Football is in former CSU linebacker Michael Kawulokâ€™s blood.
He has three brothers who each are playing or have played Division-I football, including his brother Joe, whoâ€™s currently a defensive lineman on the CSU football team.
In high school, Kawulok was an all-conference star who played linebacker and quarterback, while at the same time lettering on the basketball team. The man loves competition, which is why, when he made the decision to give up football because of two ACL tears, the inability to compete ate away at him.
â€œIt was extremely hard,â€ said Kawulok of his decision to end his collegiate career. â€œI wanted to play out my senior year, and thereâ€™s no doubt in my mind that, in my time here, I did everything I could to be out there playing. Unfortunately, I had a bad streak of injuries.â€
Kawulok, who used his redshirt year last season, worked throughout the offseason trying to get his knee back into playing shape. Ultimately, though, for the sake of his long-term health, he decided his right knee would be unable to return to playing form.
â€œWhen I was going through workouts, it just didnâ€™t feel right,â€ Kawulok said. â€œAnd long-term, it just wasnâ€™t a good situation for me.â€
Instead of leaving the team for the year, Kawulok decided to stay with the Rams throughout the 2012 season as a student assistant while he pursues his second undergraduate degree in mathematics.
To CSU coach Jim McElwain, the choice to stay with the team even though his knee prevents him from ever playing again demonstrates the selfless attitude he wants to see from all his players.
â€œThat speaks volumes to his character and his makeup, that he wants to do whatever he can to help the team be successful,â€ McElwain said. â€œWhich is really what weâ€™re trying to do with each individual (player) is make sure that theyâ€™re not worried about themselves, that they eliminate the â€˜I,â€™ â€˜meâ€™ and â€˜myâ€™ out of their vocabulary and use the â€˜us,â€™ â€˜weâ€™ and â€˜our.â€™â€
Kawulokâ€™s former teammates have also noted the commitment shown by the former linebacker, and his decision to stay with the team instead of doing something else.
â€œIâ€™m very proud of him, that heâ€™s still around,â€ said linebacker Mike Orakpo. â€œMost guys would have branched off and started doing their own thing. I commend Kawulok; football is his passion.â€
Now Kawulok can continue to pursue his passion from the unique perspective of being a defensive coach after having played with many of the same players on the team from two years ago.
â€œEveryone calls me coach now, they kind of joke about it a little bit,â€ Kawulok said. â€œA lot of the younger guys actually from last year didnâ€™t realize I was a player, they thought I was actually a coach last year for a little while.â€
Kawulok has said he â€œpossiblyâ€ might be interested in staying in the game as a coach when his time at CSU is over, but for now, he is simply trying to learn from his experience.
â€œItâ€™s a great opportunity for me,â€ Kawulok said. â€œIâ€™m learning from some of the best coaches in the game, so itâ€™s really exciting for me to have the opportunity to learn from a lot of these guys.â€
Football Beat Reporter Andrew Schaller can be reached at email@example.com.
Michael Kawulok, student assistant
Former linebacker at CSU, played from 2008-11
Career totals: Games started: 11, Tackles: 81, Solo Tackles: 44, Forced Fumbles: 2
Sept. 6, 2008: Played in first game as a Ram, recording 3 tackles against Sacramento State
Oct. 24, 2009: First ACL injury to right knee caused last game of the season to be against San Diego State after starting the first eight games in 2009
Sept. 9, 2010: Played in first game back from ACL injury against Colorado
Nov. 6, 2010: recorded a career-high 11 tackles in a loss to San Diego State
March 26, 2011: Sustained second ACL injury to right knee, Kawulok decides to use redshirt year to rehabilitate
March 21, 2012: Rams announce Kawulok has ended his rehabilitation and will be a student assistant for CSU during the 2012 season