Before the first home game of his first season at Penn State – a 21-3 victory over Akron in 2014 – Mike Gesicki took the field for warm-ups with the rest of the Nittany Lions’ tight ends.
They jogged. He danced.
“I think my freshman year I was just having fun with everything,” Gesicki, now a junior, said as he looked ahead to Saturday’s opener against Kent State during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning. “Not saying I’m not having fun with it now, but I think that right now I’d say I’m a completely different guy. I’m a completely different player on the field. I kind of attack everything different. I’m much more focused and kind of determined to reach my full potential.”
And, as a result, in lockstep with everyone else.
“I can almost promise you, you won’t be seeing me dancing on Saturday before the game or anything like that, like I was my freshman year,” he said, “because I have a mindset and an understanding of where I want to be when that game’s over with and the performance that I want to show. I’d say that I’ve just matured and (grown) up. Not saying that there was anything wrong with what I was doing in the past, but just I kind of have a new mindset, and I’m excited to see it all play out this Saturday, as well as the rest of the season.”
He has vowed throughout the offseason to improve after two uneven seasons, especially a 2015 campaign in which he was plagued by drops. At one point he said that he left that season behind him as soon as he disembarked from the plane that delivered the Lions from Jacksonville after the TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Georgia. On Tuesday he amended that slightly, saying he did so as soon as he got on the plane. Point taken either way.
All a matter of how you approach things, when they don’t go your way.
“There’s two roads you can go down,” he said. “You can either take it as a positive and work to get better from it, or you can just let it continue to just attack you and not have you go in the direction you want to go in. If you go through adversity and you don’t get better from it, then you’ve handled the whole situation the wrong way.”
Gesicki, who had 11 catches in ’14 and 13 last year, began his turnaround even before he got on (or off) that plane. As previously noted on this site, he reached out to Fordham tight end Phazahn Odom when Rams head coach Joe Moorhead was hired as PSU’s new offensive coordinator last December, just to get a feel for what Moorhead’s offense would be like.
Gesicki has since pronounced it “a tight end’s dream.” And according to coach James Franklin he has been “very businesslike” in preparing for his role within it.
“Everybody within our program is expecting him to have a big year, a breakout year,” Franklin said.
Been a long time coming. A long, slow waltz, really.
With Tuesday's announcement that redshirt freshman backup Nick Bowers is out for the season with an unspecified injury. Gesicki is now one of only three three healthy scholarship tight ends on the roster. And as the only member of that group with any game experience, he knows he has to do more than produce on the field.
“I wouldn’t change anything that has happened in my playing career here at Penn State,” he said. “I’d say it’s made me into the player that I’m going to be this year, and it has turned me into more of a leader, more of a role model for the younger guys and most importantly I think it’s going to help me improve my play this season.”