A different type of play: Former Winona State football player, current musician brings a different set of skills to homecoming

October 5, 2018

Ten years ago, Winona native Brandon Stanek played running back for the Winona State University Warriors football team.

Now he’s coming back to play. But not on the field.

Instead he’ll be playing his guitar.

Stanek is the lead singer for a band called County Line Drive out of Rochester, and on Saturday during the Warrior Game Day Experience the band will be performing as a way to bring some extra energy to the field. Along with the live performance, the day will also include inflatable bounce houses for kids, giveaways, tailgating, a junior warrior kids zone, food trucks, and the Warrior Walk, in which the echo of cheers will follow the players as they walk onto the field for their homecoming game against the University of Mary at 2 p.m. The fun begins at 11 a.m. and goes until game time on WSU’s campus.

“It’s a really cool atmosphere they’ve built there,” said Stanek, whose band has performed at the event before. “It’s a cool place where former players, current players, alumni and fans all come together and can prepare themselves to cheer on the warriors.”

Even though the band has played for an audience of a many as 11,000 before, Stanek said it’s absolutely a big deal to come back and be a part of the day.

“Whenever we play at our hometown,” Stanek said. “We wanna bring our A game and put on the best show that we can.”

And it’s especially big for Stanek. Whenever he steps back onto campus it’s a time for him to reconnect with old friends, old football teammates, and a community that is close to his heart.

For a moment Stanek — a kindergarten teacher and football coach in Rochester — reminisced about the days of being on the football team.

“The culture that Coach (Tom) Sawyer has built there and the camaraderie there, is like a brotherhood,” he said, adding that many of them still have frequent contact with each other.

Stanek may have only played for two years before switching his focus to school work and music, but it had an impact on him. Now instead of finding the thrill of the game and the audience through football, it’s with music.

“It’s exciting,” Stanek said. “It’s fun to have that interaction with the crowd. You kinda psych yourself up as if it’s a game.”

Sawyer, who recruited Stanek out of Winona Senior High School, said it’s great to see the man that Stanek has become.

“He is a high-level guitar player,” Sawyer said. “A great young man. A great young father.”

Sawyer said it was really awesome to be able to recruit him in a different way — as the band to play at the game day experience.

“It’s really cool for me to have one of my guys,” Sawyer said. “Any time I can involve our alumni ... it’s just a deeper connection.”

It also shows possible recruits what kind of energy and camaraderie they’d be signing up for, he said.

“It shows our recruits and other people on campus that the relationships we build are real,” Sawyer said.

Overall, Sawyer said the game day experience has been a great team effort by the university, and he’s excited for what it does for his players.

“It absolutely makes you feel like you’re a Division I-level athlete,” he said as he relayed a statement he heard one of his players say earlier Thursday.

That’s especially true during the Warrior Walk, where fans surround Johnson Street and cheer on the team, coaches, dance team and cheer team as they head onto the field. Sawyer said last year a person could hear the cheers four blocks away.

“My whole deal was to get everybody from 5 or 6 years old to 90 years old to have the ability to be part of (it),” said Sawyer, who was one of two people who came up with the idea for the game day experience. “I wanted our game day to be an experience rather than just a game.”

Stanek may not have gotten to have the same experience as the football team does now, but he’s sure glad to be on the other side cheering them on.

“The community, the culture that it builds for the team when those players walk down through the crowd,” he said. “It’s phenomenal.”

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