Penn State Football: Olaniyan & Zwinak Bring Law & Order to Offseason
Too often we hear about athletes who end up in the back seat of a police car.
Here’s a story of two good ones from Penn State who sit in the front seat, riding shotgun. For all the right reasons.
Their names are C.J. Olaniyan and Zach Zwinak, a pair of fifth-year Nittany Lion football players.
They’re stand-out athletes who are stand-up guys. And they are spending a good part of their summer learning the ins and outs of doing good.
Both have already earned their undergraduate degrees in criminology and now head into their final season of eligibility as key players for James Franklin, their third head coach in their half-decade at University Park.
This summer, along with prepping for the 2014 football season by working out every day, the pair is getting OTJ real-world training. Both are riding along and doing office work with Officer Anthony Roefaro and others in the Spring Township Police Dept., which patrols the area around Bellefonte, mainly to the south and including Pleasant Gap.
They’re All-Spring Township P.D., all right.
“Those two guys are very mature, respectful and bright,” says Roefaro, a 20-year veteran of the force who also went to Penn State. “They’re good at taking orders, while at the same exhibiting signs of being a leader. So there’s no doubt they’re good football players.
“But in the police car now, they’re leaving that whole other side behind. They’re learning common sense, the basics of law enforcement, treating people like they want to be treated. That last one is big part of what we do and what we want them to learn.”
LONG LINE OF LIONS
Roefaro has had a strong relationship with Penn State football for nearly two decades – in a good way. He’s mentored players, overseen interns, organized charity events and been a conduit between PSU football and community programs like D.A.R.E., working with a host of PSU coaches along the way – especially Larry Johnson Sr. Sean Mayer was one of the first players who did ride-alongs with Roefaro. The list includes Johnson’s sons, Gerald Cadogan, Nathan Stupar, Robbie Gould, Stefen Wisniewski, Navorro Bowman, and Anthony Adams.
Some did it for one ride, others for an entire semester. Zwinak is working with the Spring Township police for credits, logging up to 60 hours a week in the squad car and in police headquarters. Olaniyan is doing it for the experience and as a resume-builder, but is still putting in significant time.
Both players are the strong, silent types. In other ways, they differ.
Zwinak is a grizzly, country music-loving, red-bearded, 233-pound fullback from Frederick, Md., who rushed for 1,000 yards in 2012 and 989 more in 2013. The bald-headed Olaniyan, already a father, is from Warren, Mich., Detroit’s largest suburb and he looks – and acts – wiser than his 23 years. A defensive end, Olaniyan led Penn State in sacks (five, for minus 45 yards) in 2013, and forced three fumbles, recovered a fumble, returned an interception 33 yards and deflected two passes.
“They’re big guys, tough guys, really nice guys from different walks of life,” said Roefaro. “When we get in the police car, though, they’re different from other college kids. It’s a great experience, being through the fire like that.”
Olaniyan agrees: “This will help me for the future, to get into what I want to do. I’m thinking about getting involved in the agency aspect of the criminal justice system – the CIA, FBI, that kind of thing.”
Toward that end, he’s volunteering up to 25 hours a week with Roefaro and Co. Dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, Olaniyan does a ride-along several times a week. Roefaro is quick to point out that the students are mostly observers and must sign a waiver, but do assist at times and in ways that anyone in the general citizenry would legally permitted to do.
“Zach has been riding with one of our younger policeman,” Roefaro said, “and there was a stop for a DUI. The man that was being arrested was being put into the police car and was trying to kick the arresting officer. So Zack held the man’s leg and helped get him under control.”
Olaniyan offered a hand in a different manner earlier in the summer. When an African-American woman declined to talk to the Spring Township police after an incident, they enlisted Olaniyan’s aid.
“It was a case where a woman of color didn’t feel comfortable talking with Caucasians,” said Olaniyan, who is of African descent – his full name is Kazeem Kayode Olaniyan. “So they asked me to be a part of it and talk with her. She gave us only a little information, but it was a start. I felt good about it.”
Zwinak is not known for being a big talker, in the locker room or with the press. But he’s found his niche in Spring Township. “Since Zach started the internship, C.J. tells me he’s come out of his shell,” Roefaro said. “He’ll come into the station to talk with the guys even when he’s not scheduled to.”
Before their stints with the cops end, they want to do one more thing to be just like their new colleagues. Get tazered.
"Zach and C.J. plan to get tazed because they want to be like us -- we all had to be tazed to be certified," Roefaro said. "They want it to be filmed and shown to the team. It's for street cred."
TICKET TO SUCCESS
Roefaro says he gets a lot out of his mentoring of students like Olaniyan and Zwinak, in some ways that are unexpected. “When we’re on a ride, we’ll really get to know each other,” he said. “C.J. and I have talked about religion, for example. We have different faiths, but we’ve also discovered they have similarities.”
Roefaro says his wife Stephanie feels more comfortable having the football players accompany her husband on his 10-hour shifts that sometimes go deep into the night on back country roads.
“I’m often riding alone, so it’s nice to know those guys have my back.” Roefaro said. “I tell my wife that if comes down to hand-to-hand, I feel 110% better with them along.”
Roefaro understands the football life. He was a high school fullback and linebacker while growing up in Altoona. His dad was a college coach and his son Tony is now a four-star high school long snapper.
So he – more than most -- hopes guys like Olaniyan and Zwinak learn a lesson that is larger than being a Nittany Lion.
“Football’s nice,” Roefaro says. “But this is real life.”