Just a week ago, St. Bede senior Joe Pyszka was still undecided about where he would attend college.
Then he received a call from Western Illinois University offensive line coach A.J. Blazek.
“I was really excited,” Pyszka said about receiving the call. “It just kind of came out of nowhere. He called me and said they were very interested. I was really excited.”
The call began a whirlwind end to the recruiting season for Pyszka.
He took his official visit last Thursday — less than a week before National Signing Day — and ultimately decided to play for the Leathernecks, a NCAA Football Championship Series program in Macomb.
Pyszka signed his Letter of Intent Wednesday morning at the Academy.
“I love the coaching staff, love the campus and they have a great football program. I loved it out there,” said Pyska, who also considered Southern Illinois University, Quincy University and Augustana (S.D.) College. “Just taking the official visit (helped me make the decision) — talking to all the coaching staff, meeting a lot of their players and everything. I got a feel for Western Illinois University and I just loved it.”
Pyszka joins a WIU program that went 3-8 overall and 1-7 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference but will be under new leadership.
Bob Nielson was hired as head coach on Dec. 19, 2012 after leading the University of Minnesota-Duluth to a 100-26 record and a pair of NCAA Division II national championships in 10 seasons.
“It’s a younger coaching staff,” Pyszka said. “They have a lot of energy. They seem to be really involved with the kids and really care about the program.”
The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Pyszka is one of five offensive linemen signed by the Leathernecks.
“I think we’ve got a class if you look at the size and frames of some of those linemen, we have the types of athletes who are going to be successful at this level even though some of them are going to benefit from a redshirt year,” Nielson said in a press conference Wednesday.
Pyszka said the staff plans to redshirt him next season.
“They needed help this year at offensive tackle. I don’t think they have much depth at the tackle position,” Pyszka said. “They’re going to redshirt me, put some weight on me and hopefully, I can get in there as a redshirt freshman and get some time.”
St. Bede football coach John Bellino said he thinks Pyszka, a two-time NewsTribune All-Area selection, has the tools to be successful at the college level.
“Joe has a lot of experience. He’s played for us for three years,” Bellino said. “Obviously, by the time he hit junior year and going into his senior year, he was a leader for us. We ran the ball there (behind him) when we needed to, and he produced for us. It was a great experience for us to have him there and I hope he’ll continue that. He has great foot speed as far as the quickness in that 10-yard burst, and he has the desire to play.”
Bellino said it’s “been a while” since the Bruins had a player sign with an FCS or FBS school.
“I’m real happy we have a lineman going because linemen don’t get much publicity throughout the year,” Bellino said. “We try to make sure we beef them up as best we can. I’m glad for his sake and glad for our program.
“I wish him the best of luck. I’m happy for him and his parents and the whole family.”
Pyszka, who will study biology, is excited to play at the FCS level.
“It’s awesome,” Pyszka said. “It’s always been a goal of mine to play D-I ball. Now it’s happening, so it’s pretty cool.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.