UNIVERSITY PARK -- Stefen Wisniewski may be one of the smartest football players ever to suit up for Penn State, but that hasn't guaranteed him the satisfaction that Joe Paterno knows his name.
Paterno kept calling Wisniewski "Steve" on Tuesday, and that apparently happens all the time. Not that it bothers the senior offensive lineman.
"I've accepted that," Wisniewski said with a laugh. "It's pretty close, really. He actually mangles other guys' names a lot more than that, so I'm happy that it's pretty close."
Steve Wisniewski, as longtime Penn State fans know, is Stefen's uncle and played for Paterno in the 1980s before enjoying a successful NFL career.
"It just happens to be ironic that that was my uncle's name, and he was here 20 years ago," Stefen said during a light-hearted exchange. "[Paterno] knows I'm a different person. I'm pretty sure he can distinguish between the two of us."
Steve Wisniewski was a two-time All-American player as an offensive lineman, but neither he nor any other football player in Penn State history can match Stefen's accomplishment.
On Tuesday, Stefen became the first Nittany Lion football player to earn Academic All-America honors three times. He joins Lady Lion basketball player Kelly Mazzante and wrestler Jim Martin as the only three-time academic honorees -- in all sports -- in school history.
Wisniewski, a secondary education major, is a first-team selection this year, was first team last year and second team in 2008. He also finished second in voting for the Academic All-American of the Year, behind only Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy.
Linebacker Chris Colasanti and defensive end Pete Massaro also earned first-team Academic All-America honors, giving Penn State more selections than any other team in the nation.
"Part of the goals we set out for these kids when they come in is to do a good job academically," Paterno said. "And it's always good to have a couple of kids stand out as these three kids are -- Wisniewski and Massaro and Colasanti, all of whom are good, solid people."
Wisniewski carries a 3.91 GPA and will graduate in December. He has excelled in the classroom despite knowing full well that he's an NFL prospect who should be able to play professionally and not have to worry about academics so much.
"I've always felt that God's given me a tremendous amount of talents, and those talents are football and also academics," Wisniewski said. "I've always felt like it's my responsibility to do the most with the talents that I've been given.
"Just because I might not be using my degree in education any time soon, I really feel like it's my responsibility to do the best that I could with those talents in order to bring glory to God."
Wisniewski has juggled academics and athletics successfully, and Paterno praised him for being able to do everything he needs to do on the field while handling everything he does in the classroom so well.
"I feel like juggling isn't the problem," Wisniewski said. "I feel like there's always enough time in the day to get everything done I need to do, whether it's all my football responsibilities, all my academic responsibilities and then even some extracurricular stuff on top of that.
"I really feel like it's more a question of being committed enough to do everything that you've got to do when no one's making you do it. It's kind of a question of just having the strength to keep doing it 14-hour day after 14-hour day after 14-hour day over and over again."
His hard work on and off the field are about to come to an end at Penn State.
Wisniewski will be one of 18 Lion players to appear in their final game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday against Michigan State.
"It's starting to set in, and it's pretty weird thinking about this being my last time playing in Beaver Stadium," he said. "It's definitely sad. I'm excited to be moving on to the next level, but at the same time, I'm definitely gonna miss this place a lot."
But he sounds like he won't miss the classwork.
"It's getting really close to the end that I can look forward to," he said. "I've got two papers and two finals and I'm done for good, so that's a pretty good feeling."
Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.