PSU's Wisniewski follows path father, uncle blazed
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.
Penn State sophomore guard Stefen Wisniewski is the most recent product of the Wisniewski football factory.
According to his uncle, Steve, a two-time All-American offensive guard for the Nittany Lions in the 1980s and an eight-time Pro Bowl performer with the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders, Stefen could end up being the best of the bunch.
"As a sophomore, Stefen is head and shoulders above where I was at this stage," Steve said. "I think he's going to have a better NFL career than I did if he stays healthy."
Stefen's dad, Leo, was a little more reserved when discussing his 19-year-old son yesterday. He was a tri-captain at Penn State in 1981 and spent three years in the NFL as a nose tackle with the Baltimore and Indianapolis Colts before bad knees ended his career.
"I really am uncomfortable talking about what skill level my son is playing at," Leo said. "He's a good football player, but he's young. He's got a lot of upside as long as he continues to work hard, keeps learning and keeps improving."
Stefen, 6 feet 3 and 294 pounds, will make his fifth career start Saturday when No. 16 Penn State squares off against Temple at Beaver Stadium.
Just like his dad and uncle, Stefen was a rarity as a true freshman. He and linebacker Chris Colasanti were the only first-year players to see action last season.
A Central Catholic graduate, Stefen appeared in eight games, with one start. This spring, he beat out returning starter Mike Lucian for the No. 1 job at right guard.
Stefen said his dad and uncle never pushed him toward football. Leo attended Fox Chapel, where he was a PIAA heavyweight wrestling champion as a senior. Steve attended elementary school in the Fox Chapel district before the family moved to Houston.
"Growing up, I always thought it was really cool just watching my uncle play, and my dad was coaching," Stefen said. "It became something I enjoyed more and more as I got into it. I love it."
Leo, the strength/offensive line coach at Geneva College, as well as a part-time instructor, said his son played youth baseball, soccer, basketball and even dabbled in wrestling before finally turning his attention full-time to football.
"[Stefen] is going to be phenomenal by the time he gets out of here," fifth-year senior center A.Q. Shipley said.
Left tackle Gerald Cadogan, another fifth-year senior and one of Stefen's closest friends, lauded his fellow lineman for his work ethic.
"I like to do a lot of extra stuff, after we run, after we lift," Cadogan said. "But Stefen does extra on top of extra. That's something that really sets him apart. ... He has that drive and desire to be great."
Steve Wisniewski, who played 13 seasons for the Raiders and now works in commercial real estate in suburban Oakland, Calif., has seen his nephew play twice on television this season. He offered a glowing scouting report.
"He's very athletic, moves his feet well, and is very strong," said Steve, 41. "I think all he needs to do is continue to play well. If he does, I think he will develop into one of the finest young college players in the country in the next few years, whether it be at guard or center."
Leo has attended two of Stefen's games this year. Afterward, he and his wife, Cindy, also a Penn State graduate, talk to their son about football and his life outside of it.
"Stefen and I talk about the mechanics of football," Leo said. "He and I enjoy that. My wife doesn't talk about the technical aspects. She's busy addressing all the other areas of his life. She's trying to find out if a young lady has broken into his field of vision. That hasn't happened. Mom hasn't been able to broach that topic yet."
Stefen is surprised that success has come so quickly.
"I'm glad the way things turned out and I'm excited being here as a full-time starter as a sophomore," he said.
Joe Paterno, who has coached numerous father-son combinations, said Stefen is a lot like his dad. Stefen also excels in the classroom, carrying a 3.88 grade point average through the spring semester.
"They have the kind of pride that they want to do really well, and no matter what challenge you give them, they take it on and they go after it," Paterno said.
Leo, 48, finds it a bit ironic that all three Wisniewskis have played for the 81-year-old Paterno, who is in his 43rd season as coach.
"I remember when coach Paterno was recruiting me as a kid in 1978, I thought he was old then," he said. "And then he got my brother Steve to go there, and now 30 years later, he's coaching my son.
"I'm sure the 18-year-olds I'm coaching now think I'm an old man."
First Published September 18, 2008 12:00 am