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Mike Gesicki | Tight End | Sr./Sr.
Q. Thoughts going into this being Senior Day? Talk about the emotions of that and the opponent you guys have to square up against after those emotions go down.
MG: This is going to be a game filled with a bunch of emotions. It is the last game ever playing in Beaver Stadium, and I can still remember the first time I was here in Beaver Stadium. My junior year of high school, I visited for the White Out game against Ohio State, and I remember the atmosphere, the fans, and everything about Beaver Stadium.
Thinking back over my last four years, I could have never imagined that the team that I was playing on and the guys that I was playing with could have ever made the memories that we've made here and all the experiences that we've had. It's been unbelievable. It's going to be something that I'm going to cherish for a long time. So I'm excited for Saturday, but I obviously don't want it to come too fast because I know once it starts it's going to end quickly.
As for Nebraska, they're a very talented football team. They're going to come out here and play extremely physical and tough, and they're going to give us some different looks on defense. I watched a few games yesterday, so I'm excited for the opportunity to come out here and play them. I've never -- I don't think anybody on this team has played Nebraska, at least in the four years that I've been here. So I get to play a new team and new opponent, it's going to be exciting.
Q. How has the program evolved during your time here, and was there ever a time when you had any misgivings about coming to Penn State?
MG: I mean, I've loved my entire time here in State College, on the football field and off the football field, in the classroom, in this college town, everywhere. It's been unbelievable. It's been a great four years.
In terms of how much we've grown, when I first got here Coach Franklin had been here for about five months. There's been some guys on these teams that played for a few coaches. So, finally over the past two years we've had complete buy-in by all 125 players on the team. We all have the utmost respect for Coach Franklin and trust him, the scheme, and what he preaches to us day in and day out.
So I think that for us to kind of buy into the message that he's communicating to us each and every day, and to have all 125 guys buy into that exact same message, I think that's the most growth that I've seen from our team. There's a lot of continuity from the brotherhood and the family. So, in my four years we've grown close together and been able to get Penn State back on its feet and rolling again.
Q. Could you talk about the pass-catching you do with DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson? How did that start with you and how has it helped you out the most?
MG: I would say I started staying after practice during spring ball two years ago. Initially it started with the tight ends. Then some guys had study hall and obligations after practice...then in the off-season DaeSean and I would get on the Jugs machine and catch 200 balls every single day. So him and I have worked together day in and day out.
What time is it now? It's 1:35. He's probably waiting for me at the Jugs machine. We'll catch before team meeting starts and then we'll catch again after practice with Juwan. So the three of us will go out there and get a bunch of extra catches in, and then we'll finish with 20 contested catches where somebody is behind you, hitting you and slapping at your hands and distracting you. Then we'll also do some wet ball drills.
It's been something that we've been doing since the bye week, trying to do some wet ball drills just to be ready for when the weather gets to the point where we need to be prepared for that. I think staying out there and getting extra work helps us prepare for Saturday.
Q. Do you have any guess on who will take the place of you and DaeSean with Juwan next year?
MG: Juwan always says, “Man, we've got a few more weeks and then I'm going to be out here throwing the ball to myself.”
So I'm not sure who Juwan is going to let enter this prestigious club of ours, but whoever it is, they're going to go out there and get in a bunch of extra work and prepare for Saturdays, just like we have been for the past two years.
Q. Knowing DaeSean as you do, what is a good DaeSean story you have off the field about him?
MG: DaeSean is a very interesting character. I mean, there's like 50 kids on our team that would die to be friends with DaeSean. DaeSean talks to a very select few people.
He's just a very interesting dude. I can still remember the first time I met him when I got here my freshman year and just our friendship developed and people would ask me, “how are you and DaeSean friends? You guys are complete polar opposites.”
DaeSean and I are best friends. I am excited for both of our futures, and really happy for how things have been working out for him this season. Hopefully the success continues through the end of the season this year.
Q. Who has recently been allowed into the DaeSean friends club?
MG: The latest addition would be Andre Robinson. Andre has, for the past year and a half, literally -- because I live with Andre, been like, “dude, I wish DaeSean would talk to me.” I’d tell him “maybe go up and say what's up to him?” Then Andre actually went through my phone and got DaeSean's number when I wasn't looking. He texted him, and DaeSean responded with, “Who is this?” And Andre was like, “Oh, yeah, it's Andre.” So then Andre would text him like a hundred times a day, really just annoy him to be his friend. Now he knows that Andre's a funny dude and likes hanging out with him. So I would say Andre is the new addition.
Q. You were selected a John Mackey Award semifinalist. What does that mean to you?
MG: I think I am one of eight people on the list, so I am definitely honored to be in the company of those players. It was funny, I had no idea that I was even mentioned in it until Adam Brenneman texted me this morning. It said welcome to the club, buddy. I'm like, what club? He's like the Mackey club. I said don't ever text me and say that again.
Obviously, it's an honor and something I've worked for, but I wouldn't be there without my teammates and my coaches. I'm really appreciative of all that stuff. But I'm a big believer in with team success comes individual recognition, so I'm excited for these last few opportunities. We take care of business on Saturdays and all that kind of stuff will take care of itself.
Q. Matt Millen got into you pretty good on the broadcast. Were you aware of that? And, where are you in your blocking development?
MG: I think I'm going to have to continue to improve in my blocking abilities. I'm more than willing to block. I think I've taken a bunch of steps forward in my blocking abilities. It is something I honestly take pride in. So I'm going to own everything I put on film.
Obviously there are plays every single game that I'd like back, but as far as a commentator ripping into me, it's going to take a lot more than a commentator ripping into me to shut me down. I've received many other hurtful and disrespectful comments, so honestly, the only critique that I'm worried about is coming from Coach [Ricky] Rahne. So, if Coach Rahne wants to critique me and coach me up like he does each and every day, that's what I'm excited about. I am just ready to get back to work today.
Q. First, what do you remember about Brandon Smith, the tight end?
MG: I do remember Brandon Smith in the tight end meeting rooms and all that kind of stuff. I think he was on the scout team back then, so I didn't really have too many memories of him as a tight end. It was only a few weeks that he was doing that until he switched over to linebacker. But obviously, he was the same dude as he is as a linebacker: tough, physical, loves to hit people and that kind of stuff.
Q. Do you remember the first time you met Marcus Allen?
MG: Yes. The first time I met Marcus was the first day we got here. I remember everybody went to the spring game, my [signing] class went to the spring game and I wasn't able to make it because I had a volleyball tournament that weekend. I wasn't able to make it to the spring game and be with all the guys. So, the first time I met Marcus was when we got on campus the first day of our freshman year in June. Same dude. He's always joking around, all that kind of stuff.
Q. Can you talk about what it's like with DaeSean being the all-time receiving record holder and you having the tight end mark, what's that like having your best friend be a record holder, too?
MG: It's been awesome. I think also it's not happening by coincidence. DaeSean and I put a lot of work in during the off-season, after practice, before practice and during practice. So we've put a ton of work and time and dedication into getting to where we are today. Also none of that is possible without any of our coaches or teammates. For me and him to be as close as we are, and to have those records and the accolades and all that stuff that comes along with it, it's great.
I remember when I broke the record for most catches by a tight end, DaeSean [broke the all-time receptions record] like two weeks later and everybody was blowing him up. I was like joking around with him, and I said, “How come I didn't get any love for breaking the record for most catches by a tight end?” He's like, “Mike, you're a tight end. Nobody cares about that. Just keep blocking, doing your job.”
Obviously, we joke around all the time. We have a great relationship. I'm happy for him and the success he's having.
Q. You told us last year that when you first met Joe Moorhead, he didn't know where you were. Have you rehashed that story? Have you brought that up to him recently?
MG: I was joking around with him a few weeks ago about how when he first got the job, I walked in and I was talking to Tommy [Stevens], and thinking who is who is the new guy, and all that stuff. He was cracking up on the practice field when I was telling him, and he came back at me, and I was like, I was looking at the film, and I was looking for a tight end that could catch the ball.
Him and I have gone back and forth. Coach Moorhead and I have a great relationship. I think that he is a huge reason for the success that I've had the past two seasons. You know, both in the run game and in the pass game, everything is from the scheme that he brought. It's kind of molded me into the player that I am and I am forever grateful for having him come here and be the offensive coordinator.
Q. To follow that up, your first impression of Coach Franklin? You were recruited by Bill O'Brien, so what did you remember about when he got to Penn State?
MG: I got an offer from Vanderbilt, but I didn't speak Coach Franklin. I got the offer from [John] Donovan when they were at Vanderbilt. Then when Coach Franklin got the head coaching job here, he called me, I think it was the first day that he was able to contact recruits and we talked on the phone for probably about 30 minutes. Just able to discuss the basics and how much he was excited about me coming to Penn State and all that stuff. He came to my basketball game a few weeks later, came to my house for dinner and all that kind of stuff.
So, Coach Franklin is a great coach. He's a great leader and teacher of young men and helping mold them into men when they leave here after four years. He's done a great job helping some of the guys when they get here they're immature and still trying to find who they are and four years later he plays a huge role into getting them where they are four years later when they graduate. He's played a huge role in me becoming who I am ultimately. So I'm grateful to play for him.
Q. I'm curious how in tune you are with the history of the Penn State tight end? Who are the guys that you've looked up to and even met?
MG: Obviously, when you talk about some of the better tight ends in Penn State's history, you're talking about Kyle Brady or even Jesse James...and Andrew Quarless, there have been some talented guys that have come through Penn State. I've had the honor of playing with Jesse and learning from Jesse and using him as a role model in my time here at Penn State and I still talk to him a lot. I met Kyle Brady over the summer, and had an opportunity to talk to him for 20 minutes and get some advice from him, some feedback. Ultimately it's very interesting to look back and see the names that have come through Penn State in terms of tight ends. To be sitting here and think maybe I could be somebody in the future that Penn State tight ends wants to look up to.
Q. Why do you think you didn't pack it in early in your career? How much pride in that fact that you take out of the fact that you're here and where you are today?
MG: I think that coming here, I had a ton of expectations for myself, and then there's obviously a bunch of outside expectations that I was looking to live up to. My first year I did my job. I was pretty much a wide receiver. I went in on passing downs and caught like 10 or 11 passes. I was there for my freshman year. Then my sophomore year, obviously, everybody's heard the story a hundred thousand times. It didn't go the way I wanted it to.
Ultimately I could have packed it in. That's not who I am. I'm a competitor. I had goals and aspirations. Then, going into that spring ball, I would write in my notebook every day. The first thing I'd write is I'm the best tight end. Every single day. If anybody ever read that, they would have laughed at me at that point in my life. Just because they would think you're not even close to that. I knew what I was capable of. That's something that I'm very proud of, how I grew and developed and become the player I am.
I owe a lot of credit to my coaches, my teammates, and my family and friends for sticking with me and fighting out the other side. Being able to look back at my Penn State career, I am proud of everything I've gone through.
Q. Your first two years here, how did Christian Hackenberg form you and what was his impact?
MG: He was just texting me. He called me last night. I talked to him for a little bit. He actually just texted me when I was coming in here. Obviously we've formed an unbelievable friendship. Being a roommate with him for a year and a half when I first got here, I've obviously learned a ton from him. We always talk about DaeSean. DaeSean always makes the joke, you and Hack were the best duo that never happened here at Penn State.
That's his favorite joke. So Hack and I, obviously on the field, the product obviously wasn't what we had hoped it would have been, but it had nothing to do with him. But just him helping mold me into the player I am today, not only the player on the field, but the guy in the film room. He's kind of shown me the ways of understanding defenses and the Xs and Os of football and all that kind of stuff. Obviously, we still keep in contact. He's watching the games and telling me some things to keep in mind, and to maybe improve on or something that he liked. So he's been a huge supporter of mine as I have been a huge supporter of his as well.
Q. What kind of teammate is Tommy Stevens, and what kind of impact does he have on the offense when he's able to see some playing time?
MG: Tommy's the man. Obviously being a back-up quarterback is a tough role to handle, especially when you're as talented as Tommy is. I think that he's handled that situation extremely well. He comes to practice every single day and you would think he's the Heisman Trophy winner with the kind of energy that he has and the confidence that comes from him. Tommy is an unbelievable teammate.
Every time he comes on the field, especially in practice, he'll say, “all right, get out. It's my time to shine.” Because once he comes in, I come out. If there's anybody on the team that I'd be happy with having two of my touchdown catches, it would be Tommy. Tommy has done a great job going in and being a running back, being a quarterback, a receiver, a tight end, an All-American decoy, whatever you want to call him, he's done a phenomenal job. I think whenever his time comes during his career as a college football player, I'm going to be his number one fan for the future.
Q. How did you make it into the DaeSean friend club?
MG: I honestly started this whole be friends with DaeSean thing. Once I started being friends with him, then Andre wanted to jump in. And Tommy would be like, “Yo, how come Ham doesn't talk to me?” Everybody comes to me like I'm his secretary or something.
But, yeah, Tommy became friends with him. Every Wednesday it's me, Tommy, and DaeSean, we go to my girlfriend's house, and she cooks us dinner every Wednesday night. So that was kind of the crew that started at the beginning of the year. Since then, Tommy and DaeSean have increased their friendship week in and week out. It's very funny to me that everybody takes so much pride in being friends with DaeSean.
Q. I wanted to ask you earlier on you were mentioning that you don't let criticism take you out of the game. That was a message from Coach Franklin after the Michigan State game to tell everyone to get back to internally focusing on what you guys do in the locker room and in practice. Did you have a hand in helping the team learn to not listen to the outside noise?
MG: Coach Franklin and I have had conversations about adversity and criticism and all that stuff. Because when you think about it, it was last year, the Minnesota game, the starting lineup comes up, and it's head coach James Franklin. You could either hear crickets or boos coming from the stands. Now you look at it this time this year, and everybody loves him.
So him and I kind of talk about the adversity that we've gone through and the criticism that we've faced with each other. So that's something that me and him share.
Then obviously as a team, we had kind of a two-week rough patch that we had to fight through. But every great team has to deal with adversity. That was our time. Something we had to learn from and be able to bounce back from, which we were able to do last week. To be able to finish this season off strong and still make the most out of this year, I think that’s what we're doing to the best of our abilities.
I think we have so much -- so many memories of this team over the past four years that will obviously go on with us forever. But ultimately this season I've got a few more games left, and we decided to finish it out strong.
Brandon Smith | Linebacker | Gr./Sr.
Q. How do you describe your Penn State career, maybe the past couple years specifically and the role that you've taken on?
BS: I think I've had a tremendous opportunity here. This is my fifth season and I've just enjoyed all of it. I'd say patience has been one of the biggest things for me, just waiting for an opportunity, and preparation. Just having the right attitude. I talked to the team a couple weeks ago about my perspective switch of just being less selfish and more cheering my teammates on and being happy for the guys who got to play in front of me. Just being able to support them and that shift just lets you work harder, lets you have better focus, and so when your opportunity does come, you're ready.
I've tried to do that in my career. These last two years where I've gotten an expanded role, it's just I tried to make the most out of it and really enjoyed the process.
Q. Can you just talk about the last time coming out and getting everything going? What is going through your head for the emotions this week? Secondly, talk about Nebraska.
BS: I'm just really trying to reflect on how much of an opportunity I've been given here and what a great platform it is and all the great people I've gotten to meet. Hundreds of guys going through that locker room over my five years, just making great relationships and friendships with tons of guys, the coaching staff and just being appreciative of who I've gotten to play for.
Ultimately, this fan base that we have here is incredible. I don't think there are too many places in the country like this where we can have 107,000 people out for a noon game in the freezing cold.
It's a tremendous opportunity, and our fans are really passionate. They go crazy for us, and we feed off that energy. So, one more chance to enjoy it as a player, and I'm looking forward to it and going to make the most out of it.
As far as Nebraska goes, they're a good team. They've been able to play better than their record might indicate, so we're not going to take them lightly. We're going to prepare the same way we always do. Defensively and on special teams from my perspective, we're going to watch a lot of film, work on the fundamentals, and get back to playing good defense, good special teams consistently this week.
Q. Do you remember the first time you met Marcus Allen and have you ever been around a guy like that?
BS: Marcus is a special guy. You don't meet many people like him, especially coming from small Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. I haven't met anyone like Marcus Allen. He's a tremendous player and an even better teammate. He does a lot to bring energy to practice and in the locker room. You can hear him anywhere you are in the locker room. He'll be making people laugh, joking around and having a good time. He also works tremendously hard, and he does amazing things out in the field.
So it's been a real pleasure to play with Marcus these last four years and see him grow and mature, and become a leader on our team.
Q. From your talk a couple weeks ago, did you see an impact that your talk might have had with the team?
BS: I had a couple players who just said they were appreciative of my message and some coaches echoed the same thing. Ultimately, I think we have a lot of good character guys on our team who kind of already understand that. A lot of guys who come and work hard every day and have a great attitude. An example is Desi Davis, one of our cornerbacks. He said earlier in this year, even if he never plays, he's excited to help the team get better and incredibly thankful for his opportunity. It's just guys like that who really strengthen this team and give us a chance to be successful.
When you can be selfless like that and work hard every day, despite playing time or things like that, your team has a great chance to be successful.
Q. James Franklin was saying a couple minutes ago that he kind of recalled a little earlier in your career when you were lobbying with him to be more than a fullback, or special teams player. What do you remember about those conversations?
BS: That's when I was playing fullback, which really meant I was playing tight end and I was competing with Mike [Gesicki], Kyle Carter and Jesse James. Those guys are like titans and I'm 6-foot, 230 pounds at that point in time. I knew my prospects of getting on the field on offense were very limited.
I knew I could play linebacker, so I’d talk to Coach Pry and I'd talk to Coach Franklin, Once a week, every other week I'd be up in one of their offices telling them I can do this. I'm not pulling your leg or anything like that. I was thankful to have guys like Ben Klein or Nyeem Wartman who were older guys who were there while I transitioned to linebacker, and they vouched for me. I appreciate them because ultimately they let me switch and I'm really thankful for that opportunity. Who knows, they probably might have cut me if I stayed a tight end. So just thankful for that opportunity.
Q. James has you graduating medical school in two years and becoming the team doctor here. I just wondered if that's how you see your progression?
BS: First things first, I've got to get into a medical school. So that's what I'm focused on academically right now and focused on finishing off this school year. Finishing off this season the right way, and hopefully getting into medical school to see what happens after that.
Q. Any younger linebackers in the room that you've taken under your wing or can you speak to one or two of them that you've seen grow from camp to where they are now?
BS: Yeah, I think one guy in particular that impressed me is Ellis Brooks. Coming from high school to college, there is a big difference in what the playbook looks like. So he didn't always know what he was doing, scheme-wise, but he did a great job of running to the ball. You'd always see him around the ball and getting there quickly.
Then as the season progressed, he has done a great job working on his fundamentals, his key reads and learning the defense. He's a guy that I think is going to have a big role on this team in the future. There are other guys too, but as far as one that's really stood out to me, I think Ellis is doing the right thing.
Q. Could you flip it around and tell us some of the scout team offensive players who may stick out to you? How much of an appreciation do you have for those guys knowing what you've probably done in that regard earlier in your career?
BS: We really appreciate the guys on the scout team. They've been giving us really good looks this year. I think it's probably been the most competitive scout team offense I've seen since I've been here.
Journey Brown is a guy who is incredibly fast, and watching him in those three and four scrimmages we've had, he is making a lot of nice, tough runs. I've had to cover him in scout periods man-to-man. He's a fast guy and makes you really make sure you have your fundamentals figured out and proper leverage and things like that. CJ Thorpe and Desmond Holmes on the offensive line, they've been doing really good stuff, getting movement, and getting to the second level. In the past a lot of times it's hard to get a clear look because the offensive line is just getting blown up so quickly by our defensive line, but those are two guys that stick out to me that have been able to at least stand their ground or even get movement sometimes. Both guys, I think, have a bright future.
Q. You mentioned looking into med schools. What schools are you looking at?
BS: I already applied, so I pretty much applied across Pennsylvania and down into Maryland and West Virginia, I think one in New York. So I just went around the east coast and northeast.
Q. You've had an interesting story, and it's very intriguing to think what you went through to fight for your spot to play. What moment has stuck out for you?
BS: I don't know if there's a particular moment. I think last year when I got to play in the Temple game. That was the first time I saw real playing time at linebacker. It was just kind of like a relief that I wasn't crazy. That I actually could go out on the field and do well. I was just happy with that opportunity. I've just enjoyed my time.
I think this season in general, even though I've been a back-up for most of the season, I've just enjoyed this more than any other season and made an extra effort to build relationships with my teammates. I don't even know if I'll remember actually playing in games. I think just the team and the locker room and things like that. I think this year, more than any, has been the most meaningful to me. I've just been really appreciative of this opportunity and who my teammates are, and playing with people like Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, and Jason Cabinda and Marcus Allen, and all these big-name guys that I've gotten to play with and live with them in the locker room. I think those are things that are going to mean the most to me.