After an outstanding spring and preseason, sophomore tight end Mike Gesicki was pegged by many as a likely breakout star for Penn State in 2015. Big (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) and athletic, he seemed to make plays at every open practice. Reports from inside the program were glowing, too.
But then he was held without a catch in an opening loss at Temple. In the three home wins that followed, Gesicki had a total of six catches for only 31 yards and no scores. He dropped multiple passes — including a pair of likely touchdowns — in a Week No. 2 win over Buffalo.
And just like that, the would-be rising star became a focal point of social media criticism. His teammates advised to avoid Twitter, but an active tweeter himself, he could not.
“I was like, ‘No, I’m gonna go on and I’m gonna use that as motivation,’ ” Gesicki told reporters Wednesday morning. “At one point, I had like 33 screen shots of tweets on my phone that I would scroll through during the day, and be like, ‘OK, I’m gonna keep that in the back of my mind, I’m gonna remember that.’
“Every day in practice, every day after practice, I was thinking about it and I was kind of using it as motivation — using the negative experience I was going through to turn it into a positive,” he added.
Asked if there was anything in particular that stood out among the mean tweets, Gesicki laughed.
“There were definitely some creative ones out there that I was reading,” he said. “But I couldn’t be mad at them. They had their opinion. I was frustrated with myself, as well.”
Which explained the obvious emotion and relief Gesicki displayed in last weekend’s 20-14 win over Army, when in one play things came together for him. Late in the third quarter, he caught a pass from QB Christian Hackenberg on the left sideline and outraced the defense to the pylon for a 33-yard score.
It marked his first college TD, and on the play he covered more yards than he had in the first four games combined. He raised his arms to the student section then celebrated with teammates. A few moments later, he hugged Hackenberg on the sideline.
And all of this happened on his 20th birthday.
Gesicki felt it was important to get a big play out of the way before the 4-1 Nittany Lions head into the meat of their Big Ten schedule. That starts Saturday, when upstart Indiana (4-1) visits Beaver Stadium.
“It definitely helps out my confidence level,” he explained. “It kind of gives my … edge back and all of that kind of stuff that people were starting to question and doubt me. So I was happy to make that play and happy to finally get into the end zone. I feel good.”
As for Twitter, well, the posts he read following the Army game had a much different tone than earlier material.
“When things are going bad, people will come at you,” he said. “When things are going good, people will be there for you. So I kind of took it with a grain of salt. I was excited to bounce back and kind of see that success that I’d been waiting for. I was happy to finally see that and read positive things.”