Mike Gesicki jogged off the Beaver Stadium field for the final time after soaking in as much as he could.
The Penn State tight end was the last player to disappear down the tunnel after ringing the victory bell, dishing out high-fives and pointing to the fans above him. He started scanning the stadium during pregame warmups knowing he would never play in front of the home fans again in his career — and he continued making memories walking down the tunnel, when he gave his pair of gloves to young fans in Penn State sweatshirts.
“I would like to go back out there right now, honestly, and just sit there,” Gesicki said in the media room after the Nittany Lions’ 56-44 win over Nebraska on Saturday. “I was just kind of taking it all in — just understanding that people would die to play in Beaver Stadium in front of the best atmosphere in college football, in front of the best fans in college football.”
Gesicki and his teammates reminisced about their careers after their final home game. They remembered the adversity they overcame and and the times they cherished playing at Beaver Stadium. They took pride in what they accomplished to turn the Nittany Lions into one of the nation’s top teams, winning the Big Ten title last season and improving their record to 9-2 this season.
“It’s why we came here to bring this place back — back into the national conversation and we did that,” senior linebacker Jason Cabinda said. “I think that’s the biggest part about it. We did it a new way, man. We had fun with it. ... We did it in a different way, but we still had those same traditional Penn State values behind it all.”
Added wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton: “We take pride in being a big part of the reason why our team is back to the stature and the national prominence that we’re in now. A lot of guys put in a lot of work — a lot of the fifth-years along with myself and even the true seniors.”
Cabinda smiled at the thought of Penn State’s picture day his freshman season. It was the first time the linebacker walked onto the field at Beaver Stadium as Nittany Lion, and Cabinda described it as a special moment. And he remembered hearing the roar of the crowd as he ran out of the tunnel for the first time and realizing, “Damn, I’m really here.”
Before senior cornerback Christian Campbell ran out of the same tunnel Saturday for Penn State’s pregame senior ceremonies, he thought about the good times and the bad times throughout his career. Normally, Campbell prays and thinks about his preparation for the Nittany Lions’ opponent before games, but Saturday was different.
“It just came out of nowhere,” Campbell said. “It was just all coming to me and I was just thinking like, ‘Man, it came by so fast.’”
Campbell ran onto the field with a rose for his mother, who saw her son play at Beaver Stadium for the first time. They planned for her to make the trip since the beginning of the season, giving Campbell something to look forward to and adding even more significance to his final home game. The cornerback didn’t take the time to look into the crowd for his mother, but Gesicki spent some extra time scanning the stadium during pregame warmups Saturday.
He noticed things he never did before — like fans standing in the top row of the upper deck. And he even came up with a special celebration, blowing a kiss to the crowd after his second catch touchdown catch Saturday.
“I had that planned for the first touchdown and then I got all excited and I forgot about it,” Gesicki said. “So then the second one, I had to make sure to do it.”
Gesicki said he’ll keep that memory with him for a long time. And he won’t forget giving his gloves away after the game, after staying on the field as long as he could following the victory.
“That stadium is one of the best venues in all of sports — not in college football, in all of sports,” Gesicki said. “So to be able to play here for the last four years has been an absolute honor. I’ll remember every single game, and it’s been an unbelievable ride.”
Cabinda called it an emotional win. And he said he’ll certainly miss suiting up in front of the home fans.
“It’s tough,” Cabinda said. “I doubt there’s ever going to be a time where we consistently play in front of 100,000 fans every game.”