|Next in Line|
The torch has been passed to Chas Gessner '03. And like everything else that's come his way over the past three years, he's caught it. Gessner, the Division 1-AA leader in receiving yards last fall, is the latest in a lengthening succession of record-breaking receivers to play for Brown under former head coach Mark Whipple '79 and his successor, Phil Estes, who took over four years ago.
The legacy began with Sean Morey '99, who set Ivy League records for receiving yards in a season and career. Drafted by the New England Patriots after graduation, he still plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. Then came Stephen Campbell '01, whose 120 receptions in 2000 broke NFL great Jerry Rice's Division 1-AA single-season record and whose 3,555 career receiving yards is second only in Ivy history to Morey's 3,850. Campbell was signed by the Buffalo Bills and later released in the summer of 2001.
The succession has become self-perpetuating, Estes says: "When you have a Sean Morey that goes on to be one of the best receivers in Ivy League history, and Steve Campbell comes in and breaks Jerry Rice's record for catches in a season, Chas says,‘I want to be a part of that tradition.' He's the next one in line."
But probably not the last. "We have a freshman coming in this season by the name of Lonnie Hill who has the qualities of a Sean Morey, a Steve Campbell, and a Chas Gessner," Estes says. "We keep attracting those kinds of football players."
"It's a credit to the system," says the six-foot-five-inch, 220-pound Gessner. "Coach Estes's system is so wide open. He gets lots of receivers involved. He likes to pass to set up the run. Sean Morey was crucial in my recruiting process. I talked to him a lot on the phone. I came up and visited a couple times. And he was like, ‘You've got to be crazy to pass this up.' "
Gessner, a Hyattsville, Maryland, lacrosse player who wanted to continue both sports in college, came in as a freshman in 1999, just in time to help the Bears win their first Ivy title since 1976. After setting Brown rookie records with forty-three catches for 560 yards and eight touchdowns, Gessner was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year. The next season he grabbed fifty-two passes for 500 yards, five touchdowns, and a Division I-AA All-American Honorable Mention.
After Campbell's graduation, Gessner last fall took on the role of Brown's go-to receiver. His 1,182 receiving yards - an average of 131.3 per game - were tops nationally in Division I-AA. A first-team All-Ivy and All-New England selection, Gessner in 2001 caught eighty-three passes in nine games for an average of 9.2 receptions per game, second best in Division I-AA. He had a game for the ages on September 29, during the Bears' 42–38 shootout loss to the University of Rhode Island, tying the Brown single-game record for receptions (nineteen) and shattering the record for receiving yards in a game with 269, the most ever by an Ivy League player in a nonleague game. Gessner's season total of 1,182 receiving yards was fifth best in Ivy history. The Football Gazette named him to its I-AA All-America team.
"Chas's height and strength make him a tough guy to defend," Estes says. "Most of the defensive backs in the Ivy League are going to average between five-eight and five-eleven, tops. Here's a guy that's six-five. The thing that stands out even more is his competitiveness. He is just tenacious. Here's a guy that doesn't even play spring football with us, but he doesn't miss a beat. He's playing lacrosse, and he's a [third-team] All-American. He's probably one of the most competitive people I've ever met."
Competitive enough and talented enough, perhaps, to survive in the NFL. "Right now they [NFL personnel] put him as a free agent or a low-round draft choice," says Estes. "There are several teams that like his style of play. They like his size and the fact that he's a real competitor, and they like what he does after he catches the ball. NFL scouts are calling all the time to find out when we'll be practicing. I wouldn't doubt that we'll have an NFL scout here each week, like we did with Sean Morey and Steve Campbell."
Gessner has more immediate concerns. "I think about pro football - some times more than others - but I try to completely block it out," he says. "I have one goal right now. It's not the NFL. It's to go 10–0 and win the Ivy League championship. All of us who came in as freshmen got a taste of that Ivy League championship. We got to see how great an experience it was. Most of us are still with it as seniors. We're in starting positions and leadership positions. It's our time to shine."
Gessner, cocaptain along with linebacker Andrew Gallagher '03, thinks the Bears, 5–2 in the Ivy League last year, are ready. "Absolutely we're in the [title] mix," he says. "We return eight starters on defense. For once we're not going to have a new, young defense. On offense our system has never really faltered. People say, ‘Oh, you've got a new quarterback [Nate Poole '04 and University of Arizona transfer Kyle Slager '05 are battling to replace the graduated Kyle Rowley '02].' But I've had a new quarterback every year [James Perry '00, Eric Webber '01, and Rowley]. Different people have to step up in different situations. There's a lot of senior leadership. A lot of people expect a lot of good things to happen."
Scott Cole is a writer in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.