The journey to landing a job as an athletics director at the collegiate level can be a tedious one, but former Penn State center Matt Stankiewitch was able to accomplish the unthinkable by rising to the position by age 26.
Stankiewitch is now in his first year as the athletics director at Penn State Schuylkill, but that wasn’t always in the plans for his future.
Initially, football was the focus for the former Nittany Lion great, but after spending a season on an NFL roster with both the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars, Stankiewitch turned to the real world.
Football Matters: At what age did you begin playing football?
Matt Stankiewitch: I guess I would’ve been in fifth grade, so 10 or 11 years old.
FM: When did you know you had the talent to play collegiately at a program like Penn State?
MS: I guess I really didn’t know until my junior year. I loved being in the weight room, and I loved working out. I’m very fortunate that when I lift weights and workout, I’m able to build muscle mass at a quicker rate than average. So when I was building strength, I got a lot stronger on the football field and always had the aspiration to pancake the opponent when I was on offense and make the most tackles when I was on defense.
I never thought I was playing the game so I could get a Division I scholarship. I was playing the game to be the best offensive lineman. Then, I wanted to be the best offensive lineman in the league, the best offensive lineman in the state. And when you do that, colleges find you. … Everyone was knocking on my doorstep to come play for them, but of course, Penn State was the place I wanted to go.
FM: Who at Penn State stands out because of the impact they had on your life?
MS: Definitely in the academic world would be Brady Rourke. He was my academic advisor. He definitely gave me the confidence and saw in me the leadership ability and those things that at 18 or 19 years old you don’t see in yourself. I didn’t realize it at the time that I was a leader. I just went day by day just doing what I was supposed to do. I think that’s what a leader is supposed to do. A leader shouldn’t have to speak in order to lead. A leader leads by actions and people follow in the right way as well.
FM: When did you have the aspirations to pursue a career in athletic administration?
MS: It was definitely always in the back of my mind to get back into athletics – somewhere in the strength and training department, coaching or running camps. But I also really wanted to use my degree, and I liked the business aspect of things. So when you combine all those things, athletic director is the definition of that.
So where I grew up, there’s the Penn State Schuylkill campus. It’s a branch campus of University Park. The athletic director there retired about a year ago, and they were seeking a new athletic director. It was always on the back of my mind to apply for the position here at Penn State Schuylkill. When that opportunity arose, I applied and went through the intense interview process to become the athletic director.
Did I know when I was in high school that I was going to be an athletic director? No, absolutely not. You do little steps at a time in the direction you want to go with, and eventually, you find that permanent position that you were striving for.
FM: Now that you are in the athletic director world, is there someone you’ve leaned on for advice as you’ve gotten into this journey?
MS: Without a doubt, it’s Dr. Mark Abel. He used to be the interim athletic director before I got here for a year, and he’s a doctor in kinesiology. He was also the athletic director here for 10 years, so he definitely has knowledge in that area on how to run things. He’s highly educated. I’m picking his brain every single day. I’m probably going to be using him every day until he retires from here.
FM: How did football impact the man you are today?
MS: Football is definitely one of those sports that makes you mature quickly. Through two-a-days, football camps and especially as physical a position as offensive line. The most physical position on the offensive line is the guards and centers, and that’s what I played. Making those physical battles and triumphs makes you mature quickly and go through trials in your life that you never thought you could do. But you just put one step in front of the other and you keep on your goal day after day. When you do that, good things happen for you.