Penn State Football

Who is Penn State’s best-ever TE? Our panel voted; should No. 3 be No. 1?

Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki makes a catch and runs away from Pitt linebacker Mike Caprara.
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki makes a catch and runs away from Pitt linebacker Mike Caprara. Centre Daily Times, file

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Penn State football: The all-time Top 10 at each position

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We’re now on Day 5 of our summer series covering Penn State’s all-time top-10 players at each position.

To recap: We started off with running backs, followed by defensive tackles, defensive backs and wide receivers. Now it’s time for the top tight ends in the Nittany Lions’ storied history.

As a reminder, we organized a group of 12 experts — six former players, six media members — to vote on the top-10 all-time players at each position. Each day we’ll release a new position, and if you think we missed something, you can vote in our fan poll, which will be released on July 21.

Here are Penn State’s top-10 tight ends based on the opinion of our 12-person panel:

10. Jesse Arnelle, 1951-1954

Best ranking / worst: No. 4 / Unranked

Career stats: Led team in 1952 with 33 catches, 291 yards; career stats not available

He may be the No. 10 tight end, but Arnelle could put up an argument as one of the university’s greatest overall athletes. Not only did the two-way player hold the single-season receptions record (33) until Jack Curry broke it a decade later, but he also played basketball and led the Nittany Lions to a Final Four appearance. He was drafted by both the NFL (10th round, 10 picks behind Johnny Unitas) and the NBA (2nd round, 13th overall).

TE Stewart
Penn State tight end Tony Stewart catches a pass against Iowa during the 2000 season. Centre Daily Times, file

9. Tony Stewart, 1997-2000

Best ranking / worst: No. 4 / Unranked

Career stats: 59 catches, 861 yards, 3 TDs

A semifinalist for the inaugural John Mackey Award in 2000, Stewart set a school record as a senior when his 38 catches were the most-ever by a Penn State tight end. He was an honorable mention All-American that year, and his athleticism was never in question. He had even received a scholarship offer from Boston to play basketball; he had a 10-season NFL career.

8. Bob Higgins; 1914-1917, 1919

Best ranking / worst: No. 4 / Unranked

Career stats: Not available for this time period

He may be better known as a coach — he spent 19 seasons overseeing Penn State and is in the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach — but he was also a three-time All-American during his playing days. In 1919, the two-way player caught a pass from Walter Hess and turned it into a 92-yard touchdown that was named to Knute Rockne’s “Great Football Plays.” To this day, that completion nearly 100 years ago remains the longest-ever pass play in Penn State history.

7. Mickey Shuler Sr., 1975-1977

Best ranking / worst: No. 5 / Unranked

Career stats: 66 catches, 1,016 yards, 4 TDs

Bobby Knight and Dean Smith recruited him to play basketball, but the Harrisburg native couldn’t say no to Joe Paterno. The second-team All-American went on to lead the Nittany Lions in receiving as both a junior and a senior, racking up a career-high 33 catches and 600 yards in 1977. His pro career spanned three decades, starting in 1978 with the New York Jets and ending in 1991 with the Philadelphia Eagles.

TE Quarless
Andrew Quarless runs past Minnesota defenders. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

6. Andrew Quarless, 2006-2009

Best ranking / worst: No. 4 / Unranked

Career stats: 87 catches, 1,146 yards, 8 TDs

Quarless and the JoePa doghouse were pretty synonymous, but when he was on the field, his ability was unquestioned. Despite limited playing time as a sophomore and junior, he’s still second all-time in career receptions by a PSU tight end and third all-time in receiving yards. In the NFL, he even caught a pass in the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl XLV win.

TE James
Penn State’s Jesse James eludes Maryland’s Jalen Brooks. Centre Daily Times, file

5. Jesse James, 2012-2014

Best ranking / worst: No. 3 / Unranked

Career stats: 78 catches, 1,005 yards, 11 TDs

Critics will say his measurables outpaced his football talent, but it’s hard to argue with the production. He earned the starting job as a freshman and went on to break Ted Kwalick’s longtime school record for most receiving TDs by a tight end (which has since been broken again). Said strength coach Dwight Galt, after a workout in 2014: “Athletically, talent-wise, there’s not another tight end in the country better than him, for sure.”

4. Troy Drayton, 1991-1992

Best ranking / worst: No. 2 / Unranked

Career stats: 48 catches, 692 yards, 3 TDs

Drayton was a tight end well ahead of his time, a walk-on receiver with 4.49 speed who once said it was his “worst nightmare come true” when he was moved to tight end. That was before he started playing the position; he was a natural. He averaged 17 yards a reception as a junior and, as a senior, set a school record (since broken several times over) for most catches by a tight end with 36. Said then-offensive coordinator Fran Ganter, in a 1992 interview: “He gives us great flexibility and a serious deep threat from the tight end position.”

TE Kwalick 1
Penn State tight end Ted Kwalick was a two-time All-American and is in the College Football Hame of Fame. Centre Daily Times, file

3. Ted Kwalick, 1966-1968 (5 first-place votes)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / Unranked

Career stats: 86 catches, 1,343 yards, 10 TDs

Third? THIRD?! Kwalick missed out on second by just three voting points, but no one received more first-place votes. Kwalick did things a Penn State tight end never did before and set the standard for the position; he’s one of just two players to compete in the 1960s and still remain in the top 20 in career receiving yards. He’s a College Football Hall of Famer, a two-time All-American and was named to Sports Illustrated’s all-century NCAA team.

TE Gesicki 1
Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki makes a catch and runs away from Pitt linebacker Mike Caprara. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

2. Mike Gesicki, 2014-2017 (2 first-place votes)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 10

Career stats: 129 catches, 1,481 yards, 15 TDs

The New Jersey native was the butt of jokes his freshman season when he posted one of the worst catch rates by a tight end in all of college football. One short offseason later, though, and those drops were a thing of the past — Gesicki went from being, statistically, one of the nation’s worst tight ends to one of the best. He went on to rewrite the Penn State record books by breaking every meaningful mark by a TE (career TDs, receptions, yards) and even earned some second-team All-America recognition as a senior. He also set Twitter on fire during his NFL Combine performance. Said coach James Franklin: “His athleticism makes him a nightmare for defenses.”

TE Brady
Penn State tight end Kyle Brady collected five first-place votes. Centre Daily Times, file

1. Kyle Brady, 1991-1994 (5 first-place votes)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 3

Career stats: 76 catches, 940 yards, 9 TDs

Troy Drayton once said that Brady was the “size and power” to his “speed and finesse.” That seems pretty accurate, especially considering highlights like this where it took a half-dozen tacklers to bring him down.

But it wasn’t just his receiving ability that catapulted him to No. 1. Blocking was a big, big part. Said Joe Paterno, during camp in 1994: “If there’s a better blocking tight end in the country, I haven’t seen it.” In previewing the football team, one Collegian headline even read, “Hartings, Brady anchor ‘O’ line.” Brady was a huge reason for the 1994 team’s No. 6 rushing offense (250.9 ypg), and his impact on the undefeated team was evident on just about every play.

He was named first-team All-Big Ten in consecutive seasons — Penn State’s first two in the conference — and he was an All-America selection as a senior. He went on to be drafted ninth overall by the New York Jets and spent 13 seasons in the NFL. At one point, he was even the NFL’s highest-paid tight end — after turning down an even more lucrative offer, according to his agent at the time.

Top TE honorable mentions: Mike McCloskey, 1979-1982; Jim Garrity, 1952-1954; Bob Parsons, 1969-1971; Dan Natale, 1972-1974; Dexter Very, 1909-1912; John Gilmore, 1999-2001

Voters in our panel: (Players) Keith Conlin, 1992-1995; Bill Contz, 1980-1982; Stephon Morris, 2009-2012; Joe Nastasi, 1995-1998; A.Q. Shipley, 2005-2008; Adam Taliaferro, 2000; (Media) Nate Bauer, Blue White Illustrated; Matt Brown, The Athletic; Cory Giger, The Altoona Mirror; John McGonigal, Centre Daily Times; Josh Moyer, Centre Daily Times; Mark Wogenrich, Allentown Morning Call

How the voting was done: Each voter was given an online survey, with 20-50 players at each position, to rank 1-10. If a player was not listed, voters were given the option for a write-in. First-place votes gave players 10 points, second-place votes gave them 9, etc. We then added all the point totals together to find our top 10; honorable mentions have received at least 10 total points.