By Kellie Van Maele, MSU Athletic Communication Student Assistant
Every morning when his alarm goes off at 7 a.m., Austin Piwinski is ready to attack the day. The redshirt junior is currently balancing a chaotic soccer schedule during the NCAA tournament, along with the rigorous coursework involved in his degree in Human Biology. Although the balance may be difficult to find for Piwinski, he understands the importance of both academics and soccer in his life.
Beginning to play soccer at a young age, Piwinski never really had it in his mind to play at the Division I level as so many elite athletes do when they are young. Rather, the defenseman focused on school, until he realized his skill and work ethic could mold him into a Division I contender.
“Soccer is one of those sports, you don’t just get picked up playing high school soccer,” Piwinski said. “There’s different levels of travel and that’s where you get picked up for college. In eighth grade, I was really playing at the worst level, while most of the kids on my team now were probably much better than me. I kept working my way up from the bottom, then to the sixth level, then the third and then by the time I was a junior I made the jump up to the highest level.”
In the process of making up for lost time, the idea of collegiate soccer began to cross Piwinski’s mind. He’d persevered to an elite travel level, so he decided to take that passion and work toward becoming a college athlete. During his junior year in high school, he began to receive phone calls from multiple schools.
“I started getting recruited in the beginning of my junior year,” Piwinski said. “I am one of those stories where I probably wasn’t at any of these guys’ level of soccer until I was probably 16-years-old, so I did get a little bit lucky. I was training six days a week for a few hours every day. Everything exploded on me – the college stuff – right at the end of my junior year.”
With everything happening so fast, the whirlwind was just beginning for Piwinski. He had gotten offers from Kentucky, Detroit Mercy, Michigan, Oakland and Bowling Green, but the offer from Michigan State had the most resonance.
Piwinski’s father, Paul, earned All-American recognition as a Spartan in 1983 as a high jumper at MSU, and his son would now carry on the family legacy in the Green and White.
“My dad knew what I was getting myself into by committing to be a student-athlete at Michigan State,” Piwinski said. “He knew they would have a great athletic program and of course there was the academics side of it. I knew I would get a good education if I came here.”
To Piwinski, soccer is important, but he understands why he is coined a “student-athlete.” majoring in human biology, he has aspirations to attend medical school to become a plastic surgeon.
“I’m taking the MCAT soon and then will start the application process for medical school,” Piwinski said. “I want to be a plastic surgeon, because a lot of it has to do with making people feel confident. I think confidence is a huge thing. If I can make somebody feel more confident about themselves, that is a big thing to me.”
Piwinski’s confidence on the field and in the classroom comes from the support of his coach, Damon Rensing. With his rigorous schedule, he appreciates the guidance and trust he’s received from the head coach.
“My coaches continue to push my academics and if I ever have something academically that interferes with soccer, there are no questions asked,” Piwinski said. “With them, it’s always academics first. I appreciate that because I realize that I’m not going to have soccer forever, but I will always have an education. I love medicine and that’s where a lot of my passion is right now.”
The rest of his passion is present in DeMartin Stadium, as Piwinski’s teammates look to him as a positive leader on the team. Regardless of playing time, his steadfast enthusiasm has been a motivation for his teammates in practice and games.
Especially with the underclassmen, Piwinski takes pride in being a role model for the younger players, helping them with the day-to-day struggles of being a student-athlete. Whether it is soccer related or something more personal, Piwinski welcomes the leadership role.
“For me, it’s a lot of off the field stuff,” Piwinski said. “I’m just a motivator. I’m loud, and I like to get the blood flowing. That’s pretty much where my leadership roles lie.”
As Piwinski prepares to leave East Lansing in pursuit of a doctoral degree, he looks back on the memories he’s made while representing the Spartan helmet.
“I loved the big school. I loved meeting new people. I connected with so many people at Michigan State, and I think that’s the biggest advantage. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”