Stefen Wisniewski: Born to be a Raider

Stefen Wisniewski, wearing his uncle Steve's jersey in 2000, has followed his family ties to Oakland. Courtesy of Leo Wisniewski

One of Stefen Wisniewski’s most complex childhood decisions was between No. 76 or No. 81.

Should the Western Pennsylvania kid wear his Uncle Steve’s jersey, an ode to both family and his future, or should he go for the glory and honor his favorite non-related Raider, star receiver Tim Brown? The future Academic All-American made the only prudent choice. He wore them both.

“It seemed Stefen was either wearing my brother’s jersey or Tim Brown’s jersey. He was in one of the two,” said his father, Leo Wisniewski. “It seems like this was meant to be.”

This is a unique story of the continued rich Silver and Black tradition in one family, but it’s far from unexpected. Stefen Wisniewski was bound to be a Raider. It was going to happen.

He laughed when told during an interview that he had to be the most predictable No. 48 overall pick in NFL history. The Penn State center/guard admits it. There wasn’t a ton of uncertainty going into the second night of the NFL draft. Wisniewski was expecting to move out West. Perhaps that explains the fact that Wisniewski and his family and friends were donning Raiders’ caps seconds after his selection.

“No, I wasn’t too surprised,” Wisniewski said of his draft night. “I had a real good idea I was going to Oakland. I had some good inside information.”

And now the Raiders will begin the Wiz II era. Wisniewski joins his uncle Steve Wisniewski in the Bay Area. Steve Wisniewski was an eight-time Pro Bowl guard for the Raiders, playing his entire career for the organization. Like his nephew, Wisniewski (acquired in a draft-day trade from Dallas in 1989) was a second-round pick from Penn State.

Stefen Wisniewski (whose first name is an homage to his uncle) was born a month and a day before the Wisniewski-Raiders partnership began. Being around the Raiders is all he has ever known. Leo Wisniewski, a defensive lineman at Penn State who was a second-round pick of the Baltimore Colts in 1982, said he and his family would go to a handful of Raiders games each year. Some of Stefen Wisniewski’s fondest childhood memories were hanging out in the Raiders’ locker room after games.

“Being around the Raiders has always been a great atmosphere,” Stefen Wisniewski said. “I look forward to being around it again.”

For the first time, Stefen Wisniewski will be living close to his uncle. Steve Wisniewski joined the Raiders’ staff in January as assistant offensive line coach. Wisniewski, who was in private business until last year, was on Stanford’s staff last year as a strength and conditioning assistant. Oakland owner Al Davis has long hired former great players as coaches, and Wisniewski, known as one of the NFL’s most ferocious players in his day, fits right in. So does his nephew.

“I didn’t go in there pounding my fist on the table, saying we had to take my nephew,” Steve Wisniewski said. “The staff knew all about him. They came to their own conclusion. If we didn’t take him, some other team would have been very happy to get Stefen. I’m absolutely thrilled Stefen is a Raider.”

He is not alone. On the night Wisniewski was drafted, Oakland head coach Hue Jackson publicly penciled Wisniewski in as the starting center. Wisniewski is similar to his uncle: he's 6-foot-3, 310 pounds and is known as a smart technician who plays to the whistle. He was an All-American on the field last season and a three-time Academic All-American. He should help Oakland’s weakest area right away.

“Stefen is genetically blessed,” said Steve Wisniewski, who flew out to see his nephew play in a Pennsylvania state championship game in high school and while he was with the Nittany Lions. “He’s extremely smart and he was always dominant.”

Steve and Stefen would work on offensive-line drills on vacations as the kid grew up. That was nothing like the day-to-day mentoring Steve Wisniewski is going to give his nephew now. Stefen Wisniewski, who joined his new Oakland teammates in a four-day workout session in Georgia last month, expects his uncle to be a humble teacher who will be stern on him and his offensive line mates. He acknowledged that he was wondered if there will be any perceived nepotism.

“There is a potential complication there, but I’m sure he will make sure to be as hard or, probably even harder, on me than anyone else,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to be around him as he follows his dream, too.”

Of course, the ugly reality of the NFL lockout has stalled the Wisniewski union. Coaches cannot have any contact with players during the lockout. However, there is some allowance for players who are related to coaches to be able to talk about family matters. Just to be sure, Stefen Wisniewski said he and his uncle have not spoken since Wisniewski flew out to Oakland the day after he was drafted. When told that his uncle was interviewed for this story, Stefen Wisniewski playfully asked how his uncle is doing.

He’ll find out at some point. And this time, his Raiders’ jersey of choice will be No. 61 as the Wiz II era begins in Oakland.