Faces in KS: Joe Michalski

Joe Michalski of Aquinas is one of the states top returning players. (Photo: Susan Goodwyn)
By: Conor Nicholl for Sports in Kansas w/ Chet Kuplen
Jul 3, 2018

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Joe Michalski enjoys sitting at the dining room table with his family in the evenings. His dad, Jim, is a pipe line technician, while his mother, Carolee, is an elementary school teacher. Joe has one sibling, older sister Makayla, at St. James Academy graduate and an upcoming sophomore volleyball player at Park (Mo.) University.

“We have a real close bond,” he said.

The conversations range in topics. Michalski has a strong interest in American war history, specifically World War II and the Vietnam War. Michalski has a current 3.8 GPA at St. Thomas Aquinas.

“No limitations to where it could go,” Michalski said of the talks.

The close-knit family and discussions have helped form one of the state’s most well-rounded athletes and top football players. The 6-foot-4.5, 271-pound right tackle will enter his third season as a starter for the Saints, the Class 5A defending runner-up to Bishop Carroll.

Michalski earned offers from a wide range of schools, including Oklahoma State, Wyoming, Tulane, Texas State,  Missouri State, Pittsburg State, Air Force, North Dakota, South Dakota State and Ivy League colleges Cornell, Brown, Yale, Dartmouth and Columbia.

He can bench 330, squat 455, and clean 365 with a 4.91 40-yard dash. The No. 11 overall player in Kansas, Michalski traveled to Oklahoma State on June 14, according to 24/7 Sports.

Michalski said the contact from the Cowboys came “kind of out of nowhere.” He had received fliers, but nothing personal. Then, offensive line coach Josh Henson reached out. Michalski talked to them and made the trip.

He committed to the Cowboys the next day. Michalski called the coaching staff “very personable” and was highly impressed by head coach Mike Gundy, Henson and strength coach Rob Glass.

“I just love the culture,” he said.

Michalski has enjoyed his time at Aquinas under longtime successful coach Randy Dreiling. The Saints are 9-4, 9-3, 8-4 and 11-2 in Dreiling’s four seasons after he captured seven state titles at Hutchinson.

Aquinas was runner-up in ’14 and ’17, part of four second-place finishes in school football annals. The Saints have not won a football crown.

“It would be awesome to win state,” Michalski said. “That would be incredible.”

After a 9-3 year in ’15 where Aquinas’ flexbone averaged 38.5 points per game, the Saints had no returning offensive starters in ’16. Michalski quickly earned the starting spot at right tackle.

“Probably the hardest position to get down,” Michalski said of the offensive line in the flexbone. “Just because there are so many schemes you have to learn.”

He helped the Saints produce an 8-4 mark, and despite the inexperience, average 34.1 points per contest.

Last year, Aquinas produced 41.3 points a game and led 5A with 537 points. The offensive line is headed by assistant coaches Pat Lonegren, who has coached for more than 50 years, and Dillen Jackle.

“The coaching staff is awesome,” Michalski said.

Aquinas lost to Carroll, 38-28, in the state finale after an outstanding performance from Carroll quarterback Braden Howell.

Michalski earned his second straight team award as the Outstanding Offensive Lineman. He is also a two-time all-league player and back-to-back KPreps 5A offensive line all-state player. Sports In Kansas has put Michalski as all-non-senior the last two years. Michalski was Top 11 all classes in 2017.

This year, Aquinas will again be a favorite in 5A with running backs Tank Young and Cameron Jackson returning, along with all-state defensive end Javier Derritt (30 QB hurries). Derritt committed to North Dakota State, the defending FCS national champion, on June 27.

“Sometimes you get outplayed and that’s just how football goes,” Michalski said. “That’s how any sport goes. You can’t sit there and be sad about all the hard work you’ve done. You have to take pride in what you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished even if you come up a little bit short in the end.”

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This feature is presented by Harding of Chiropractic Healing Center, Dr. Andy Harding. Visit them online at kckchiropractic.com, proud to support Joe Michalski of St. Thomas Aquinas. Congrats and best of luck this season Joe! 

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Chet Kuplen, Manaing Partner of Sports in Kansas, on Michalski 

"He's been a two time first team non-senior pick for us. He's very explosive in the weight room and you can tell that from some of the numbers that he put up this spring. Aquinas has all kind of division one talent this season on both sides of the football and this could be the year they get that first ever state title, all the pieces are in place. You know he is the real deal going against top end competition week in and week out in the EKL. People outside of the league may not realize how good the level of competition is in this league. The 6A state champ last year, BV North, who beat Derby in the 6A title game, lost four times in this league last fall. The year before the 5A state champ, Mill Valley, also lost four times. So point being, you're going to get the best shot of everyone, every week, with several of those teams all being state contenders. When you look at him, he looks like he could be a tight end as well, so it's impressive to see him moving around heavier players. I've had the opportunity to see him play live three times over the last two seasons and have been very impressed. He has a lot of room to add weight on his frame at the next level and his celing could be unlimiated with how athletic and explosive he is." 

Q&A w/ Michalski

How did you get involved in football? 

I have been playing football since the third grade as a student at St. Patrick Catholic School.  During elementary and middle school, I played in the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) league. There I played with some familiar names such as Jack Burns (Miege), and Joe Watsky (Miege). Our school was small so many of the boys played football. We often had to join with the surrounding catholic schools to make a complete team. 

What are your goals this season?

Academically my goal is to push myself to a 4.0 GPA each semester.  One of my football goals is to be a senior leader for the football team on and off of the field.  I will compete, work hard, be disciplined, and set personal position goals throughout the season. Another goal of mine is to gain strength, skill, and knowledge. Ultimately, I would love for the team to have a successful season marked by wins, a great run in the playoffs, and another trip to the state championship. Finally, I want to walk off of the football field my last game as a senior with no regrets.  I want to take one game at a time, appreciate the moment, and enjoy the ride wherever it may take me.

Do you guys have a shot to make a run this year?

I think we have a great shot at making a run this year; we have tons of talent and players who are dedicated to the grind.  If we as a team have the same vision and hold ourselves accountable to high expectations we can achieve.

What makes you such a force as a player?

For me personally, I believe my ability to finish strong from the beginning of a game to the end of the game makes me a force player.  I am also a coachable player.  If I have listened to my coaches and honed my skills during practice then I have the power and enough stamina to get the job done.

What’s the atmosphere like to play football on Friday night for your school and town?

There isn’t anything like Friday night high school football games no matter where you play.  I think part of it is school and community pride.  You are playing alongside friends with whom you have known and worked so hard with.  You have won and lost games together, pushed one another during summer training and practices, played during all types of weather, you run through the banner, and pray together in the end zone.  Players and coaches give an all out effort to be victorious every time they step onto the field.  The fans support and cheer on the players and there is a genuine desire to see your team win.  The relationships between players, coaches, classmates, families, and communities are real and personal. It does not get any better than that.

For anyone that hasn’t seen one of your games, why come to one?

One reason you would want to come to our football games is because there is a lot of talent on our team. Yet we are all part of something that is bigger than ourselves.  We are family and on Friday nights we play not only for ourselves but also for each other.  The fans are also part of that family and they support us along the way. The football themes, the cheering, the lights, the emotions, the teams, the memories, and the commitment to your team make it worth coming to a game.

Who are other key players on your team?

I believe this is a matter of opinion and can change at any given time during the season.  I believe that if you are a part of the STA football team you are a key player.  It truly takes a team commitment to one another to experience success. Each player should feel like they can make a difference and they belong on the team. I think a key player is one who is confident and assertive, they do their job to the best of their ability every single time. To play as a team and be effective everyone needs to understand their worth to themselves and the other players. Our motto last year was an important motto, “Leave No Doubt”.  Although we came up short in the last game and it was a difficult loss beyond measure, it doesn’t take away the successes we had as a team during the season.  We all believed in ourselves and we believed in our team, there was no doubt and we were accomplished!

Favorite thing about football?

The relationships I have built with coaches and teammates.  The trust, respect, and appreciation for one another on the football team is like no other.  I have gained many memories and life lessons from playing the game of football.

Do you play any other sports, tell us about that?

In the years past I have also played basketball and baseball.  I have continued playing basketball in high school on the CYO teams.  It has become more of a sport for fun with the guys and to stay in shape.  As for baseball, I have played competitive baseball ever since I can remember.  Last summer at this time I was committed to my summer baseball team and traveling playing in tournaments.

What is it like to play for your coach?

Coach Dreiling is competitive, intense, focused, and has great desire for the game of football. He works very hard for his team and is an amazing head coach.  He is confident in himself, his players, and his coaching staff. He believes in his players and inspires us to excel. The players on our team have respect for him as a coach and a mentor.  Coach also leaves time to have fun and kid around with the coaches, players, and parents.  He is an extremely driven coach and has made an impact in my life, which will carry on after my high school career.

What did you and the team do in the off-season to become better and plans to get better this summer?

During the off-season the team continued to work on strength and conditioning.  At the end of the school year that continued and we also began participating in several team camps.  I have tried to set obtainable goals for my summer training for football.  So, along with strength and conditioning I have been working to enhance my speed, agility, range of motion, and ability to change directions quickly.  I also like to work on football-specific movements to help improve my explosiveness on the field.

What interest are you seeing at the next level and what are your plans?

I have seen various interests at the next level in different forms.  I have gone on several unofficial visits, participated in some camps, and I have had several offers.  As for my plans after high school, I hope to stay healthy and play at the next level wherever that may be.  My education and choice of academic studies will be a strong influence in my decisions.  Currently my plans are to continue to become a better football player and work on personal goals throughout the season. I am dedicated to my team and will do whatever I can to be a leader.

Favorite thing to do when you aren’t playing sports?

When I am not playing sports I enjoy going to the lake, fishing, and spending time with my family and friends. I can be very happy and content at home watching movies, listening to music, and playing board games.  One of the things that I have always enjoyed around my house is our family discussions.  Sometimes the discussions are serious in nature to help my sister and I develop as young adults.  Other times our discussions stem around history, music, and reminiscing about “the old” days.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Within the next ten years I hope that I will have the continued health, skill, and ability to sustain my football career.  I will have achieved my educational goals and obtained a degree.  I will be a working professional and perhaps be in a lasting relationship worthy of a marriage and family.

Favorite subject in school, what type of student are you, GPA?

My favorite subject in school would be anything history or government related.  Through the years my parents have instilled in me that my education is the most critical step to a successful future. After I graduated middle school it was also a desire of mine to continue my educational studies at a Catholic High School. My religious studies are also important in shaping the person that I strive to be.  I knew that Saint Thomas Aquinas could give me all the tools that I needed to be successful in high school whether academically, religiously, or sports related. My current GPA stands at 3.8.

Who is your role model?

In life it is hard to choose just one role model.  I have several different role models who serve great purposes in my life. Some of those role models include my mother, my sister, my high school coaches, and other family members.  My biggest role model would be my father. He pushes me to be the best that I can be at everything in life.  He motivates me to learn, pursue goals with discipline, and he has given me constant support.  He helps me to problem solve and find solutions in every aspect of life.  He has helped me grow from a child into a young man.  He has encouraged me to never give up even when it seems the world is against me.  My father is a very determined person with a very strong work ethic.  He is very caring and has a sense of humor that most wouldn’t imagine. He has taught me humility, sensitivity, and how to love.  He has taught me more than he will ever know. When I was much younger I used to tell people that he was the biggest man in the world.  He still is to me in no ordinary way. He is my best friend, my biggest fan, and I am lucky enough to have him as my father.

Best place to eat in your town or the surrounding area?

I am from Wyandotte County so I would have to say Wyandot BBQ in KCKS.

One thing the average person wouldn’t know about you?

The average person does not know that I am a very caring and loving person. I have a big heart and would do anything for anyone.  I am also very quiet until I get to know someone, and sometimes that may give people the wrong impression. I like to believe that once you get to know me, you appreciate me as a person and my morals and values.  I like to think that I am also witty and pretty funny at times especially with those closest to me such as my family, friends, and teammates. I set goals and standards both academically and sports related and I work very hard to achieve those goals. I am willing to learn, practice, and give all I’ve got both on and off the field. Most importantly, I strive to be the kind of person that gives the very best of myself on a daily basis.

Anything else to add that we won’t want to miss in this story?

God has blessed me in more ways than I can count.  I am truly thankful for every moment in my life, the good times and the bad times.  I am very grateful for the experiences and people that surround me.  Without the people, experiences, and opportunities in my everyday life I would not be where I am today. Those who surround me- family, friends, coaches, and teachers have played essential roles in my life.  They are all honorable people who have helped to guide me on my journey. I send thanks to all of them!