Meisner brothers playing together one last time at IUP
For as long as they can remember, Greg and Shane Meisner have been hearing their dad's heartfelt emotions on and off the football field.
The two brothers, who played for him when he was coach at Hempfield High School, agree that it's been a lot to endure. But both concur with great conviction that their father, former Pitt star and NFL defensive lineman and current Hempfield athletic director Greg Meisner Sr., cares about them beyond words.
That, they insist, means everything.
“It's hard to follow his footsteps because he's been through it,” said Shane, a redshirt sophomore at Indiana (Pa.). “He's taught me everything I know about toughness.”
Following their respective graduations from high school, Meisner Sr. took great pleasure in seeing his sons move on to Division I programs, Greg to Kentucky and Shane to Rutgers. And while things didn't play out perhaps as expected — injuries played a part in Greg's case, while Shane wanted more opportunities to play — there is much joy to go around just the same.
Shane and his older brother Greg, a redshirt senior at IUP, have been reunited on the gridiron one last time, and father Greg can hardly contain his emotions.
“It's all come full circle,” he said, shortly after watching his sons start at opposite ends of the defensive line for Division II IUP in a dominating 33-16 victory over Slippery Rock. “Watching them together, knowing what I know about them — their dedication, their mannerisms, their toughness — it's nice to see them feeding off each other.”
IUP coach Curt Cignetti, whose father, former IUP coach Frank Cignetti, recruited Greg Meisner Sr. out of Pitt while the elder Cignetti was coaching at West Virginia, has been impressed with the Meisner brothers' work ethic so far.
“You're always looking for good players,” Curt Cignetti said. “When you get guys who are good players and good citizens, that's just added leadership and a real plus for your program. Both of those guys are just tough, hard-working guys who do what you ask,”
Is it any wonder, with a candid father the likes of Greg Meisner Sr., who was raised in New Kensington and attended Valley High School before choosing Pitt over West Virginia?
“I can remember when my dad was at WVU, and it was such a close recruiting battle for Greg,” Cignetti said. “He was heartbroken when they didn't get him.”
Greg Sr. reminisces at the mention of that scenario in 1977. He wound up as a defensive tackle, instead, at Pitt and was taken in the third round (63rd overall selection) of the 1981 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams, for whom he played the bulk of his 11-year pro career.
“I went to Curt one day and told him how much he reminded me of his dad,” Greg Sr. said.
After that, things just fell into place at IUP for the Meisner brothers who've combined for 45 tackles through six games for the Crimson Hawks (5-1, 2-1 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference).
“I go to every game, home and away,” father Greg said. “It's no secret, either. I get fired up. I'm pretty boisterous in the stands. I'm sure that my opinions sometimes get overheard, and I'm sure that's not always what a coach down there wants to hear. Sometimes, I'm sure I'm too loud — me and (running back) Harvie Tuck's dad. I've been around football all my life. You get emotionally tied up in the game, especially when you have someone close to you who's playing.”
Greg Meisner Jr. spent four seasons at Kentucky, but earned an extra year when injuries cut short a season. He is a graduate student this year and has made four consecutive starts at defensive end. He is fourth in tackles on the team with 24 and has 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Shane Meisner transferred to IUP after one year at Rutgers and will have two years of eligibility remaining after this season. He started two games at defensive end before being replaced by his brother, then moved back into the starting lineup at the opposite end two weeks ago against Millersville. He has 21 tackles and leads IUP with nine tackles for loss and three sacks.
The brothers are having a blast, they insist, and their father indeed has been a big part of their progression. Greg Jr. shook his head and smiled at the thought of his dad seemingly always lurking.
“You can't stop him. That's his personality,” he said. “When I was at Kentucky, we'd be at camp and he'd be right at the gate, so close to the field, so close to the huddle. I'd say, ‘Dad, you're almost on the field with us.' ”
But the two players can't contain their emotions, either. After all, they're together now, playing the game they love for a father whose love goes well beyond the field.
“I still look up in the stands at him during games, and he'll give me signals on what to do,” Greg Jr. said.
“It's really amazing. It's something I'll never experience again,” he said of the family camaraderie on most Saturday afternoons. “This is probably the most exciting year I've had in any sport. Division I is awesome, but ... this year has been really exciting.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-5617.