Follow along with our Penn State Recruiting Rewind series every Saturday morning. If you missed out, be sure to read our look back at RB Saquon Barkley, LB Brandon Bell, LB Jason Cabinda, WR Chris Godwin and QB Trace McSorley.
Mike Gesicki lived out a dream scenario during his high school athletic career. A rising senior tight end at Penn State, the 6-foot-6, 253-pound prospect who now has NFL scouts salivating truly dominated during each season.
During those days at Southern Regional (Manahawkin, N.J.) High School, Gesicki was essentially Mr. Do-It-All.
He served as the catalyst during consecutive state title runs (2013-14) on the volleyball court, executing 25 total kills at middle blocker in those two championship series. Gesicki set a Southern Regional basketball record with 1,867 career points, and he capped off his high school run on the hardwood with MVP honors in New Jersey’s East/West basketball all-star game.
Of course, as Nittany Lions fans know, he also was pretty darn good on the football field.
An all-state selection who helped Southern Regional capture its first Shore Conference championship in more than 40 years, Gesicki again left his mark on the record books. He graduated as the Rams’ all-time receiving yardage leader, finishing with 1,817 yards and 16 touchdowns on 103 receptions.
During this impressive span of seasons, I served as a prep sports reporter in southern New Jersey, hosting shows on ESPN Radio’s Atlantic City affiliate. There seemingly was always a reason to invite Gesicki on as a guest, and we shared frequent conversations throughout his development.
Ironically, he might have been the most raw on the football field.
Basketball became a passion early, while volleyball eventually emerged a natural fit and led him to great heights. His transition into football demanded the most effort.
“I was all about basketball,” Gesicki told Mike McGarry of The Press of Atlantic City, shortly before his 2014 graduation. “I was basketball seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day. I was thinking about quitting football. I didn’t know I was going to play volleyball. A lot of things were up in the air. I eventually stuck it out with football – thank God I did.”
Gesicki lined up all over the field, doing damage in a receiver role and in the defensive back seven. His breakout season came as a junior in 2012, when he recorded 50 receptions for 954 yards and 9 scores.
College scholarship offers began to arrive in bunches during the following winter. By the end of his junior year, Gesicki weighed a list of options that included Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers and Wisconsin.
“College is one of the biggest decisions that any kid will ever have to make,” he told me at the start of his senior season. “It’s not just a four-year decision, it’s a 40-year decision. Where you go to college could dictate what you do with the rest of your life.”
Back then, Gesicki already had the height (6-6 as a senior) but was still years away from becoming a complete tight end. He weighed approximately 230 pounds in 2013 and often wasn’t tasked with blocking duties.
Regardless of where he was in the process of development, college coaches and recruiting analysts grew enamored with his “ceiling” and physical frame. Here’s how industry leaders ranked him in the 2014 class:
- 247Sports: No. 1 tight end; No. 58 overall; 4-star prospect
- ESPN: No. 12 tight end; unranked nationally; 3-star prospect
- Rivals: No. 10 tight end; unranked nationally; 4-star prospect
- Scout: No. 11 tight end; No. 290 overall; 4-star prospect
Gesicki heard all the accolades but pointed out an underlying attribute that separated him from other 2014 tight end prospects.
Rather than what everyone else says — whether it’s my athletic ability, or attacking the ball and making plays —I would say my favorite quality is my work ethic. You only have so many seconds and minutes in a day. Why would I waste one when every single day you have the opportunity to be great? That’s how I look at it. That’s how I attack this process. I have a dream that I’m trying to live out, and I can’t do that if I’m not working hard every day to achieve it. That kind of work goes unnoticed but everything else doesn’t happen if I’m not putting in the time. My work ethic is what I pride myself on most.
Just a few games into his senior season, it became apparent Gesicki’s decision came down to two Big Ten schools: Ohio State and Penn State.
He traveled to Columbus in late September to see the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin. The experience was augmented by a pregame speech from LeBron James.
“In Ohio, everybody is a Buckeyes fan. They have a phenomenal fan base,” Gesicki said a month later. “I really can’t say enough about coach Urban Meyer. He turned down a few [commitments], wanting me to be a Buckeye that badly.”
He followed up the trip to Ohio State with a drive to Happy Valley on Oct. 12, where he saw the Nittany Lions defeat Michigan. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley — then a Rutgers commit — also attended the game.
Gesicki stayed in State College throughout that weekend, utilizing his final official visit before a decision.
“Watching that game, sitting right there in the first row at the 45-yard line, was unbelievable,” he said. “That atmosphere with the ‘white out,’ you really can’t say enough about Happy Valley.”
— John Patishnock (@JohnPatishnock) December 9, 2016
The Nittany Lions staff, then led by coach Bill O’Brien, assigned QB Christian Hackenberg and TE Adam Breneman to host him that weekend. He connected with both players, gaining insight about a potential future at Penn State.
Gesicki announced his college choice just days later. Penn State picked up his pledge Oct. 17, but not until after he placed a memorable phone call to Columbus.
“The hardest part about this whole process was telling [Meyer] ‘no’,” Gesicki said that week. “He’s such a phenomenal head coach and football figure for the entire nation of college football. Telling him ‘no’ was a very difficult thing, but telling Coach O’Brien ‘yes’ was a phenomenal feeling.”
He became the 13th member of O’Brien’s 2014 class, but the coach later bolted for an opportunity with the Houston Texans. His early winter departure created some late chaos in Gesicki’s recruitment, but the coveted recruit opted to remain on board for reasons beyond James Franklin’s arrival.
“When the whole coaching staff switched, my head was all over the place,” Gesicki told Chris Ryan of NJ.com. “I maybe considered it a little bit. But I’ve always, from the day I committed to Penn State, I’ve always told myself that’s where I want to go. And I wasn’t just going there for football. Obviously, that’s one of the main parts, but I’m going there for academics. I’m going there for the people.”
He carved out an immediate spot in Franklin’s depth chart as a true freshman, appearing in every game and logging one start. Gesicki started eight games as a sophomore, though his production through two seasons — 24 receptions for 239 and 1 touchdown — at Penn State wasn’t exactly eye-popping. Everything changed last autumn.
Gesicki set Nittany Lions tight end records for catches (48), receiving yards (679) and tied the school’s high mark with 5 touchdown grabs. He produced highlight scoring plays in both the Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl.
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) December 6, 2016
Despite some temptation to turn pro after his junior season, Gesicki opted to return for his fourth year of eligibility in Happy Valley.
He’ll enter the 2017 season surrounded by All-America buzz, and there’s an opportunity for him to enter the NFL draft’s first-round conversation with continued progression. Gesicki is considered the No. 1 2018 NFL draft prospect among tight ends, according to NFLDraftScout.com.