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7 Questions with Penn State’s Mike Gesicki: Life’s a Beach, Failing at QB & Being Gronk Jr.

by on July 13, 2015 12:15 AM

Mike Gesicki is equal parts beach boy with sun-bleached blonde hair and stud tight end with mad athletic ability and work ethic.

He wears both roles with a smile. Incessantly.

If that sounds a bit like the most famous tight end in the NFL, you’re right.

Gesicki, heading into his sophomore season at Penn State, is 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, and this past spring he ran a 4.62 40.

Rob Gronkowski, heading into his sixth season with the New England Patriots, is an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier. Gronk ran a 4.61 on his pro day. 

Gesicki had just 11 receptions last season, averaging 10.4 yards a catch with one start – one of seven Nittany Lion freshmen to do so in 2014. Gronk can get that much in a single game.

But Gesicki has the potential to dance in Gronk’s footsteps. Does he ever.

As a freakishly big -- yet speedy -- wide receiver at Southern Regional High School in New Jersey, Gesicki had 83 receptions for 1,484 yards, with 13 TDs, his last two seasons and earned a spot in the U.S. Army All-America Game. He also excelled in volleyball, where he was the 2013 South Jersey player of the year. And in basketball, he averaged over 19 points per game and was nominated to play in McDonald’s All-American Game. (Watch some of his high school dunks here.)

But the beach has always been Gesicki’s one true love. He grew up in Manahawkin, just minutes from Long Beach Island. He’s made hundreds of trips east on Route 72, past Tony’s Bait & Tackle, The Mallard Yacht Club and The Dutchman, and over the Henderson Memorial Bridge. It’s a drive he could probably make blind-folded (and we wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he has, in fact, already done so).

In a lot of ways the surf and sand have molded Gesicki. At 19, he’s relentlessly upbeat and carefree -- to the point where his teammates tease him about it. But he’s also a glutton for punishment, with a reputation for being one of the hardest-working players on the squad, a trait that carries over to the classroom as well.

All of which makes Gesicki a lot of fun to talk to, as this Q&A with Gronk Jr. prior to Saturday’s Lift For Life event can attest:

1. Are you more Gronkowski or more Hackenberg?

Haha. To be honest, I’d say I’m more Gronskowski. I like to have a good time, I like to enjoy myself. As you can tell, Gronk doesn’t care who knows it. But when it comes to grinding it out, when it comes time to get better, we’re all about that.

2. What’s the best non-football part about Penn State?

It’s the life you live outside of football. You can go out and enjoy yourself. You can relax. You can meet new people – there’s like 43,000 people here, so you meet someone new every time you leave your room. It’s a great place.

3. What’s the best part about growing up five minutes from the beach?

Every weekend I hear people they have an hour, two hours to get to the beach. I’m like, “No way.” I’m just on the other side of the bridge – so over the bridge and I’m there. Get to the beach, jump into the water, enjoy all the things you can look at.

I love the beach. I’m a beach boy. I love everything about it. Growing up there made me who I am. When I got here I started wearing boat shorts, and people were asking, “You wearing swimming trunks?” I’d say, “No, no, no. I’m wearing board shorts. I’m really comfortable in them.” People would think they’re only for swimming. 

4. How was the transition from being recruited by Bill O’Brien to playing for a new and different staff?

I wouldn’t say smooth, because I had my ups and downs last year. But it’s been a good transition because I’ve learned a lot. Sometimes I had to learn the hard way, sometimes I’ve learned a good way. I got better because of it. The transition hasn’t always been smooth, but it’s been worth it. The future looks bright. 

5. How does it feel when you always hear or read that, “Mike Gesicki never played with his hand on the ground,” like it’s a put-down?

Some people didn’t think I could do it. Some people thought it was going to be a tough transition. To be honest, I didn’t come right in and say I’m going to be a good tight end. It took a lot. So when some people come out and say that, I don’t let it get to me because I know I still have time to get better and will put in the work. 

It was definitely something I had to get used to when I got here just because in high school I played wide receiver. One of my first offers was from the University of Miami (Fla.); they were like my sixth offer. 

They said, “You’re going to be a great tight end for us.”

I was like, “Tight end? Really? I play wide receiver.”

And they said, “You’re going to end up being 6-6 and 255 or 260.” And just the other day I weighed in at 255. They said, “At that weight and that size, you’re going play tight end.”

Since I got here, Coach (John) Donovan has been a great mentor for me. All the guys ahead of me – like Jesse (James) and Kyle (Carter) -- have been great mentors for me. I got used to it. Now I put my hand in the ground and I can do different things from it and get different match-ups from it. I actually like the position a lot. 

6. Who's your role model?

Without any question it’s definitely my older sister, Ashley. I have a middle sister, Kelsey, and my other older sister, Ashley, and I’m the youngest. She set the example. My parents were harder on her and it kind of got easier for each of us after that. She always set a great example for me.

She played the same sports as me – obviously other than football. She’s someone I looked up to. I wore 45 in basketball, the 4 because she wore that number and 5 because of Jason Kidd. I put them together for 45. Ashley graduated from Ramapo in three years. She’s always been a smart and athletic girl, and she’s always done great for herself. Right now, she’s a contract specialist for the government at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

7. What is about Mike Gesicki that would surprise people if they found out?

I’ll give you two answers: 

A lot of people don’t know me yet because how young I am, but I’m extremely outgoing, I’ll do anything, I like to have a good time. I like to enjoy myself.

The other thing is that I almost quit football going into the sophomore year of high school. I didn’t want to do it any more so I could focus on basketball. I wanted to play basketball in college. My mom and dad told me to give one more shot, give it the summer and see what happens.

I started to play football in eighth grade, and played quarterback in eighth grade and my freshman year. Starting my sophomore year, I jumped up to the varsity team. There was a quarterback ahead of that who started as a sophomore. He would get reps, then I would get reps. But he was a better quarterback than I was, and I knew I wasn’t going to play very much. That summer, we were going to a 7-on-7 (camp) and my coach said, “Why don’t you play some wide receiver?” So I gave it a shot.

I’m happy that day happened, because it helped me out a lot. I became a better football player because of it. And after that, I really loved football.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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