The Complete Package

was1.jpgBy Ben Badua

Standing 6’3 and weighing in at 270 pounds, Rob Wasielewski is everything you’d expect and want from a Division III offensive lineman. As physically imposing as any player in the NESCAC, he’s athletic, agile and possesses a high football IQ. In short, he’s the complete package.

“Rob is one of the best lineman I’ve ever coached,” says Amherst offensive line coach Matt Ballard. “Physically, he’s as good as it gets. He has great feet, is football smart, and is completely dedicated to his craft.”

For Wasielewski, realizing his potential at Amherst has been the culmination of a lifelong passion. It began in the fifth grade, when the youngster first started playing organized football. To this day, he still remembers the excitement he felt going to the store to purchase his first set of shoulder pads.

Always one of the biggest players on the field, Wasielewski immediately made himself at home on the line as a ‘striper.’ Wearing a black stripe on his helmet from fifth through eighth grade, he wasn’t allowed to touch the ball and neither were his fellow linemen. If one of them did, the play would be blown dead. For some, the seemingly unglamorous side of playing in the trenches may have been a turn-off. For Wasielewski, it was fun nonetheless.

“My favorite part about playing is being a part of a team,” Wasielewski explains. “We really rely on each other, especially on the offensive line. The five of us have to be in total sync. We all need to be on the same page on every play and the mental challenge of doing so is the most fun.”

Playing on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball during his first two years at New Trier High School in his hometown of Winnetka, Ill., Wasielewski began focusing on the offensive line when making the move to varsity his junior season. Blossoming into a talented lineman, he looked at several NESCAC and Ivy League schools before deciding on Amherst.

“I knew I wanted to play football and get a really good education,” says Wasielewski. “Amherst always stood out. I wanted to go to a smaller school, with great athletics as well as academics and it was just the perfect fit.”

Despite starring for New Trier, Wasielewski saw limited action during his rookie campaign, but he embraced his role all the same. Like most first-years, the adjustment to the college game took time. With a new offense to learn and only a few weeks to get acclimated prior to the start of the season, there was a steep learning curve.

“It was a totally different experience [from high school],” recalls Wasielewski. “But it was useful in that it challenged me to accept the role of being a good teammate and putting the team first. While I waited for my opportunity, I wanted to be the guy that always worked hard in practice and supported the guys on the field on game day.”

was3.jpgWhen that opportunity finally came, he seized it. Starting as a sophomore, the left tackle earned first-team All-NESCAC honors as the offensive line allowed a league-low six sacks. Paving the way for a running game that averaged 189.5 yards per game, Wasielewski’s line played an instrumental role in helping Amherst secure the program’s fourth 8-0 season.

As a junior, he once again earned first-team All-Conference praise, while leading a unit that helped the Jeffs average 191.0 rushing yards per game. Guiding Amherst to a 4-0 start in 2013, Wasielewski is now 24-4 during his career in Purple & White and serves as one of the team’s tri-captains, an honor which he fully appreciates.

“I remember the captains my first year,” says Wasielewski. “I really looked up to them. They did everything right, worked really hard and set an unbelievable example. To be named a captain of this team is an honor and I just want to do my best to help us grow and reach our potential.”

Following the blueprint laid out by the captains before him, Wasielewski has tried to be as influential off the field as he has been between the lines. While being a more vocal presence is generally out of his comfort zone, he’s met the challenge of engaging teammates.

“He’s so even-keel,” says Ballard. “He’s a quiet leader, but he’ll pull guys aside and try to coach them up.”

Whether on the field or in the gym, Wasielewski rarely misses out on an opportunity to connect with his teammates. Showing up early to practice, hanging out in the locker room to chat, and attending the offensive line’s weekly Thursday night dinners (sometimes consisting of 24 lbs. of boneless wings and appetizers), the senior has gotten the most out of his captaincy and cultivated a healthy appreciation for the little things.

Extending his influence beyond the gridiron, Wasielewski has helped lead the push to connect the football team with the broader Amherst community. Alongside teammates Max Lippe ’15 and Chris Tamasi ’15, Wasielewski has taken part in the Athletics Team Engagement Leader Program, a result of the combined efforts of the athletics liaisons, Center for Community Engagement, and athletics department to create a sustainable culture of community engagement within Amherst Athletics.

Planning events for the team since last spring, Wasielewski got the Jeffs involved with the Amherst Survival Center, an organization dedicated to promoting the health and well being of residents of Franklin and Hampshire counties with a wide variety of programs designed to help people meet their basic needs.

Thanks in part to Wasielewski’s efforts, Amherst players have also helped raise money for the annual Friends of Jaclyn 5K Run/Walk and worked with a local soup kitchen, Not Bread Alone, assisting the kitchen staff and helping with clean-up almost every week throughout the spring semester.

“I know it’s important to Coach Mills,” says Wasielewski. “I like the idea of connecting the football team with the broader outside community and helping to get our guys out there is huge.”

was2action.jpgAlways looking for ways to get involved, the political science major was also a part of the College’s Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct (SMOC). One of just two students chosen to participate, Wasielewski joined members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and administration for nine meetings over the course of three months beginning in November of 2012.

“Student government sent out an email asking for applicants,” Wasielewski says. “It was something I was already interested in and I’d been looking to get involved in some way. I was lucky enough to be chosen and happy that I could help and contribute.”

Charged with making recommendations to President Biddy Martin in order to improve Amherst’s efforts to prevent and address sexual assault on campus, the committee considered five distinct areas (campus environment, resources, education, recent history and policy/Title IX) and presented its report, entitled “Toward a Culture of Respect: The Problem of Sexual Misconduct at Amherst College,” at the January (2013) Board of Trustees meeting.

“It was a very enlightening and challenging experience,” says Wasielewski. “It was a complicated issue and there were so many factors that came into play. I think part of our purpose was to help serve as a launching point [in the overall conversation going on campus] and I think we accomplished that goal.”

Midway through his final season, Wasielewski has turned his attention back to the gridiron (for the time being). In his quiet moments of solitude, he recognizes that the clock is ticking on a decorated playing career, but currently has little time to dwell on life after football. Cherishing every moment with his teammates both on and off the field, he continues to tirelessly work in order to accomplish something great.

“He’s an incredible kid,” says head coach E.J. Mills. “He carries himself with a maturity that is well beyond his years. The guys have a lot of respect for him, not just because he’s an outstanding player, but because he’s the kind of guy that makes good choices. People look up to him because he always does the right thing. He’s the embodiment of a well-rounded student-athlete at Amherst.”