Sept. 7, 2010
By Brittany McCormick, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Looks can be deceiving. Just ask Michigan State senior John Stipek.
Known for wearing Metallica shirts, playing the air guitar in the ice tub after practice, and previously having long hair for years, it would seem that Stipek is a member of a rock band and not a football team.
And he just as well could be. Stipek has been playing the guitar for as long as he can remember, but it's his talents on the football field that has earned him the starting spot as the center for the Spartans, rather than being center stage.
The Macomb Township native arrived at Michigan State as a defensive lineman, playing in four games his freshman season in 2006. He made the switch to the offensive side of the ball during head coach Mark Dantonio's first season in East Lansing in 2007. Stipek used both the 2007 and 2008 seasons to learn everything he could about his new position.
"It was a pretty wild transition," said Stipek. "I had to put on some more weight and just learning the plays with the offense was very complex to me. Those were definitely my struggles."
During the time Stipek was making his transition, he learned the ins and outs about offense in general and how to be a strong a center from veteran Joel Nitchman, who was the starter for the Green and White the past three seasons. After persevering through many obstacles that stood in his way, Stipek had a breakthrough season as a junior in 2009, playing in seven games and starting in three following an injury to Nitchman in the season opener.
"When adversity hits, my belief is that if a wall is in front of you, you don't walk
around it, you walk through it," Stipek said. "You just keep grinding out there. It's
difficult but I always had to keep my head up high and keep a positive attitude, and
it definitely worked out well for me."
Stipek's hard work was rewarded just in time for his last season in the Spartan uniform, where he will be the starting center heading into 2010. He will play on the offensive line alongside junior left guard Joel Foreman, where they are both known to be leaders.
"I think they've helped the chemistry on the line," said offensive line coach Dan Roushar. "Their leadership, presence, and experience certainly brings that. Most importantly, both guys are very committed to being good football players, and as long as they're doing that, it's making everyone else around them better."
Stipek is someone that knows very well that practice makes perfect, by doubling as both a musician and an athlete. Growing up, his interest in music was sparked by what his father listened to, which included bands like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper. He unfortunately has not had much time since he came to college to keep up on his guitar playing skills, but did show off his musical talents to his teammates and coaches with a performance at the Alamo Bowl talent show.
"I guess for the coaching staff it was a shot in the dark," he said. "They heard I could play, but they didn't know how good I was. I totally winged it because you only had six hours to come up with something. I just showed up on stage and that's really the way I wanted to do it."
He also took his teammates by surprise during spring practice when he chopped off all of his hair. At first they were disappointed in Stipek's dramatically different hairstyle, but they warmed up to it when they found out he donated it to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under 21 who suffer from long-term medical hair loss.
"When I was growing up, and even now, I look up to people that donate their hair," said Stipek. "You're doing something for a good cause. You're doing this for the sake of people who are going through chemotherapy."
Stipek decided to donate his hair because it was something he had always wanted to do. Also, he knew that soon enough he was going to need to enter the workplace and wanted to look professional. Stipek is planning to graduate with a degree in human resource management and would like to move to Chicago.
But before then, Stipek is going to cherish his favorite part of college - playing in Spartan Stadium on football Saturdays.
"Michigan State football to me is a privilege," he said. "Throughout everything I've been through, if I had to do it all over again, I would have picked the same place, I still would have done the same thing. You can't take this place for granted. It's an outstanding establishment with an outstanding group of people. I couldn't be happier for where I'm at."
GETTING TO KNOW John Stipek:
FAVORITE GUITAR PLAYER: "Right now, Zakk Wylde - but that
changes every day."
FAVORITE FOOTBALL PLAYER: Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings.
FAVORITE PREGAME SONG: "Anything by Rob Zombie or Metallica."
FAVORITE FOOTBALL TEAM: Carolina Panthers
FAVORITE SPORT OTHER THAN FOOTBALL: Hockey
FAVORITE HOCKEY TEAM: Detroit Red Wings