Sarwinski opts to use COVID year, return for final season at Pitt State

PJ Sarwinski is an All-American linebacker for the Gorillas.

PITTSBURG, Kan. – Pitt State linebacker PJ Sarwinski isn’t quite ready to leave the Jungle.

Sarwinski has opted to use the extra year of eligibility from the COVID-19 pandemic, and return for one final season for the Gorillas.

“In the end, I wouldn’t say it was a difficult decision because of what Pitt State stands for, the tradition that we bring and the fans that we bring into the jungle every Saturday,” Sarwinski says, “It would be hard to say no to one more time to all those people who have supported me and believe in me. Especially my family and my coaches. My coaches really persuaded me and pushed me that there’s so much more that I can do.”

“What a huge bonus for us, to be able to get PJ back,” says Pitt State head coach Brian Wright, “He’s coming off an All-American season, but not only that… he brings so much leadership to our football program. We couldn’t be more excited to have PJ back.”

Sarwinski had planned on the 2021 football season being his last for Pitt State.

“Heading into last year, I took it as it was going to be by last year,” Sarwinski says, “I’ve graduated with my Mathematics Education degree, and I’ll finish my Master’s degree in May. I thought hey, I could start my career.”

He even participated in the senior day ceremonies for Pitt State last fall, in the team’s final home game against Washburn on November 6th.

“I talked to coach Wright and he told me to go ahead participate in senior day, that way if I didn’t come back, that would be it for me,” Sarwinski says, “It was funny. I was out there on the field lining up for everything and my mom was like “This can’t be it. This can’t be your last year,”” he adds with a laugh, “I told her I wasn’t really thinking about that at that moment.”

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But he knew he would have a choice – with an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Through the whole season, it was in the back of my head that I could have another year to come back and play,” Sarwinski says, “That Washburn game was  a heart-breaker. I had taken it as my last game at Carnie Smith Stadium….but something about that day made me think this can’t be it. I don’t want this to be my last game at Carnie Smith Stadium… I had that weight on my shoulders.”

The Gorillas lost their senior day game to Washburn 28-26, after the Ichabods blocked a PSU field goal in the final minute – effectively ending Pitt State’s hopes of making the NCAA Division II national playoffs.

When the season ended, Sarwinski says he told the coaching staff that he was going to take some time to make a decision – discussing it with his family and his teammates.

“I didn’t want to say no to guys like Brandon Mlekus, Adam Smith, Nate Woods, Bryce Murphy and Elijah Harris,” Sarwinski says, “I didn’t want to say no to them, and they didn’t want me to say no to them. That has a lot to do with it, for sure. We’ve been going through it together since 2017. It was hard for me to think about. Why would I not want to be a part of that? Why would I not want to go and accomplish these things with my brothers? Why not take advantage of it? I feel like I would have regretted it if I didn’t come back and give it my all this one last year.”

The Galena High School product is coming off a stellar season on the field for Pittsburg State.

He led the team with 84 tackles, including 12 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks. He also had an interception and 2 pass break-ups.

Sarwinski was a 1st team All-MIAA selection and earned All-America honors from the Don Hansen Football Committee earlier this week.

“I just feel very humbled and very thankful. God has given me a lot of abilities and I couldn’t do anything without him. He’s the reason I was able to make the plays and be a leader on the field,” Sarwinski says of being an All-American, “Next is my family. They’ve supported me throughout. Coming from a small 3A school in Galena, a lot of people think you can’t play college football or you can’t do this or that. There may have even been some of my friends that didn’t think I could do this or that, but my family always believed in me. It feels a lot better to prove people right than to prove people wrong. The people you’re proving right have been there and stuck with you the whole time. It feels good to prove them right,” Sarwinski continues, “My coaches put me in positions to make plays. I was able to go out and execute them, and I get to play with a great group of guys. They believe in me and they trust me, and our communication is off the charts.”

Although he was one of the best in the MIAA last season, Sarwinski is aiming to continue to improve in his final year and help the team do something special.

“One thing that coach (Jody) Owens always puts in my mind is to never be satisfied,” Sarwinski adds, “I’m never satisfied. If you’re satisfied, you don’t get better,” Sarwinski continues on his goals this season, “The most important thing is to win the first game, then I want us to win an MIAA championship and a national championship. I just want to be a play-maker and communicate really well. That’s the difference between good teams and great teams, and it’s really important to me.”

He also wants to continue to be a leader and help younger guys in the program learn what it means to be a Gorilla – like the leaders of the program before him.

“I want to be a guy who people can come talk to, especially the young guys,” Sarwinski says, “A lot of the time, they come into college and they get lost. I think having a guy like me or a guy like Brandon or Elijah who can step up and be that voice for them… I think that’s important. There have been so many guys that I have looked up to. I think of a guy like Kaden Roy. He’s one of the best players and probably the best inspirational leader I’ve been able to play with. I think about guys like him…and they make all of this worth it. In college, you basically learn how to be a man together.”

“I just want to enjoy it this year, knowing it’s my last year,” he finishes, “I want to enjoy the memories and enjoy that ride that I’ve gone through.”