Winning Attitude: A winning past leads Mitch Stanitzek over obstacles to senior year

Central Michigan captain Mitch Stanitzek poses for a portrait on Aug. 28 after football practice at the Indoor Athletic Complex.

Mitch Stanitzek knows what it takes to be a winner — it dates back to his his high school football days.

The Central Michigan football senior defensive end is a Grand Rapids West Catholic High School graduate, a school that is currently chasing a sixth straight Division 5 title. The Falcons would be the first ever team in Michigan to accomplish that feature.

Stanitzek was a member of the program from 2010-13. Three of the years he was a starter on varsity. In 2012, he got his first taste at a state title, but the Falcons fell short at Ford Field. In 2013, he didn’t miss.

Stanitzek was named the team’s Most Valuable Player after they won it all that season. He helped build a tradition that is still running to this day.

“Being from a culture that is focused around winning and always had success creates a good mindset,” Stanitzek said. “Everything your competing in makes you have a winning attitude. Winning was instilled in me. Without (West Catholic), I’m not so sure it would’ve been that easy to make the jump and play Division I football.”

Now four years later, in his last year of eligability, he is one of the Chippewas' team captains. This time however, earning that name didn’t come from being a three-year varsity player. 

This route involved something more than just winning — it involved adversity.

In the 2015 nonconference season, Stanitzek tried to make a play on Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey. 

Before Stanitzek could get to the quarterback, Dungey was hit from behind as he released the ball. Stanitzek and Dungey collided helmet-to-helmet. 

Stanitzek was ejected for targeting.

“It was a quick play and I didn’t have the time to react,” he said. “Giving someone a concussion is never something you want to happen.”

Not everyone took it that way. He received death threats from Syracuse fans. There were tweets, posts and buzz on social media. 

Those voices stuck in his head. 

To this day he still gets asked about that hit. He responded by saying you can only block out the noise.

“You just have to turn away from it and ignore it,” Stanitzek said. “A lot of people want to get your attention and get you rattled. You have to just remember what is important because what those people say doesn’t matter. Keep your mind in the right area with positive thoughts.”

Stanitzek put that memory away and proceeded to a season with action in all 13 games and 11 starts.  He made 16 tackles, three for a loss and added a sack in the Quick Lane Bowl. He kept making progress and becoming more of a force to opposing offensive lines in 2016.

Junior defensive lineman Mitch Stanitzek, right, sacks the quarterback during the game against Presbyterian College on Sept. 1, at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Things were on the up. Then Sept. 10, 2016 came.

Former Chippewas’ wide receiver Corey Willis scored a hail mary touchdown on an extra play to give CMU an upset win over No. 22 Oklahoma State. This is one of the greatest CMU football moments in recent memory. 

Stanitzek was on his way to the emergency center, waiting to find out the knee injury he received earlier that day would put an end to his junior season. 

Stanitzek looked to other teammates for help, specifically current senior Devon Spalding. Spalding dealt with multiple collarbone injuries, limiting his time on the field.

“A lot of guys on this team have dealt with adversity and it’s just a tough game that takes a toll on your body,” Stanitzek said. “Coach Bonamego has done a great job handling adversity and teaching us how to adjust to anything whether that’s what life throws at you or what football throws at you."

After playing in just two games, Stanitzek received a medical redshirt. Now, he was able to keep two years of eligibility. 

In 2017, Stanitzek came back as a 12-game starter. He was fifth on the team with seven tackles for loss. He added 3.5 sacks to a defensive line unit that was second in the MAC with 34 total. 

This lead to him earning the respect of his teammates as they voted him one of four captains for the 2018 season. A season that Stanitzek only see’s ending in one way — a MAC title.

Fellow junior defensive end Mike Danna said there is no one else he’d rather go to battle with than Stanitzek because of what he's gone through.

“When I first got here he was mentor to me as a true freshman,” he said. "I will forever be thankful for that."

Bonamego said Stanitzek is one of the best at doing everything right. That's put him in the position to be a captain.

“He’s a good student, a diligent worker, tough and he really just optimizes everything we stress and talk about what it takes to be a football player here at Central Michigan,” Bonamego said. 

Stanitzek said he has always dreamed of being a captain at CMU. 

“I’m truly honored,” Stanitzek said. "I want to lead this team and push these guys."

Stanitzek said anything less of a MAC Championship wouldn’t be a success, but in order to achieve that goal, he uses his past for motivation.

“We have the same goal every season, to win a MAC Championship,” Stanitzek said. “Wanting to win and succeed is what I’ve always known.”

Back in 2013, Stanitzek did just that in his senior season at West Catholic to start a trend that is still running. With a much different route to this point, he will aim for the same outcome of his senior season at CMU — a conference title.