There was nothing Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki could do at the time, but it still irked him.
After the Nittany Lions upset Ohio State and re-emerged in the national conversation last season, Gesicki and his teammates felt disrespected, as college football pundits continued to dismiss Penn State as a legitimate contender.
Gesicki, who said in a USA Today article Monday that Saquon Barkley hasn’t blown up nationally due to a “lack of respect Penn State gets as a program,” further expanded on that topic Tuesday morning.
“There were moments throughout the season, after we knocked off Ohio State, we still felt that people weren’t favoring us,” the senior said on a conference call. “You watch all the shows, sitting in the hotel all day before games and see people knocking you on TV. It’s stuff we can’t control. We can’t control other people’s opinions about us and, at the end of the day, I don’t think it affects us.”
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Gesicki feels as though the Nittany Lions have “made the positive strides to get the respect we deserve” and can parlay that momentum into an even better campaign in 2017 — and that’s one of the primary reasons he decided to forgo the NFL draft.
“We’re an older team now, and we have a chance for some success that we’ve been shooting for, for a few years now,” Gesicki said. “Seeing that opportunity, I didn’t want to let that pass me by.”
The 6-foot-6, 252-pounder also believes he needs to improve individually before making the NFL leap. Gesicki, who had 48 catches for 679 yards and five touchdowns in 2016, thinks working on his run after the catch and ability to break tackles will help not only the Nittany Lions, but also his future draft stock.
“If I fall forward for two or three extra yards every time I touch the ball — I made 50 catches last year, so that could mean an extra 150 yards,” the New Jersey native said. “There’s still little things you can improve on.”
Spring ball standouts
It seems as if everyone from players to coaches have talked up redshirt sophomore wide receiver Juwan Johnson this spring — and you can add Gesicki to that list.
Johnson, a 6-foot-6 mistmatch that had only two catches for 70 yards last season, is a strong candidate to take over for the departed Chris Godwin, and if that were to be the case, Gesicki wouldn’t be surprised.
“All the success that he has in the future is going to be deserved,” the senior said. “Every time I go into the building to do some extra work, Juwan is there or leaving because he just got done. He’s staying after practice, doing extra catching, on his off days doing stretching, getting in the tubs and making sure his body is right. I think Juwan is doing everything in his power to reach the success that he wants to.”
Gesicki lauded Johnson when asked about a guy or two in spring ball that’s stood out to him. Johnson was a choice many expected, but his second pick was interesting — backup quarterback Tommy Stevens.
Stevens was Penn State’s third-leading rusher in 2016 with 198 yards on 21 carries with 9.4 yards per carry average, and in the eyes of Gesicki, the young quarterback has progressed even further this spring. Plus, Gesicki borrowed Stevens’ phone for the conference call after the tight end had reception issues himself, so that couldn’t have hurt, either.
“It’s kind of tough getting in with the second team and then maybe he’ll get the last rep with the first team,” the senior said. “He’s using his speed. He’s using his arm. He’s done a great job understanding defenses and the playbook and his role on every single play and what it takes to be successful.”
Adding some leg
Senior placekicker Tyler Davis, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2016, was Mr. Consistent for the Nittany Lions last season — and now he’s trying to add a bit of distance.
Davis hit 22 of 24 field goal attempts last season but didn’t have a try from 50 yards or more. The Illinois native wants to keep his reliability while building on his leg strength so those longer attempts become a factor.
“I think the next level is making sure that coaches (Joe) Moorhead and (James) Franklin are confident in me hitting the longer ones. You know, the 55-yarders, so when we get in those situations in games, they don’t even have to think about sending me out there,” Davis said on Tuesday’s conference call. “I know I can do it. They know I can do it. But I can prove that in practice a little more.”
“It was funny because when I first got here with the old staff, Coach (Larry) Johnson is a calm guy. But Coach (Sean) Spencer is a ball of energy. It was a breath of fresh air. It’s exciting to look at our coach and see how excited he is to be out there with us, knowing we’re on the same page. ... It’s just a great feeling.” — defensive tackle Curtis Cothran, on playing for Spencer