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Monday Notebook: Georgia State Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week two is already in the books and per Penn State head coach James Franklin's weekly Sunday tweets this season, it's time to turn toward Georgia State.

Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott joined the Sun Belt Conference football head coaches call this afternoon to talk Saturday's upcoming outing. It's the first meeting in program history between the two teams as the Nittany Lions enter the week at 2-0 following a 33-14 win against Pittsburgh. At 0-1 on the year, Georgia State returns to action following an early bye week, having dropped a 17-10 decision to Tennessee State in its season opener.

Among his weekly conference call questions, Elliott was asked about Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.

"You know I've had the opportunity to see a lot of good backs in my time and he ranks right up there," Elliott said. "He's powerful, that's the thing about it. He's just got so much strength and you have to gang tackle this guy, you have to rally to the football. I don't think anybody in college football can bring him down alone and that's a huge, huge compliment to the strength and conditioning staff up there. What a tremendous amount of body control and strength they have put into this young man."

With 432 all-purpose yards across two games, there's certainly no doubting Barkley's playmaking abilities. In the win against Pittsburgh, Barkley registered 88 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown, in addition to four catches for 45 yards and another touchdown. He hauled in another 50 yards on a pair of kick returns to earn one of five spots on the Paul Hornung Award Week 2 Honor Roll.

Under The Lights
Penn State will host Georgia State in its first night game of the 2017 season, marking the first Nittany Lion non-conference matchup under the lights since hosting UCF Sept. 14, 2013. At 45-31 all-time in night games, Penn State has also won five of its last six evening outings.

Also interesting to note, among teams currently in the Sun Belt Conference, Penn State has only met Coastal Carolina once in program history. While Coastal Carolina was not a member of the Sun Belt in the 2008 meeting, the Chanticleers joined the conference in July 2016.

Strong, Physical, Fast
Elliot also made mention of Penn State's secondary, calling the unit both talented and skilled.

"They can matchup with pretty much everybody in the country," Elliot said. "Strong, physical and fast." 

Penn State's secondary has embraced every sense of Elliot's description this year, with the Nittany Lions opening 2017 with at least one interception in back-to-back games for a second consecutive year.

While it wasn't a pick, safety Marcus Allen followed interceptions by Grant Haley and Troy Apke with his first career safety, marking the first Penn State safety since Devon Still notched a sack in the end zone at Minnesota in 2010.

"I just read it," Allen said. "I knew it was coming, we practice that a lot during the week so I ready that and just reacted. I saw the lineman starting to widen out, trying to arc left, then I saw number 22 just start going back and I reacted."

Last Word - Pittsburgh
At halftime Andrew Nelson's message to the rest of his offensive line was simply to remember what it feels like have fun. After sustaining an injury that sidelined him for the final eight games of the season, Nelson made his return to the field against Pittsburgh.

"Sometimes people can lose sight of the fun," Nelson said. "That's something that when I got back out there and I was a part of a drive to go down there put it in the end zone, I was like, I'm having a lot of fun out here. I told the guys, when you watch from the sideline for a long time and you finally get back out there, you realize how much fun it was when you were out there playing."

More from Nelson below (starting at 2:25).

Special Teams, Defense Lift Nittany Lions

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin made no major mystery of the game plan last week in his Tuesday press conference.

Naming Quadree Henderson a potential Pittsburgh game-wrecker, the Nittany Lions had seemingly no trouble neutralizing the All-American returner from what could have been a game-wrecking afternoon. 

From kickoff to the moment the clock hit 0:00 on the scoreboard, Penn State's special teams unit refused to step off its proverbial gas pedal, powering the Nittany Lions to a ninth consecutive win at home in Beaver Stadium.

Pinning the Panthers at the 2-yard line on the opening kickoff, Tyler Davis set the tone early as the Nittany Lions swarmed Henderson at the 19-yard line.

Alongside Penn State's standout special teams display though, the Nittany Lion defense also put on a gusty showing, proved no sooner than the first five minutes as corner back Grant Haley picked off Pittsburgh quarterback Matt Browne, looking for Henderson, before weaving 42 yards to put the Penn State offense in prime position to do what it does best.


"It was kind of funny, I was late to the coverage we called, I was kind of late to break on that ball and kind of slipped on my break but the receiver stopped running for the ball and it just kind of slipped into my hands," Haley said. "It was awesome out there seeing all the other 10 guys out there trying to block for me and big man up front on the other side got my foot and stopped me around the 10-yard line."
 

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley quickly found tight end Mike Gesicki wide open in the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown grab, the first of two for Gesicki in the opening half.

On the next Penn State drive, punter Blake Gillikin pinned Pittsburgh inside the 20-yard line, before Haley came through once again, with his first career sack on third-and-9 forcing a Panther punt, which DeAndre Thompkins fearlessly raced 16 yards on the return.

Even as Pittsburgh devoured the clock, Penn State's defense battled on, holding the Panthers to just a pair of field goals, with the Nittany Lions leading 28-6 following a pair of Saquon Barkley touchdowns, including a career long 46-yard touchdown reception.

"I think at the point in the game where those (field goals) happened, it was a big deal," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "It was huge and it was really good for our momentum."

Without surrendering a Pittsburgh touchdown until nearly the midpoint of the fourth quarter, Penn State's defense piled up three of its five total sacks, with defensive end Shareef Miller accounting for two up front. 

Pittsburgh moved only as close as 14, while Penn State proved potent in the field position battle.

"Special teams, a lot of people don't understand that we have the ability to change the game," safety Nick Scott said. "Blake [Gillikin] is obviously very talented and he has been doing a great job since he got here, so we take a lot of pride in having influential plays in the game."

Gillikin placed a career-high four punts inside the 20-yard line against the Panthers, something that's only a testament to hard work he puts often when nobody is looking. 

"He's a huge asset, with his talent, he's always working on punting," Scott said. "Not just in practice, but you'll arrive early or leave late and you'll always see Blake on the field working. Same with Tyler Davis." 

For Franklin, Penn State's special teams are tracking in just the right direction, a byproduct of a significant commitment to improvement that Franklin has referenced often this season.

"We've got a two-deep on our kickoff team and our punt team right now that can run down the field and beat blocks and make plays," Franklin said. "I think obviously, you guys know how happy we were with Blake Gillikin last year, but now the combination of Blake Gillikin with our coverage team, with Tyler Davis and our coverage teams, that I think we have a chance to be really good. We've now solved the problem on punt return. We've got an explosive punt returner that people are excited now to watch and it goes hand-in-hand with how we're blocking." 

On the other side of things, as crucial as the Nittany Lion defense proved to be, there's no denying that there's still room for improvement with next weekend's Georgia State matchup now on the horizon. 

"Our defense was on the field probably too long and that's a combination of us not sustaining drives on offense but also our defense not creating enough three and outs," Franklin said.

While it may not have been perfect, Penn State's shining special teams coupled with a resilient defense gave just enough for the explosive Nittany Lion offense to do just what it needed to do to pull out a win in front of Beaver Stadium's seventh-largest crowd in history.

For Barkley though, reflecting on success in all three phrases is simply a beautiful sight to recall, like a musical, as he calls it with a laugh. 

Pittsburgh Postgame - Nittany Lions

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fourth-ranked Penn State football pulled past Pittsburgh in a 33-14 decision featuring three touchdown passes from Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley in front of more than 109,000 inside Beaver Stadium. Check in with McSorley and several other Nittany Lions for a closer look inside the win. 

QB Trace McSorley, OT Andrew Nelson


CB Grant Haley, LB Jason Cabinda


S Nick Scott

Pittsburgh Postgame - James Franklin

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fourth-ranked Penn State football pulled past Pittsburgh in a 33-14 decision featuring three touchdown passes from Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley in front of more than 109,000 inside Beaver Stadium. Go one-on-one with head coach James Franklin (and a few special guests) for a closer look at the win. 

Beaver Stadium Extra - Pittsburgh

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Go behind the scenes with Penn State Athletics on football game day for exclusive interviews and a closer look at team arrival, the "2016" unveiling and more. 

Penn State Honors 1982 National Championship Team
In a special on-field ceremony, Penn State honored members of the Nittany Lions' 1982 national championship team, celebrating the 35th anniversary of their 11-1 national title season.


Behind the Scenes with SkyCam
Fans inside Beaver Stadium see it flying across the field while those at home see its incredible views on the screen. From setup to in-game controls, go behind the scenes with SkyCam's CTO for a closer look at what goes into creating the unique views. 


Brian Gaia Highlights "2016" Unveiling
Former Nittany Lion center and 2016 team captain Brian Gaia returned to Beaver Stadium to assist with the unveiling of the "2016" on the east suites commemorating Penn State's 2016 Big Ten Championship season. 


Penn State Captains Make Special Delivery
Penn State's eight team captains made team arrival just a little bit brighter, handing out autographed footballs to a packed crowd await the Nittany Lion arrival outside Beaver Stadium. 

2017 Gameday Live - No. 4 Penn State vs. Pittsburgh

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome back to our live blog coverage of the 2017 Penn State Football season. Fourth-ranked Penn State football (1-0, 0-0 B1G) returns to Beaver Stadium Saturday, hosting Pittsburgh (1-0, 0-0 ACC) in the Keystone Classic presented by Peoples Natural Gas.

Follow along with our live blog and join the conversation for in-game updates and exclusive content.  
Live Blog No. 4 Penn State vs. Pittsburgh
 

RELATED LINKS: Gameday Central I Gameday Live BlogGame Notes I Depth Chart I Tuesday Roundup I Wednesday Practice Report I Matt Limegrover Q&A I Monday Notebook I Nittany Lions in the NFL I Gameday Reminders & Promotions 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fourth-ranked Penn State football (1-0, 0-0 B1G) returns to Beaver Stadium Saturday, hosting Pittsburgh (1-0, 0-0 ACC) in the Keystone Classic presented by Peoples Natural Gas. 

In the 98th meeting between the two programs, both the Nittany Lions and the Panthers enter the matchup coming off of season-opening wins.

After executing what Penn State head coach James Franklin deemed perhaps the most complete game of his tenure, the Nittany Lions will look to build on the consistency. Scoring at least 35 points in each of the last eight consecutive games, Penn State owns the longest active streak among Power 5 teams, with an explosive offense loaded with options.

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Penn State moved up to two spots in both the Amway Coaches and AP Polls this week to No. 4 in the standings, with Nittany Lion running back Saquon Barkley earning Rose Bowl Game Big Ten Player of the Week honors in addition to co-offensive player of the week accolades from the conference following his 11th-career 100-yard rushing performance.

The newly reloaded Nittany Lion defense proved disruptive in its third consecutive yearly shut out, with a variety of new faces rotating in to create the chaos. Earning the staff's defensive player of the week pick was junior defensive end Ryan Buchholz, who rotated in early to finish with a career-high four tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a forced fumble.

Among the success in the season-opener though, Franklin noted early this week that there's still a bit more in the tank.

Looking at Pittsburgh, the Panthers captured a 28-21 OT victory in their 2017 season opener last week, outlasting Youngstown State in Heinz Field.

"Coach Narduzzi does a really good job and we have a lot of respect for him and their program," Franklin said. "They present a very challenging offense. Probably more similar to a Stanford or Michigan State style of offense. Multiple personnel groups, multiple formations, unbalanced, shifts, motions, trades. I think that's something that we're going to spend a lot of time working on this week defensively. They play a base 4-3 defense and will use a lot of nickel, and they'll go with their three-down front, as well. [They are] Very well-coached, play hard, physical and run to the ball."

Saturday's 3:30 p.m. matchup will broadcast live on ABC with Joe Tessitore (pxp), former Penn State national champion quarterback Todd Blackledge (analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline) on the call.

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What To Watch For - Penn State

1. Starting Fast, Finishing Strong
Yes, this was item number one in last week's game day preview, but the Akron opener juxtaposed with last year's Pitt game only adds importance. Although it's in the past, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley noted that the slow start against the Panthers last year was crushing. Against the Zips, it was DeAndre Thompkins' 61-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter that sparked the Nittany Lions early, as Penn State entered halftime with a 35-0 lead for the first time since 2009. 

"I think that's something that sticks out is if you can get a fast start, come out, be productive, get points on the board as an offense, force three-and-outs and turnovers and chaos on the defensive side of the ball, then you'll be much better off throughout the rest of the game and give yourself a much better chance," McSorley said.

2. The Game Wrecker
Franklin noted that Pittsburgh All-American return specialist Quadree Henderson is a top priority for the Nittany Lions in the game plan. With a school-record three kickoff return touchdowns last year, Henderson closed out the season ranking second 11th nationally and second in the ACC with an average 160.23 all-purpose yards per game. In Pitt's opener, Henderson logged 155 all-purpose yards, rushing for 77 and picking up 71 on kickoff returns, in addition to seven receiving.

As Franklin noted early this week though, kicker Tyler Davis and punter Blake Gillikin will be key in neutralizing Henderson's impact, with precision in kick location as well as distance and hang time of the utmost importance.

3. Better on Third Down
It has been a point of emphasis for the Nittany Lions for a while, but it was perhaps one of only a few things that Franklin noted Penn State would need to improve. 

"That is still an area that we need to get better in," Franklin said early last week. "We were 33 percent on 3rd down and on 4th down we were 50 percent."

What To Watch For - Pittsburgh

1. Jester Weah
Wide receiver Jester Weah clinched the win in Pittsburgh's opener against Youngstown State, grabbing an 11-yard touchdown catch on his only reception for the Panthers. A top returning receiver, Weah averaged more than 20 yards per catch (24.2) in 2016, leading the team in catches (36), receiving yards (870) and touchdown receptions (10) last year. 

2. Hard-Nosed Defense
Yesterday Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover noted that Narduzzi defenses are always well coached. Franklin used hard-nosed and physical to describe a Panther defense that returns after allowing 119.6 yards per game in 2016. 

"The one thing about them is, they have a lot of new faces, especially in the front seven," Limegrover said. "They're not going to disguise, they're not going to show, they're not going to change significantly from week to week, but what they do, they're about as good in the country from a technique and an assignment standpoint as anybody you'll find. What they do, is they basically say we're going to play our defense really well and our scheme really well and you've got to play really well in what you do to beat us. That's what it comes down to."

3. Qadree Ollison
The Pittsburgh rushing attack totaled 208 rushing yards in the win against Youngstown State, led by a 91-yard performance by running back Qadree Ollison. In 2016, Pittsburgh averaged 225.1 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the ACC and 28th nationally. 

The Final Word -

Come Saturday, Pittsburgh will make its first trip to Beaver Stadium in nearly 20 years, having last visited in 1999, when Penn State claimed a 20-17 win in the final seconds of regulation. Although the Nittany Lions fell short in last year's comeback attempt at Heinz Field, Penn State has won each of its last four games against the Panthers at home, leading the all-time series 17-6 as the longstanding and historic series between the two teams meets in the second of a four-year agreement, set to conclude in 2019. 

Matt Limegrover Q&A - Pitt Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover joined the Penn State weekly assistant coaches conference call this afternoon to talk Pittsburgh and the current state of the offensive line.

Fourth-ranked Penn State is set to host the Panthers Saturday at Beaver Stadium in a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcasting live on ABC.

Listen in and catch up on a few notes from Limegrover's Q&A session.

A Seasoned Group
Simply having a group of seasoned student-athletes is exactly what Limegrover likes most about the offensive line right now.  

"Even our young guys," Limegrover said. "Ryan Bates is a veteran now, he started every game last year. Connor McGovern as a true freshman last year wasn't even in the starting lineup for this game last year, the experience he has gained. Steve Gonzalez, people don't realize that Gonzalez and Chasz Wright, going into last year's fall camp were both listed at three. I think just the experience in big games and what it takes to prepare each week."

Looking at the Panther Defense
It's perhaps the seventh time Limegrover has been in position to take a look at a Pat Narduzzi defense, with past Big Ten stops connecting the two. For Limegrover though, the one thing he has always known and respected about a Narduzzi-led or influenced defense, is that they are always well coached. 

"They don't do a ton of things, but what they do is - it's kind of the old line, I think it was Bruce Lee who said, I don't fear the man who practices 10,000 kicks once, I fear the man who practices one kick 10,000 times," Limegrover said. "That's kind of the way they are."

First Time Out
Of the 13 freshmen (10 redshirts, 3 true) to take the field in their first collegiate debut Saturday, all three redshirt freshmen on the offensive side of the ball were offensive linemen. With varying levels of experience during their redshirt year, Limegrover noted that Will Fries was perhaps the most familiar on the field, followed by Michal Menet, with Alex Gellerstedt entering a whole new experience. 

"I think with Will [Fries] and to a little bit of a lesser extent with Michael [Menet], because of the experience they had last year, traveling each week and for the most part being with the two deep and working what we were doing each week to prepare for the opponent, I think that gave them a leg up even though that was their first game experience," Limegrover said.

Rising Confidence
Earlier this week Franklin noted that he was initially a bit uneasy when McGovern made the move to center, mentioning he was unsure how a normally more reserved individual would handle a more vocal responsibility. 

"I think as with anything, confidence is a great thing, it will buoy you, it will always you to get out of your comfort zone the more comfortable you feel," Limegrover said. "I think that's where Connor is right now as opposed to really at any point last year. He kind of had a kid brother complex last year, Brian [Gaia] kind of took it upon himself to lead Connor around last year, make sure he was in the right spots, doing the right things and I think Connor feels really comfortable with his role now. He doesn't have to be the vocal leader of that group, having guys like Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson in the room, they are the vocal leaders being the older guys. It's now more of an even plane with Connor."

Practice Report: Pitt Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin met with members of the media Wednesday evening at the Lasch Football Building, joined by defensive lineman Ryan Buchholz for a final preview before Saturday's Pitt matchup.

The Nittany Lions and the Panthers are set for a 3:30 p.m. matchup live on ABC. Check out a few updates from the media sessions as game day prep progresses in Happy Valley.


Business-Like Approach
Franklin noted that the Nittany Lions have entered week two with a business-like approach, demonstrating focus in the early part of the week. Although he'd like to see a bit of an increase in energy, it's not something holding the team back on film. 

"We're very focused, we're very locked in, very business-like," Franklin said. "I thought today was better. I thought there was more energy, there was more juice, more emotion."

McGovern's Progress
Franklin is pleased with the progress Connor McGovern has made since he arrived on campus, not only as it relates to growing into his role at center, but his approach to putting on smart weight too. 

"He's more confident, he understands defenses more," Franklin said. "In high school you don't really see a whole lot, especially the type of offense that he ran. I think that his biggest improvement is in pass protection, he probably did it more in one game here than in his entire high school career." 

Buchholz: He reminds me a lot of Carl Nassib
Penn State true freshman defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos has been impressing the Nittany Lion staff since he arrived on campus, even seeing his first collegiate action in the Akron opener. For Buchholz, it's the mental aspect of Gross-Matos' progress that has him impressed. 

"I would say it's more mental than physical, but he has done as good as you can as a true freshman," Buchholz said. "He has the physical characteristics obviously, he's huge, he reminds me a lot of Carl Nassib to be honest. He's starting to get everything down and starting to get it."


Week One Takeaways
For Buccholz his week one takeaways focused on the entire Nittany Lion defense, as he noted Penn State's play-making ability as a key week one factor in the win. 

"From the d-backs to the d-line, we all came off the ball fast and made plays," Buccholz said. "A bunch of times a play would go the other way and I'd see Cam Brown or Manny [Bowen] chase it down and make a big TFL so the whole defense as a group was running to the ball and making plays."

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."

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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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