It was a little more than five years ago when Matt Stankiewitch had colleges contacting him for his services on the football field, and he kept hoping and waiting for a certain school to extend him an offer.
It was a little more than five weeks ago when Stankiewitch found himself in a similar situation.
Only this time, there was no finger crossing for the right school to call. Instead, there were only polite declines.
Stankiewitch did get that offer half a decade ago from the school he longed to play for growing up. And though the landscape at the school has changed, Stankiewitch’s desire to represent it has not.
As he enters his fifth year at Penn State, Stankiewitch — who anchors the team’s offensive line as its starting center — has become a big part of a tight-knit senior class that has faced more hardships in the last year than anyone could have imagined.
Nine players, including one senior in wide receiver Justin Brown, transferred from Penn State after the NCAA dropped the hammer on the school in July, but saying goodbye to Penn State was something Stankiewitch never considered.
It certainly wasn’t because he lacked good offers elsewhere though.
“The first team to contact Matt [after the NCAA sanctions] was Alabama,” said Stankiewitch’s father, Mike. “A bunch of teams contacted Matt, but Matt never once thought about leaving. And we were sure he wasn’t going to leave.”
What made Stankiewitch’s parents positive their son wouldn’t head south to try to help Alabama win a second straight national championship?
For Stankiewitch, it was always Penn State.
Stankiewitch is from the small, Schuylkill County town of Orwigsburg, which is in the “coal region” of Pennsylvania. And if a person from the “coal region” is a college football fan, odds are, they’re a Penn State fan.
Years ago, if Mike was busy on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, he’d tape the Penn State game, avoid hearing the score throughout the day and watch it later that night when he was free.
As a kid, when Stankiewitch was playing football in his backyard with his older brother, he would imitate former linebacker LaVar Arrington.
“I didn’t even know what position he was, I was in like fifth grade or something,” Stankiewitch said. “I remember saying ‘LaVar just jumped over that pile, I’m going to do that too.’ ”
Stankiewitch grew older, but that passion for the Nittany Lions didn’t fade away.
At Blue Mountain High School, Stankiewitch grew into a prominent lineman on both sides of the ball, and some Division I schools started to take notice. But no matter what school and stadium Stankiewitch visited when he was in high school, there was always a 100,000-plus-seat measuring stick.
And this was before Stankiewitch even got an offer from Penn State.
“When Matt was being recruited, everything was being compared to Penn State,” said Lisa Stankiewitch, Matt’s mother. “We’d go out to West Virginia, we’d be walking on the tour and he’d say to me ‘But it’s not Beaver Stadium, mom.’ ”
Stankiewitch eventually became the first recruit in the 2008 class to commit to Penn State, which Lisa said was “a dream come true” for her son.
A good beginning
When Stankiewitch was born, he was the largest baby in the hospital.
This made his mother a bit of a celebrity for a few days.
“Everybody wanted to come meet me,” Lisa said. “[They said] ‘Did you have that baby? Oh my god, he’s huge.’ He had a full head of hair, and was just so chubby and so healthy that everyone was just talking about him.”
According to his parents, Stankiewitch — who today stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs 301 pounds — was always big for his age, which limited what positions he could play on the football field. Due to weight restrictions in youth football, Stankiewitch had to play on the line. And while many kids aspire to be a quarterback or running back, Stankiewitch’s parents helped him understand though he wasn’t the one scoring touchdowns, he was still playing a big role.
“We always knew that a lineman doesn’t always get the write up that they always deserve,” Mike said. “And we kind of always let Matt know ‘Hey Matt, you know the quarterback gets all the glory and/or the receivers. So, he always knew that from that from the beginning, and he grew up with that and accepted that and just wants to win football games.”
Stankiewitch definitely has embraced his role as a lineman since he began playing football around the age of 10.
The fifth-year senior has seen significant time on the field in every year he has been at Penn State after redshirting in the 2008 season. Stankiewitch — who missed the second half of the 2010 season due to a bout with mononucleosis — was as a guard for his first two campaigns at Penn State, but moved to center last season.
In 2011, Stankiewitch had the most productive year of his college career so far, and was the center in an offensive line that paved the way for 164.8 rushing yards per game and also allowed just 14 sacks in 13 games — the fewest of any team in the Big Ten.
Earlier this year, Stankiewitch was named to the watch list for the Rimington Award, an honor bestowed upon the nation’s best center.
It’s doubtful many fans could name past winners of the Rimington Award and the center on a football team is by no means the center of attention.
But it fits Stankiewitch very well. And in his family, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“With people I work with now, if they don’t know my Matt is on the team, I don’t really even tell them, because I’m just not one of those talkers like that,” said Mike, who started working full-time at a service station when he was a junior in high school. “Matt and I are alike like that, we don’t really talk much, or boast much.”
To Stankiewitch, the relationship between a team’s center and quarterback is the most undervalued in football.
And to build a good relationship with a quarterback, Stankiewitch said it takes time and repetition on the field, which he gets with Penn State starter Matt McGloin.
“You definitely have to be one heartbeat, know what each guy is doing,” Stankiewitch said. “When he knows where I’m going to snap the ball, he positions his hands that way, and I know where his hands are. And I know his cadence, how’s he’s going to express words, and he knows where I’m going to snap it.
Stankiewitch also said it’s important for a team’s signal-caller and the player who is snapping him the ball to be able to bond off the field, which as roommates, Stankiewitch and McGloin do.
The two played each other in their senior seasons of high school. McGloin’s West Scranton team beat Stankiewitch’s Blue Mountain squad in the PIAA football state playoffs, for which he busts the center’s chops about to this day.
The Stankiewtich and McGloin families also get along well. Mike said they have sat beside the McGloins at a few games, and called the family a “great crew.”
While McGloin and Stankiewitch are friends and teammates, it doesn’t mean they always exchange friendly words. If there’s a problem on the field between the two on the field, Stankiewitch said they’re not afraid to “tell each other off.”
McGloin said the on-field arguments are beneficial in the long run and added he feels lucky to have “Stank” as his center.
“We fight about the cadence. When the play’s over and we walk to the sideline, I’m like, ‘What are you doing dude? You got to do this.’ And he’s like, ‘Well you should have done this and that,’ ” McGloin said. “Stuff like that helps, because that’s how we handle the situation. We get so heated when we step onto the field, we’re able to correct it.”
Some people might not expect a friendship between the two Matts, because of their differing personalities.
One is a big, brute blocker who is low-key and modest. While the other is an audacious, confident gunslinger, whose name is known by pretty much everyone in the stadium. It doesn’t seem like they would necessarily get along, but they make it work.
Penn State’s game against Ohio on Saturday is one of the most anticipated Beaver Stadium has seen in a long time. And though Stankiewitch won’t be throwing any touchdowns, he’ll at least get his hands on the pigskin before McGloin does.
“Even though I touch the ball more than anyone, it doesn't really matter,” Stankiewitch said with a chuckle. “I always tell McGloin 'I touch the ball more than you, man.’ So, I let him know, and we joke around about it.”