Long before Stephen Schwicke emerged as Stony Brook's leading linebacker, his very extended family would come to watch him not play in his redshirt freshman year of 2006.
That's unconditional support to the nth degree.
Schwicke's family was out in force last night for the Seawolves' home opener against Brown, and they saw plenty. Schwicke had an interception that set up a touchdown in the first half and made three solo tackles in Stony Brook's 21-20 victory. The 6-1, 240-pound junior leads the defense with 28 tackles in three games.
The Schwicke family begins with matriarch Rose Mary Mango, Stephen's grandmother, who has her arm in a sling from recent surgery. "She is my hero. I don't know how she does it," Schwicke said. "She has replaced hips, she just had shoulder surgery and she comes to my games."
Patriarch Jack Mango, with a strong resume in youth league football, offers equal inspiration, Stephen said of his grandfather. "There was a 7-year-old boy on one of his first teams," Schwicke said. "His father was in the service and never home, so my grandfather picked him up and dropped him home every day."
That boy was Tony Thompson, now Stony Brook's defensive line coach. "He said that being with my grandfather changed his life," Schwicke said.
Also in the stands are Schwicke's parents, Steve and Jacqui; twin brothers Kevin and Robbie, both of whom are starting linebackers at Bellport High School; uncle Jim Mango, an assistant coach at North Babylon, and uncle Ken Schwicke. Ken flies to wherever his nephew is playing, accompanied by Aunt Mary and her 5-year-old son Kenneth, Stephen's godson. Then there are nephews, friends of the family, and former and current Bellport players.
"I acknowledge them. I'm not going to ignore them," Stephen said. "They are here for me."
This family scene is repeated at Bellport High School games, where Schwicke's parents often have a pizza party for the varsity. They also run the Bellport youth league in the tradition of grandpa Jack, who ran the Hauppauge Youth Organization and is on the board of the Police Athletic League in Suffolk.
"This really is a football family," Jacqui Schwicke said. "We have a plaque that reads 'we interrupt this family for football season.' July through November is all about football."
This past week, the family attended Bellport's game at North Babylon. It pitted the Schwicke twins against their uncle's team. North Babylon won, but because it was family, no one really lost.
Stephen once dreamed of playing major-college football, saying: "I wanted to play in front of 100,000 fans. But I'll never be able to trade the experiences I got here, the support from my family, friends and community. Just the chance to go home on a Sunday and give my mom a hug, I'm very grateful. I'm glad I'm around here."