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Program Spotlight: Multi-Talented

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By Greg Campbell, Penn State Strategic Communications

On page 95 of the 2017 Penn State Football Yearbook, senior Mike Gesicki lists four hobbies. One is playing sports, another is going to the beach. When asked about the latter of those hobbies, Gesicki smiles, laughs and simply states, "That will forever be who I am."

The blonde-haired, laidback Gesicki looks like he was born to ride the waves, but he is much more than just another Jersey Shore beach goer. It is also hard to figure out when or how he made time to fall in love with the sand and surf.

A top-10 top tight end recruit nationally coming out of Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin, New Jersey, a rating that he now calls unnecessary, Gesicki had scholarship offers from 20 Division I football programs and at least one scholarship offer from a Division I basketball program.

The first Penn State scholarship offer he received?

If you guessed that it came from Mark Pavlik and the men's volleyball program, you would be correct.

"I took some basketball (official) visits and I actually got recruited to play volleyball at Penn State before I got recruited to play football," Gesicki said. "Ultimately, I had more options with football. I saw more of a future [in football], so I went with my gut and it has been a great decision for me."

His outlook on life - and football - is one of the things that has enabled him to go from top-flight recruit to one of the top tight ends in the nation, though the course he took to get there was anything but what he had expected.

"Honestly, the journey that I have gone through from high school until now was nothing like I had expected it to be," Gesicki said. "It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be."

Difficult was nothing new for the athletic Gesicki, who excelled in three sports during his high school career. As intimidating as he was on the football field as a 6-foot-6, 237-pound tight end - though he will tell you he was more of a wide receiver - think about trying to guard him at the rim or putting up a block at the net as he flew towards you with his arm cocked back ready to attack.

In an era that sees most young athletes specialize in a singular sport, Gesicki was the exception. Distancing him even further from his generational counterparts is the fact he continued to pursue basketball and volleyball even after deciding he would pursue football at the next level. His reasoning for that: it is how he was raised.

"I played a bunch of sports growing up," Gesicki said. "I obviously knew I was going to Penn State to play football heading into my senior year, but I still had goals that I wanted to achieve on the basketball court and in volleyball. I also felt like I owed it to my teammates and coaches to finish it out."

Finish it out he did. When Gesicki delivered the game-winning point in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Boy's Volleyball State Championship match it ended a prep career that reads like a future hall of famer.

Football: Four varsity letters, all-time leading receiver with 103 receptions, 1,817 yards and 16 touchdown receptions.
Basketball: Four varsity letters, all-time leading scorer with 1,867 points, 2014 New Jersey High School slam dunk champion, McDonald's All-America nominee.
Volleyball: Four varsity letters, all-time leader in blocks with 519, second all-time in kills with 1,144, two-time state champion (2013, 2014), 2014 New Jersey Player of the Year.

Twelve varsity letters, the Rams all-time leader in at least one statistical category in three different sports and a Division I football scholarship. Not bad for a teenager that also had to navigate academics, substantial media attention, the collegiate football recruiting wringer and what generally goes into being a high school student.

"You only go through high school once. The opportunity to play three sports ends after that," Gesicki said. "I looked forward to playing (basketball and volleyball) my senior year. I am happy I was able to do that. I am happy I stuck with it all."

On October 17, 2013 - the middle of his senior season - Gesicki made his verbal commitment to play football at Penn State. Penn State fans were already aware of his quickness, strength, explosiveness and overall athleticism, which led to building expectations, not only from the outside, but also internally.

"Before I arrived on campus, a lot of things came easily for me," Gesicki said, "but when I got (to Penn State) I was basically playing a new position, doing things I had never done before. So, it took some time for me to mature and put the time into being the player that I expected myself to be."

Gesicki wasn't naive to the fact that college football would be an adjustment. He credits teammates, like current Pittsburgh Steeler Jesse James, and his coaches for helping him along the way. One instance of that help came at his first practice in the blue and white, when his position coach instructed the group to work on their three-point stance technique, something Gesicki never did in high school. His teammates came to his aid to get him through the drill.

While he is quick to point out that others helped him along, what he won't boast about is the inner drive that leads him into the southwest corner of the Lasch Building practice fields every afternoon to hit the blocking sleds repeatedly in an attempt to hone what he sees as a soft spot in his game.

That inner drive comes from a simple mentality: he associates talent with hard work. That is something he wishes he could go back and remind his freshman self about.

"I would tell myself to be prepared," Gesicki said. "Although things came easy in high school, I needed to be ready to handle adversity. To handle it the right way. I would tell my freshman self that if you work hard and handle adversity the right way it will make you a much better person on the other end - both in football and life."

It would seem that he was telling himself this during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Though he played in 25 of 26 games over his first two seasons, he amassed just 24 catches for 239 yards, but the dedication to his craft never waivered. That focus led to a breakout 2016 season that saw him eclipse the school record for catches (48) and receiving yards (679) by a tight end. Those numbers propelled him into preseason talk to vie for All-America honors at tight end, a feat that hasn't been accomplished at Penn State since Kyle Brady claimed first team honors in 1994.

The ever confident Gesicki hasn't rested on his breakout season, as his mind is focused on his senior year and making his last year in the blue and white the most successful one yet - on the field and in the classroom.

"I am focused and motivated. Excited and nervous," Gesicki said while sitting inside Beaver Stadium for media day. "All of those emotions are going through my mind right now. I am excited to get back on the field. I only have seven more opportunities left inside this stadium, so I want to make the most of each opportunity. It's also a goal to get my degree, so that is big for me, as well."

Making the most of his opportunities has been something Gesicki has done since his three-sport days in high school, so expecting anything less than his best effort during the final season of his Penn State career would be as unexpected as Gesicki turning down a trip to the beach.

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