has implemented, quarterback Trace McSorley is mobile and constantly scanning for downfield opportunities, and Mike Gesicki.
The junior tight end adds another dimension to the Lions offense. His 6-6, 250-pound frame is well complemented by smart route running and maneuverability.
Gesicki’s size makes it difficult for defensive backs to limit his production, but his speed makes him a mismatch for linebackers.
This versatility is common in tight ends that have a history in basketball. In fact, Gesicki was the slam dunk champion of New Jersey in high school.
“Slam dunk champion in New Jersey, yeah,” Gesicki said. “Had a few dunks scheduled out. Went out there and kind of executed them just like you do on the field. You have a role, you have a job. You have to execute it. I was able to do so and able to win the dunk contest and all that stuff. It was a good experience and something that was fun.”
Gesicki’s high school football career in Manahawkin, NJ didn’t earn him an individual championship, but it did make him the all-time leading receiver in Southern Regional High School History. Colleges noticed, and Gesicki came became one of the most highly sought after tight ends in the country.
Even though Gesicki had played tight end before college, he never was pressured into developing a blocking prowess.
“He's getting better every single week at being more physical in the run game,” Coach Franklin said. “Since he got here, that was a change, because he had never done it in high school. He had never blocked, never had his hands in the three-point stance, none of those things, and he's really worked hard at it.”
However, it’s obvious where Gesicki is most comfortable in the Lions offense: close enough to the linemen to have a slower defender covering him, yet far enough from the line to open up the field.
Gesicki has become one of McSorley’s favorite targets this year. He is the second leading receiver for the Lions with 37 receptions and leads all Big Ten tight ends in receiving yards with 599.
“I kind of went into the season telling you guys I thought he had a chance to have a breakout year, and make a bunch more big plays for us and he's done that,” Franklin said.
The Lions will play at Rutgers this weekend, a place that is very close to Gesicki’s hometown.
“My dad texted me this morning and said, ‘If you can get a hundred tickets, I can get a hundred people to go.’ So I'm definitely scrapping for some tickets right now. I'm asking everybody. Doing whatever it takes,” Gesicki said. “I definitely have a bunch of friends and family and people back home that want to come up and support not only myself but this entire Penn State football family.”
Paddy Cotter is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.