More than once Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki has made it clear just how much he wants to put a dismal 2015 season behind him. On the eve of preseason drills he made it just as clear how far ahead he has looked.
Gesicki, a junior, swore off social media after last season and rededicated himself to his craft in spring ball. And on Media Day he said he was so curious as to what awaited him this season, with Joe Moorhead settling in as the offensive coordinator, that last Dec. 12 – the very day Moorhead was hired, after four years as Fordham’s head coach -- he reached out to Rams tight end Phazahn Odom.
Gesicki did so on Facebook, indicative of the fact that he hasn’t completely ditched social media, but no matter; what he heard was music to his ears – that the new offense, known for its rapid tempo, is also “a tight end’s dream,” as he put it.
The 6-foot-8, 238-pound Odom was an all-Patriot League first-teamer in his first year as a starter last season, leading the 9-3 Rams in receptions (37), receiving yards (492) and touchdowns (7), the latter number a school record for tight ends.
Four other Fordham receivers caught at least 30 balls. And as was the case in Moorhead’s three previous years as head coach the Rams featured a running back who rushed for at least 1,400 yards (Chase Edmonds had 1,648) and a quarterback who completed at least 63.8 percent of his passes (Kevin Anderson clicked on 67 percent, for 3,183 yards and 32 touchdowns).
Four Fordham players had between 43 and 89 receptions in 2014, and three of them picked up over 1,000 yards through the air. The year before five guys finished with between 41 and 93 receptions. The year before that, five guys had between 41 and 72.
“Everybody has a chance to contribute,” Gesicki said.
Including the tight end. The starter at that position before Odom was Dan Light, who because of his 6-5, 265-pound frame was nicknamed the “Gronk of the Bronx.” He finished his career with 177 catches, including 66 in 2013, most among FCS tight ends.
Odom succeeded Light last fall. While he is a fifth-year senior he is still something of a neophyte, having seen little action in high school or college before 2015. His mom – he described her as “protective” at last week’s Patriot League Media Day – worried when his asthma flared up as a peewee player in his native Greenville, S.C., and held him out of the sport for a half-dozen years.
When he returned as a junior, he faced a considerable adjustment, starting with the equipment.
“The coach had to help me, because I had my thigh pads on my knees and my knee pads on my thighs,” he said, laughing at the memory.
He emerged as an all-state performer his senior year, attracting FCS recruiting interest (and some late looks from the big boys). But by then he had visited with Moorhead.
“I just really bought into everything he was saying,” Odom said.
He missed his freshman year at Fordham with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, played sparingly the following year and was mostly used on special teams in 2014. But last year he became a factor.
“He’s just a big, long, lanky guy, and he’s hard to cover,” Lehigh coach Andy Coen said.
“Having a guy like that is a mismatch, wherever he goes,” Colgate linebacker Kyle Diener said.
Odom has no doubt that Moorhead’s offense will succeed at Penn State.
“They’re D-1 athletes,” he said. “I think they should adjust to it just fine.”
The 6-6, 250-pound Gesicki can only hope that is the case. The New Jersey native committed to Penn State when Bill O’Brien, known for his creative use of tight ends, was still in charge.
“I was planning on coming here and I wasn’t going to block,” he said with a smile. “I was just going to catch the ball.”
He stuck around even after O’Brien departed and James Franklin came aboard, with a different view of how the tight end should be used.
“Now I’m in a three-point stance, and blocking,” Gesicki said. “I’m lining up over (departed Ohio State defensive lineman) Joey Bosa. I mean, it’s just totally different. But it doesn’t matter what it is. You have to buy in, no matter what it is.”
And he has tried. But he followed up an 11-catch season as a freshman by gathering in 13 receptions last year, albeit with numerous drops.
“It humbled me, extremely,” he said during the spring. “If you go through an experience like that and you don’t become better from it, then I think that’s your fault.”
So he is working to change that. And looking ahead hopefully.
“I think that this offense gives us a chance to exploit how athletic this tight end group is,” he said. “I think that it allows us to stretch the field.”
He noted in particular that he had a 22-yard reception from Trace McSorley on a seam route, six plays into the Blue-White Game – possibly, Gesicki said, “the first seam I caught in my three years here” – and thinks that bodes well.
“I think (the offense) gives us all the chance to show what kind of player we can be,” he said.
Especially him. And especially now.