Steven “SteveO” Michel wasn’t supposed to go to college, much less graduate from college. But on May 15, the Colorado State linebacker did just that as he walked across the stage of Moby Arena and received his diploma, silencing anyone who told him it couldn’t be done.
“It’s outstanding just to be able to do things that a lot of people said I wouldn’t be able to do because of my circumstances and what I was raised around,” Michel said. “People looking at me and reading into me without really knowing my story and knowing what I’ve been through.”
If you told Michel eight years ago that he would go to college, he would’ve said you were joking. However, Michel now has a bachelor’s degree in social work, and he was named the Outstanding Graduate by the College of Health and Human Sciences at Colorado State.
But the odds have always been stacked against Michel.
He is one of eight children in a single-parent home; his father passed away when he was four years old; and Michel, his siblings and his mother lived in a two-bedroom apartment growing up.
School was never taken seriously, and really, there was no reason to. No one in his family advanced their schooling beyond high school.
“I didn’t even know what college was until I was like a sophomore in high school,” Michel said. “It wasn’t an expectation in my family because my mom couldn’t read or write. She doesn’t know English. So like, what’s really the expectation? The expectation is to graduate high school.
I didn’t even know the next step was college until I started playing football and started seeing other people getting scholarships to go to the next level. I started thinking, ‘Hmm, maybe I can use my talent to get there too,’ and that’s how I got here.”
Michel said he began turning things around academically during his sophomore year of high school.
He remembers being in the alternative bell schedule program on his birthday when a math teacher approached him.
“I see so much potential in you,” the teacher said to Michel. “If you want to get better, I promise I’ll help you.”
From there, Michel began improving in his studies, and that teacher was there for him every step of the way.
“She didn’t know me from the hole in the wall. She just reached out to me,” Michel said. “Having her around, she started making me realize a lot of things I can do.”
Still though, Michel didn’t have aspirations of going to college and obtaining a degree. Then, the scholarship offers came along, and the Orlando, Fla., native found himself at Colorado State.
Michel admits he wasn’t crazy about being in Colorado when he first arrived on campus in Fort Collins, Colo., but once he made the adjustment to college life and went all in, he noticed a change.
“Once I stepped on campus and realized what getting a degree was all about, it became a goal my freshman year in college,” Michel said.
Flash forward to now, and Michel will tell you he enjoys looking back at his days as a Ram.
He’s made big contributions on the field for Colorado State the past two seasons, including forcing a key fumble in the last minute of the 2013 Gildan New Mexico Bowl to set up the game-winning field goal that resulted in the Rams knocking off Washington State.
Off the field, Michel became a father, as he now enjoys spending time with his daughter, Peyton – who is one and half years old.
“It’s just a blessing,” Michel said of his journey. “It’s God’s favor. My life was already written, and I just had to keep pushing and not give up. Sometimes, I don’t realize how far I came until I sit down and talk to my family members.”
It’s quite an accomplishment and something no one can ever take away from Michel. Football helped him put him in position to be the first person in his family to graduate from college, but his hard work and persistence got the job done, despite the obstacles he had to overcome.
“When I walked across that stage, everything I did was worth it because all of that helped me become the man I am today,” Michel said.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder now has plans to stay at Colorado State in the fall and begin pursuing his master’s degree in social work. However, the linebacker will also be looking to make an even bigger impact on the gridiron, as he sets his sights on another dream.
“I have ambitions to play in the [National Football] League,” Michel said. “I had ambitions to graduate, and I’ve done that already. The same ambition and effort and hard work I put into my schoolwork, that’s what I’m going to put in on the field because that’s my next goal.
“I crossed graduation off my list because I have a list of goals, so why not shoot for the next great thing?”
If history serves as any indication, Michel is going to give it his all to check that second goal off his list, and with the never-quit mentality that saw Michel overcome the impossible to do something no one thought he could do, there won’t be many doubting the new college grad anytime soon.