Land of 10 has embarked on a series of “Next Generation” articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the class of 2017 signees. Michigan State reporter Luke Srodulski has hit the road to visit this year’s incoming class of freshmen and give you an inside look past Hudl highlights and head shots. Here’s the first installment, from a visit with Lake Park (Ill.) defensive lineman Jacub Panasiuk.
NAPERVILLE, Ill. — “Elbows!” Jeff Richardson yelled over the blaring music at Acceleration Sports Performance.
Jacub Panasiuk knew exactly what he meant. As he casually power cleaned 225 pounds — more focused on proper form and repetitions that maxing out — he didn’t have to look to his left to know to whom those words had been directed.
Power cleans require high elbows at the endpoint of the exercise to ensure that the bar rests secure on the shoulders and doesn’t put undue stress on the elbows and wrists. Panasiuk had no doubt been lectured by Richardson, his trainer, before about this.
After his last rep, Panasiuk half dropped, half threw the bar down onto the mat. He turned toward Richardson, seemingly ready for the message that would come next.
“DBB,” Richardson said to him. Though shorter and thinner than Panasiuk, his voice boomed far louder. While overseeing 10 young athletes in an echoey environment, it had to be.
The acronym translates to, “Don’t be a …” You can figure the rest out. Panasiuk has been hearing it from Richardson for years. Trademark pending.
Panasiuk, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive lineman signed with Michigan State, regularly gets this tough love. Though the Spartans supplied him with a lifting regimen, he remains on the system set up by Richardson until he finishes it up. It’s been working.
Besides, if it weren’t for Acceleration and the people there, Panasiuk might not be heading to East Lansing in the summer. Heck, he might have stopped playing football a little more than two years ago.
Panasiuk sits in Lake Park (Roselle, Ill.) head football coach Chris Roll’s classroom on the second floor, reflecting on what transpired in the summer of 2014.
Had he considered what might have become of him if he stopped playing football? Where would he be now? What would he be doing? He shrugs his shoulders.
“I was just going with the flow at the time,” he says.
Teenagers often don’t consider long-lasting implications — good or bad — of the decisions they make. Emotion serves as the driving force in big decisions when maybe it shouldn’t. In Panasiuk’s case, he was angry.
He had broken his ankle the previous winter while playing basketball, his other sport. His doctor had brought up the possibility of surgery, but Panasiuk declined. The quicker the recovery time, the better. He had preseason football camp to prepare for, after all.
He had his ankle set and put in a hefty cast with instructions that he could not put stress on it. It even prevented him from doing most upper-body exercises. Bench press, for example, requires feet to be firmly pressed against the ground. That was ruled out quickly.
Panasiuk, unlike his older brother and younger brother, had to work hard to put on weight. His size at a young age put him on the defensive line, but he wouldn’t naturally be beefy enough to stay there. So he hit the weights and the kitchen.
Without the former, he fell from 235 pounds to 190. Roll looked at the second of the Panasiuk brothers, behind Michigan State rising sophomore defensive tackle Mike, and saw a player who needed to play on the sophomore team. His weight just added another reason to the pile.
In Panasiuk, Roll saw a talented player prone to letting his emotions get the best of him. He also saw a small sophomore class that needed leadership. Panasiuk could provide that while working to get his weight back up and gaining valuable experience.
Some of Roll’s assistants wanted Panasiuk moved up to varsity. Panasiuk didn’t see things the head coach’s way either. Mike played varsity football as a sophomore, so if he didn’t do the same, he would be underachieving.
“Since Mike made varsity,” Panasiuk says, “I thought that it was just not my thing anymore.”
At this point, Roll walks back into the room. Jacub explains the conversation, and his coach looks a bit taken aback.
“How close were you?” he asks. “Were you thinking about quitting?” Panasiuk nods. “You were angry, weren’t you.”
Panasiuk didn’t get a whole lot of guidance at the time from his parents, Polish immigrants who never pushed sports on their sons. His mother just told him to do what he thought was best.
Along came former Cleveland Browns defensive end Brian Schaefering, then an assistant for the Lake Park sophomore team. They grew close over the summer, and Panasiuk confided in him about his considering quitting football. Schaefering did his best to tamp down those thoughts.
“If you keep your mind to it, you’ll make it one day,” Schaefering assured him.
Through that encouragement, Panasiuk set out to prove that he belonged on varsity. And at preseason camp on the Northern Illinois campus, he made clear to Roll that he deserved not only a spot on the team, but a starting spot. He wouldn’t be denied.
Through his experiences that summer, Panasiuk not only put himself in position to start for Lake Park over the next three seasons, but he found a second home. Schaefering got hired at Acceleration, and though he ended up at the Lisle, Ill., location, that move led Panasiuk to the Naperville facility.
The 30-minute drive didn’t deter him from becoming a regular there. First his parents would drive him. Then Mike, who also trained there, started taking him.
Now Panasiuk can drive himself, and he brings Patrick, his younger brother, along twice a week when Patrick isn’t busy with track and field. It’s become a family affair.
Roll can see a lineman off the field and have a pretty good idea whether he’ll end up on offense or defense.
“Defensive linemen tend to have a little more anger, a little more snap to them, almost like fighters,” he says. “Offensive linemen are typically kids that think a little bit more and just don’t rage enough to play D-line.”
Flash back to when Panasiuk was about 9 years old. He and older brother Mike found themselves mired in a heated argument. Nothing new. They would often be at odds at home, at practice, in the locker room — pretty much anywhere, anytime besides on the football field.
Patrick, always the peacemaker, tried to step in and break them up. Though the youngest, he could usually match up well physically with them. But not with two at the same time.
The elder two brothers shoved Patrick away from the fray, and the youngest tumbled into the wall, cracking his head. One emergency room trip later, he had a bunch of staples in his head.
Patrick: offensive lineman. His brothers: defensive linemen. Easy enough, right?
The brothers Panasiuk, sons of Darius (a mechanic) and Yolanta (a cake decorator), never got pushed into sports. Their parents wanted them to focus on academics. Darius and Yolanta come from a country where an intercollegiate sports system doesn’t exist, thus they didn’t recognize athletics as an avenue toward getting into school.
So when Panasiuk started getting recruited, Roll took him on visits. His brother already committed to the Spartans, Panasiuk had a good idea he would end up there. Once he got an offer, ironically, he started second-guessing.
Peers at Lake Park just assumed he would follow his brother to East Lansing, but he didn’t want to end up there just because Mike did. He asked Roll to take him on other visits, one of which was to Michigan. Roll agreed, keeping his thoughts to himself.
“In my head I’m like, ‘Really?'” Roll says. “‘This is really what you think … that if you’re brother’s here, you can be here and hate each other?’”
Panasiuk knew he wanted a family atmosphere. He didn’t find it anywhere else to the extent that he did at Michigan State. There he could play with Mike, and potentially Patrick down the road. There, his parents might consider resettling should all three sons end up in East Lansing.
Looking back, Panasiuk says, “I wanted to know if I wanted to be with Mike for the next four years or not and see if I wanted to take that path or take my own. I just thought taking the same path as him would be a good idea.”
Panasiuk says he likely would have made the same decision even if his brother hadn’t ended up there. At this point, Roll interjects: “He might’ve made it quicker.”
Sure, the two would jaw, push and shove a lot. They would compete and push each other. Mike had the edge in raw strength, and Panasiuk in athleticism. Mike couldn’t care less about what others had to say. Panasiuk took outside opinions to heart.
But on the field, disagreements go out the window. They bring their innate anger and direct it at opponents rather than each other, creating a fearsome duo.
“What Mike has is what I don’t have, and our on and offs make us work better together,” Panasiuk says. “What he can’t do, I can do. And what I can’t do, he can do. I feel like it just helps us out, and it makes us play better together.”
Panasiuk lies on his back, which has been bothering him, on the floor of Acceleration. Richardson grabs hold of Panasiuk’s legs and moves them into different positions, bringing grimaces to the young lineman’s face.
“He’s a lot of things,” Richardson says, “but he’s not flexible.”
He hasn’t been a lot of things — emotionally ready to play varsity, strong enough to match his brothers, to name a few — but that hasn’t stopped Panasiuk from working toward new goals.
These days, he complements his workout plan with a minimum 4,500-calorie diet. He brings food with him each day rather than eating school lunches. When his mother came home from her bakery with pączki, a traditional Polish pastry eaten on Fat Tuesday, he didn’t partake in that, though. Only healthy calories.
If Panasiuk can get up to 285 pounds, defensive line coach Ron Burton told him that he’ll likely move to interior lineman. There, he might have an even better chance of getting playing time than at end.
That would put him right by Mike once again. For all that they’ve argued or disagreed about, they’ve had an uncanny knack for ending up side-by-side.
“When it comes down to little pieces, I think we’re really similar,” Panasiuk says. “I never admit it, but I think we’re really similar people.”
For the complete Michigan State NextGen series, click this link.