John Gesek '90 (Criminal Justice)

Gesek helps pave the way for Cowboys' success

John Gesek
The script for “Hornet Football: Beyond the Causeway” is part classic sports film, part Frank Capra movie. Through persistence and happenstance, defying the odds and being at the right place at the right time, it tells the story of Sac State players who’ve advanced to football fame.

They may have had to work harder getting noticed in the beginning than players from “Football U” schools, but that effort has helped them make names for themselves and the Hornet program. Sixteen former Hornets have been on active National Football League roster with two grabbing the NFL’s top prize—Super Bowl rings: John Gesek with the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993 and Lonie Paxton with the New England Patriots in 2001, 2003 and 2005.

Players from schools like Sac State that play in smaller conferences have to go the long road more so than a player from Florida or Michigan because scouts focus at the level of competition the player faces on a consistent basis, says former Hornet head coach Steve Mooshagian, who was wide receivers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1999-2002.

“Every scout is looking for certain things in a player: speed, high energy, durability. But there are 50 guys who look like him. So the question is ‘What does he do differently?’ They’re looking at how he does in the spotlight, how will he fit in the position within the scope of the game.”

Gesek caught the eye of the scouts almost by accident. When Gesek, who played offensive line during Sac State’s non-scholarship Division II days, asked his Oakland Raiders position coach what convinced the team to draft him, he found it was hard work—and being in the right place at the right time. The coach said the Raiders had been scouting another Hornet player but kept seeing Gesek in the background making key plays.

“He told me, ‘You kept showing up on film,’” Gesek says. “Other guys bring attention and you sometimes have a lucky break.”

From his non-descript start, Gesek went on to win two Super Bowls with the superstar-laden Dallas Cowboys in the early ‘90s, in an offense that included Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.

Of course, getting drafted by a pro team is one thing. Playing at that level is another.

“Football is as much mental as it is physical,” says Mooshagian. “It requires a lot of prep time to learn the position. They’re not in school any more— school is the job. The classroom is working with the coach. It’s a very competitive profession.”

“I wasn’t prepared for it at all,” Gesek laughs. “The Division I players had a much better grasp.” He says he did find a level of comfort once he became part of a system. “Coaches know they can count on you and give you the benefit of the doubt.”

He even moved with his offensive coordinator at Dallas, Norv Turner, when Turner went to coach with the Washington Redskins. And though their days at Hornet Stadium have ended, the pros haven’t left it far behind. Gesek looks back on Sac State’s Division II days as the end of an era.

“It was a funny situation, unlike now, where it’s very structured. We were just a bunch of guys who played football together.”

This article was originally published in the Spring 2005 edition of Sac State Magazine.