Defensive line to display aggressiveness under new leadership

Junior defensive end Mitch Stanitzek poses for a portrait on March 19 in the Indoor Athletic Complex.

Mitch Stanitzek didn't ask for his inadvertent helmet-to-helmet hit on Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey nearly three years ago to have the effect it did injury-wise.

He didn't ask to be ejected before Central Michigan's loss at the Carrier Dome on Sept. 19. He also didn't ask for the threats and other menacing messages directed to him on social media. But he's matured because of it. 

"All of us can say, throughout our college career, we definitely grow up a lot," Stanitzek said. "We're introduced to a lot of variables. It helps shape us in becoming men."

Stanitzek, entering his fifth year with the Chippewas, carried himself in a way last season when he returned to the dome that earned him not only the respect of the coaching staff, but from Dungey as well.

"It was a non-issue," Bonamego said. "We prepared as if it was going to be because you never know. I think (Mitch) has handled himself really well since he's been here in every aspect. On the field, work ethic, in the classroom, he's a model student-athlete."

This spring, as Central Michigan wraps up its second week of practice before the annual team scrimmage at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, new leadership has begun along the defensive line with Stanitzek, fellow fifth-year veteran Nate Brisson-Fast and junior Mike Danna. 

After seniors Chris Kantzavelos and Joe Ostman left, it'll be their task in bringing up the younger corp that's still recovering from injuries.

D'Andre Dill, Evan Plate, Josh Eldridge and Dante Cleveland are all out for the spring following offseason surgeries. Bonamego has assured that they'll be ready for fall training camp come August. 

"We're definitely short of depth but those guys are working hard," Stanitzek said. "They should be back anytime soon. As long as they're getting back to where they want to be, we should be fine."

In the meantime, Central Michigan is using spring practice to see who can fill the shoes of the departed, like Ostman, whose achievements on-and-off the field were well documented. 

Everything that the 2018 East-West Shine Bowl standout did in five years at CMU has everyone close to him feeling motivated. 

"Joe was a workhorse," Danna said. "He taught me a lot, he was my mentor. There was never a time when you watched a play and thought that he was lazy. He did everything for this defensive line."

Danna saw his production rise once last season shifted into the latter half, earned three sacks during the Chippewas' five-game winning streak, including two at Ball State on Oct. 21. 

The former three-star recruit at De La Salle Collegiate High School recorded a career-high 10 tackles against the Orange.    

"I want to keep working, never stop and to always out hustle the man in front of me." Danna said. "There's a choice during every play, you can play to the whistle or take a break. I just want to keep going to play hard, as well as lead the younger guys by example."

Bonamego has stressed the need for a relentless, tough and physical defensive line — identical to the one that averaged 2.62 sacks last season for 26th in the country. 

Everyone also uttered their appreciation for defensive line coach George Ricumstrict, who's philosophy has gotten the most of his players. 

"We talk about the culture of the team, but you want each individual to have their own standards," Bonamego said. "It has to fit within the culture of the defense and whole team, but (Ricumstrict) holds them accountable and to a high standard."

With Ricumstrict behind them, having been through the system for three years or more and understanding what's needed to win games, Stanitzek, Brisson-Fast and Danna are ready to take on that next step in their careers. 

"We have a lot of younger guys who look up to the older group," Danna said. "How we do things, the fundamentals, how we lead, what we do on-and-off the field. A big of this team is growing up and being mature. Can't always follow someone around, it's time to grow up."