Sophomore starting tight end Mike Gesicki has about 33 screen shots saved in his phone of nasty things people have said about him on Twitter.
The negativity came mostly from Penn State’s first four games of the season, in which Gesicki made some glaring mistakes and miscues, like dropping two passes in a row that would’ve been touchdowns, or forgetting to run out on special teams.
Head coach James Franklin said, after those mistakes, that Gesicki approached him and told him he would learn, and that he would be better.
But that’s not necessarily something that immediately translated into positivity from fans.
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“Yeah, I got a Twitter (account) too,” he said Wednesday morning via teleconference. “So I mean, everything that was written about me … I mean, everyone was like ‘No, Mike, don’t go on Twitter,’ and I was like ‘No, I’m going to go on, check it out, I’m gonna use it as motivation.’”
Gesicki said he would scroll through during the day and see the nastiness directed at him, and think to himself, “All right, I’m going to keep that in the back of my mind. I’ll remember that,” and kept those words in his mind every day at practice.
“I kind of took it with a grain of salt. … Everybody has something to say, whether it’s good stuff or bad stuff,” he said. “You can’t really pay too much attention to outside noise because not everybody really knows all the work that the team puts in, not everybody knows all the individual work you put it.”
He said some people got “creative” in their frustration, and while it motivated him, he said he “can’t get mad at them,” because he was more frustrated with himself.
Then, last week, Gesicki caught his first career touchdown pass, a 33-yarder, on his birthday.
“I was excited to kind of bounce back,” he said. “And kind of see that success I had been waiting for.”
He said after, he saw positivity sent his way via 140-character messages.
Sure, Gesicki reads the tweets. And some he saves. But when it comes to certain topics, he’s tuning out outside opinions completely.
A sour point for him has been criticism of his ability as a blocker. Gesicki (as well as backup Brent Wilkerson, who caught his first pass of the season last week), has often been seen after practice putting extra time in on the blocking sled.
“I think the tight ends as a whole have blocked a whole lot better, and have embraced the blocking role this season,” he said. “I know some people had what they had to say about it, and have what they have to say about my individual blocking, but for myself, I feel like I’ve completely improved in my blocking very well. And I’m not really listening to outside noise, or what other people have to say (about it).”
And, of course, there is the criticism seen Twitter-wide among Penn State football observers of offensive coordinator and tight ends coach John Donovan. After the Nittany Lions lost to Temple, angry fans took to Twitter to try to start a “Fire Donovan” hashtag trend, one that has continued through head coach James Franklin’s admission that he has become “more involved on offense” in the past four weeks, and a 20-14 squeak-by of Army last weekend.
Gesicki isn’t having any of that. He said he doesn’t read the negativity directed Donovan’s way, and doesn’t think the offensive coordinator does, either.
“Coach Donovan has taught me anything and everything about being a tight end that I know,” said Gesicki, who, as a former receiver, hadn’t played a single down at tight end until he got to Penn State.
“He’s been there for me every step of the way. … His one trait is that he’s going to do anything and everything possible to not only make his tight ends better, but to make his team better. Coach Donovan puts in an unbelievable amount of time watching film … being there late nights, things that people don’t see outside of the program … and I love playing for him.”
Gesicki said he thinks Donovan is a “phenomenal offensive coordinator” and “a great tight ends coach,” and that he and the rest of the offense is happy to play for him.
And, in terms of reading about criticism, stat-wise, when the tight end was asked if he paid attention to Penn State’s offensive ranking (No. 116 in the FBS in total offense), he offered up the number on which he prefers to focus.
“The one statistic that I do know is that we’re 4-1, and we got four in a row right now,” Gesicki said.
Ball security drills cut down turnovers
Franklin mentioned on Tuesday afternoon that the team spends time each day working on ball security, which has helped with their plus-8 turnover margin, and national top-10-ranked three total turnovers lost so far this season (just one was a fumble, two were interceptions).
The head coach said he encourages each position coach to keep the repetitive drills from getting monotonous, and to make sure that, despite the fact that the drills are done every day, the players are working hard in each execution.
“Yeah, I mean every single practice we have a five-minute period of ball security,” said Gesicki. “We go through different stations and just different groups split up and we go to different coaches and they put us through different ball security drills.”
Receiver Chris Godwin elaborated a bit on Wednesday morning via teleconference.
“One of them is like a stiff-arm drill, where you have the ball high and tight, and you have like, one of your teammates punching at the ball consistently when you’re trying to stiff-arm a (punching) bag,” he said. “And then another one is kind of like a tunnel drill, where you chest the ball, you have a lineup, two lines of teammates that you run through, and they’re punching the ball while you’re running through the tunnel.”
If someone fumbles, Gesicki said, there are different repercussions that are specific to the coach running the drills. Coach Donovan makes players whose hands are a little too slippery do 10 up-downs each time they drop a pass. Coach Charles Huff comes down a little harder on his running backs.
“They’re carrying the ball the most, so the penalties are a little higher for them,” Gesicki said.