How FAU left guard Andrew Czuprynski went from bench boy to steady starter while no one was watching

Rolando Rosa

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If Owls offensive lineman Andrew Czuprynski’s parents didn’t get divorced, he might have never been a college football player.

Czuprynski was in the fifth grade when his parents split up. Right now at 22 years old, he isn’t close to either of them.

“I don’t really have a relationship with my mom,” Czuprynski says. “My dad, I talk to him every now and then.”

Growing up, his brother-in-law Josh Tyson and sister Sophia helped fill the emotional void. It was his sister that prodded him to begin football in the fifth grade as a way to stay out of trouble in an area of Venice, Fla. he calls a “bad neighborhood.”

They took on the role of parenting him, and became his guardians once he reached high school.

“I would change his diapers. I would feed him. I remember the day he was born,” she says. “I raised him. So it’s a different role I took as his sister.”

She explains the reasons Czuprynski struggled to behave before getting into football.

“The problem my brother had is he didn’t have the most traditional upbringing. We lived in a neighborhood that would offer a child the chance to make poor choices. And sometimes he would,” she says before providing a disclaimer. “But, when you have parents who are willing to guide you better, you probably wouldn’t make those poor choices. When he was younger, I was more of a parental figure than a sister.”

Czuprynski wasn’t into sports at the time, but his sister figured she’d throw out the idea of football anyway.

“I asked him about football and he said he’d be willing to try it,” she said.

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Eleven years later, 6-foot-5 Andrew Czuprynski currently holds the longest streak of games played in a row for an Owls offensive lineman (34). Last season, Czuprynski started every game and served as the team captain against FIU. In 2010, he was the only Owls lineman to start every game.

To think, he almost gave up after his first year at FAU.

A lack of playing time had him doubting whether football was a waste of time.

“I didn’t wanna play,” Czuprynski says after experiencing months of sitting on the bench. “My freshman year I almost quit.”

As a consequence of not seeing the field, a giant man felt small.

“Oh, it’s so hard. Because you have doubts. You have doubts that you’re never going to play,” Czuprynski says. “You feel like you’re undersized.”

More than just physical issues, this self-doubt even extends to a psychological level, where insecurity started to creep in.

“You feel like coaches don’t like you,” Czuprynski says. “Because you’re on the scout team and you’re really not getting coached up.”

He leaned on his sister for moral support through the tough times.

“I always tell him when somebody tells you that you can’t, that means that you will,” Sophia said. “Never say you can’t or you won’t. That shouldn’t even be a part of your vocabulary.”

Desperate to play again, as a sophomore Czuprynski had an idea: convert from D-lineman to the O-line.

So Czuprynski went to then-head coach Howard Schnellenberger and made a case.

“We don’t have enough depth at O-line,” Czuprynski pleaded.

The legendary old ball coach had doubts.

“At first,” Czuprynski recalls, “he was hesitant.”

After meeting with him, Czuprynski left Schnellenberger’s office unsure of his playing career, unaware if his dream had disintegrated. A few moments later, the champion pipe smoker summoned him back and uttered the five words he’d been waiting to hear.

“‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”

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Three years later, the rest is history.

Czuprynski battles with defensive linemen to carve out space for the rushing game. It’s something that doesn’t go unnoticed by Owls running backs.

His fellow linemen are impressed by his sheer power.

“He’s real strong,” fellow O-lineman Joseph Bailey said. “I’ve seen Andy take a 330 pound dude and put him on his tail — in games against Lafayette and Georgia, so he holds his own.”

Running back Damien Fortner knows his success has a lot to do with the gaping holes Czuprynski and the rest of the offensive line carve out.

“He’s big to me running the ball. He brings attitude to the line. He’s a pretty feisty guy. Aggressive,” Fortner says. “Travis [Jones], Martese [Jackson], we all really appreciate Andrew.”

Fortner loves the tenacity Czuprynski brings to games, something he feels is contagious to the rest of the team.

“When Andy’s on the field, it’s full blast,” Fortner says. “He’s excited and ready to take somebody’s head off.”

For protecting him, quarterback Graham Wilbert rewards Czuprynski and his unit after games with dinner. It didn’t take long for the quarterback’s wallet to get lighter because of Czuprynski’s massive appetite.

“He’ll take us out to get pizza,” Czuprynski says. “I’ll eat like 30 slices.”

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As a kid, on a regular day you could catch young Andrew doing his favorite activity — skateboarding at the local rink.

“I would drop him off and come back because I didn’t want to see the scary stuff he did,” his sister said. “He didn’t break any bones, thank God.”

However, as he got older, skateboarding became harder to do.

“In seventh, eighth grade because he was so tall, he had to get a bigger board,” his sister said. ”He was pretty good but when he started to get taller it got a little harder.”

Teenage Andy would make his sister buy him a very particular wardrobe every summer before school started.

The only thing he wanted was jeans and band T-shirts.

“He was hell bent on that,” she says with a laugh.

Czuprynski says one of his favorite groups at the time was Underoath.

“I use to go to concerts like every weekend. So I’d have all the bands shirts. I’d always wear pants and a black T-shirt,” Czuprynski said. “Everyday. Doesn’t matter if it was 100 degrees outside.”

Even though his job now is to protect quarterbacks and block for running backs, Czuprynski insists he hasn’t lost his touch after devoting over a decade to football.

“I can get on a skateboard,” Czuprynski says with a sly look on his bearded face.

This man gets down and dirty at one of football’s most unglamorous positions. He does all the little things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. And he can give Tony Hawk a run for his money?

He realizes this could be hard for his teammates to believe.

“No, probably not,” Czuprynski says about if the other players would expect this from him, as he shakes his head in laughter.

“Hey, whatever floats his boat,” Joseph Bailey cracked when learning about Czuprynski’s former past time. “I wouldn’t go on a skateboard though.”

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While he admits his parents divorce affected him earlier in life, Czuprynski holds no resentment toward them.

“At first, yeah, but you gotta grow from everything,” Czuprynski says. “You can’t dwell on something from your past.”

Luke Meadows, his offensive lineman coach, is new to the staff, but already is impressed with what he’s seen on the field this year from Czuprynski.

“He’s a blue collar guy. Whatever he gets he works for. I know that he’s overcome things from his past. There’s people in his life that he cares deeply about,” Meadows says. “He’s a guy that you’re going to want on your team just because you know he’s going to give you everything he’s got.”

Czuprynski may not have his biological parents around, but Sophia and Josh Tyson were more than enough.

“They just worked on me every day trying to make me better when I was younger. Helped me with school,” Czuprynski reminisces. “Just taught me right and wrong basically.”

Now, the cycle is turning and he’s returning the favor.

“Olivia, my daughter, will be on the couch and be like, ‘Can you do my hair?’ And he puts her hair in a ponytail for her,” she says. “I don’t think many guys are going to admit they do that.”

She puts Czuprynski’s situation in perspective. Having a traditional household would have been nice, but she’d rather focus on the way others now view her brother.

“Sometimes when you have parents who are not as proactive in your life, you think something is wrong with you. But then you realize all your best friends parents love you and think that you’re awesome,” she says. “If you meet any of his friends parents that know him, they would tell you that they love him and would love to adopt him.”

Sidebar: Chef Czuprynski

When he’s not scarfing down boxes of pizza, Andrew Czuprynski can throw down in the kitchen. He initially found his way to the kitchen out of necessity as a child.

“When he was probably 10 years old, living with our father, he had to wash his own clothes. So you don’t know many ten year olds that know how to run a washer,” she said. “But my brother did because he had to. He had to learn those skills early in order to have clean clothes or eat dinner at night.”

Just don’t ask him to use red sauce on spaghetti. It’s the only flavor in the world he absolutely hates.  His favorite meal to make is steak and mashed potatoes. Czuprynski jokes that his girlfriend is a lucky woman for getting his cuisine but occasionally he wants her to return the favor.

“I’ll make her cook every once in awhile though,” Czuprynski jokes. “It’s only fair.”

Czuprynski is the designated chef for a group of hungry offensive linemen. Joseph Bailey is quick to point out his favorite from chef Czuprynski.

“Definitely the deer burgers,” Bailey said. “It’s basically deer meat, and he puts onions inside of it and cheese. It’s really good.”

Czuprynski learned from his sister and Josh Tyson growing up. He talks to her at least every other day to discuss whatever is on his mind. He also still reaches out to them when he needs some culinary advice.

“Even now in college he’ll call me or Josh and ask us how to bake something, how hot to cook it,” she says. “Things like that.“

Here’s a couple of recipes, courtesy of Czuprynski:

Andy’s Grilled Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo

Ingredients

4 (5-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons minced garlic

3 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup grated Parmesan (May need additional for desired consistency)

Dash of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Garlic Powder to taste

1 pound cooked fettuccine

2 dashes Cayenne Pepper (or additional for more spicy flavor)

1 stick of butter

1/ 4 cup Parmesan for garnish

Directions
Preheat the grill.
Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and garlic powder and grill chicken on both sides until chicken is cooked through, once cooked slice into thin strips.
Meanwhile, cook pasta as indicated on box.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add garlic and lightly caramelize.  Add the heavy cream, butter, a few dashes of garlic power and cayenne pepper (to desired taste), increase the heat to a simmer and reduce the cream sauce slightly.  Stir in 3/4 cup of grated parmesan (more cheese may be necessary to achieve desired consistency).
Pour pasta into a large serving bowl, pour sauce over pasta and mix thoroughly, place chicken slices on top and garnish with remaining Parmesan cheese.

Sticky Buns

Ingredients

24 pack of premade “Rhodes” rolls

1 cup of melted butter (2 sticks)

1 cup + 2 Tbsps. of brown sugar

1 -2 tablespoons of cinnamon

1 cup chopped nuts

Directions
Place 24 rolls in bundt pan (let rise overnight.)
Mix melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts, pour over top of rolls.  Place pan on cookie sheet
(Next Morning)
Spray aluminum foil with non-stick spray and lightly set over rolls. (So top will not burn).
Bake at 350° for 25 minutes, remove foil and bake for 8-10 minutes longer, until done.