COLLEGEVILLE, MINN. – Michael Wozniak describes his grandfather, LeRoy Lilly, as the biggest "Johnnie" of all-time, meaning loyal graduate of St. John's University.
Here's part of the evidence for that:
John Gagliardi arrived as the football coach in 1953. Lilly was in on that, as a junior wingback on offense and lineman on defense.
"My grandpa LeRoy and John … they double-dated," Michael Wozniak said. "John was young and dating Peggy [Doherty], and my grandpa LeRoy and my grandma Colleen were also dating.
"So, that's the story … they went out together a couple of years after my dad played for him."
LeRoy started a tradition where the Lillys and Wozniaks and other family members have attended St. John's and, to some degree, the College of St. Benedict, the adjoining college.
Michael was born in February 2000 and was named in honor of his uncle Mike, the first tremendous soccer player for the Johnnies. He graduated in 1978 with 62 goals, and that remains the school record. He died in 1997 at age 41 from a pulmonary embolism.
"Everyone tells me great things about Uncle Mike," Wozniak said. "He went into the J Club Hall of Honor at our homecoming game this season. That was an excellent moment for our family."
Wozniak has become a much-honored defensive tackle. He was hoping for another excellent family moment tied to the Johnnies on Saturday.
That did not happen. Wozniak's career ended with a 23-20 home loss to Wartburg in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Late in the week, Wozniak was on a phone interview and said it was best to disregard the fact the Johnnies were the No. 1 seed.
"It doesn't matter which team is better on paper when you get to this round of the playoffs," he said. "You are going to have to beat a very good team.
"Wartburg is definitely good enough to beat us. We will have to play our game to win. It's always decided by who shows up."
And it was Wartburg that showed up more consistently Saturday.
Wozniak comes from New Hope and went to Armstrong High. There was no recruiting war, because he was going to follow the family line to St. John's, and the attention aimed at him as a college prospect was modest.
Metoriah Faoliu arrived at the same time from California. They were backups together as freshman defensive tackles in 2018, and became stalwarts of the Johnnies defense for the past two seasons.
In between, Foliu was working his way into the rotation and Wozniak was recovering from a broken hand in 2019, and the pandemic was canceling the 2020 season.
Actually, it was more of a shattered hand than merely broken. "We were playing Stout in the first game of the year in '19, and I had my hand near the side of a helmet," Wozniak said. "And the other Polish guy on the team, Danny Pietruszewski, our great linebacker, came up and smashed the hand with his helmet while going for a tackle.
"I had two surgeries and I wasn't able to do much for a full year. I might not have been full go for 2020, if the pandemic didn't come along."
Wozniak went from two years of inaction to D-III All-America in 2021. And then he opened this season with an outstanding effort vs. powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater and that increased the focus.
At season's end, he was the MIAC Defensive Player of the Year, he's one of 15 finalists for the NCAA's Bill Campbell Award (the academic Heisman) and has been named to the all-division, 22-person Good Works team for football.
Lots of honors, but a hoped-for run ended Saturday in what has to be classified as a well-deserved loss for the Johnnies due to all those mistakes.
Coach Gary Fasching, at a postgame news conference, talked glumly about the loss, and then mentioned the bevy of players that could be returning — including star tight end Alex Larson.
"Michael could come back too … he should do that," Fasching said, looking to his left.
There was no response, but after five falls here, and a finance degree, and good job lined up with what he called the "Johnnie alumni network," Wozniak later reiterated what he said on Friday:
"I love this place, I love my teammates, but I'm done.''