Barkley dazzles in Penn State's 52-0 win over Akron (copy)

For Penn State to beat the rival Buckeyes and remain in the playoff hunt it’ll need the best version of tight end Mike Gesicki.

Associated Press file

Perhaps, what the nation knows best about Mike Gesicki is he can leap a quarterback in a single bound.

Helps, of course, that he did it on national TV celebrating Trace McSorley’s key 3-yard touchdown run late in the first half of No. 2 Penn State’s 42-13 win over Michigan at Beaver Stadium last Saturday.

“Obviously, I was pretty excited,” Gesicki laughed. “Initially, when I was running over, I was just going to do a good, old chest bump with Trace. But, I improvised a little bit.

“You might see it again. Keep on the lookout.”

There seems to be little question the Nittany Lions would sign up for some more of Gesicki’s athletic celebrations.

As the competition stiffens in the Big Ten, his teammates know the 6-foot-6, 257-pound tight end will need to become a bigger factor than he was at times during a somewhat quiet first half.

After three consecutive games in which he did not top 26 receiving yards largely against soft coverages, Gesicki caught two passes for 52 yards against the Wolverines, including a 17-yarder that set up McSorley’s touchdown run.

On both, he drew one-on-one coverage, the likes of which he’ll likely see plenty of Saturday when the Lions face No. 6 Ohio State in Columbus. On both, he outjumped Michigan defensive backs. It’s the type of matchup Penn State coaches have pined to exploit, and one they expect to consistently win when Gesicki is the player in the leaping contest.

Even if that’s not the area of his game that coaches talk about most these days.

“That, I think, is one of his special qualities, how well he can jump and go after the ball in the air or jump over things like human beings like Trace,” head coach James Franklin said. “We need Mike to continue to be a difference maker for us in the passing game, but for Mike’s individual future, which we did talk about in the offseason, there’s not a whole lot more he needs to prove as a receiver. It’s as a blocker.”

The leaping? Gesicki has always had that. He was a top volleyball prospect, after all, before programs started looking at him as one of the top tight end prospects in the nation in the 2014 recruiting class. His first Penn State scholarship offer, he recalled, didn’t come from then-head football coach Bill O’Brien. It came from the volleyball coach, Mark Pavlik.

Blocking? Well, Gesicki admits he didn’t always have that skill.

He admits now the reason he took so long to develop as a blocker is because, at first, he didn’t want to do it. Period.

“My blocking experiences in high school were nonexistent,” he said. “I never blocked in high school. Then I got to Penn State my freshman year, and I didn’t even know how to get into a three-point stance. I was literally starting from scratch, as far as the physicality and blocking aspects of being a tight end.”

“I think I’ve grown tremendously since then.”

Gesicki credited tight ends coach Ricky Rahne not only for teaching him the fundamentals he needed to become a better blocker, but for driving him to understand the importance of becoming one.

This season, Franklin raved that the most improved area on the offense might be its perimeter blocking. Gesicki and his fellow receivers, Franklin said, have opened up running lanes on the edges. Gesicki has also helped out the developing offensive line by becoming a more capable in-line blocker, as well.

“If I throw a big block, and we spring a touchdown, I’ll be just as happy as I’d be scoring a touchdown,” Gesicki said. “I promise you that.”

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