Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Just your average Joe?
Not hardly. Not by a long, long shot.
Joe Ostman has been a lot of things in his life: unheralded, a scholar-athlete, a champion, a star, a good teammate, a leader, a good brother, a good son.
He soon may add professional football player to his resumé.
“I’ve said before, Joe is the model student-athlete,” CMU football coach John Bonamego said of Ostman, his standout senior defensive end. “He’s what you want on and off the field, in the community. He’s got an unbelievable work ethic. When you combine talent with work ethic and an insatiable desire to succeed, that’s a tough combination.”
Ostman will play his final game in a Central Michigan uniform sometime in the next few weeks. He and his teammates will learn their holiday destination on Sunday when the bowl pairings are announced.
For Ostman, it will be the end of an almost mythical story, the final chapters of which may ultimately be written on Sundays in NFL stadiums.
A native of the village of Mackinaw City at the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula, Ostman and his sister, Abbey, crossed the mighty Mackinac Bridge – Michigan’s most recognizable landmark – daily on the commute to school in St. Ignace, the first town one comes to in the Upper Peninsula.
To most, the Straits of Mackinac – where the lakes Huron and Michigan converge underneath the bridge – is a summertime destination, a place to play, escape the heat of downstate Michigan, eat ice cream and fudge, and then ferry over to the state’s No. 1 tourist attraction, Mackinac Island.
The Ostmans, owners of the Mackinaw Bakery, are one scores of families in the region for whom 80-hour work weeks during the tourist season are common. Everybody pitches in, and a stubborn work ethic is woven into the DNA of those who call the region home.
“Pretty much grew up working (at the bakery),” Ostman says. “Helping dad in back, odd jobs. Once I was in the third grade I started a cleanup job. Every day after school. Wash dishes, clean tables. About three hours (a day).”
Even now, as Ostman has blossomed into a football star with legitimate designs on a professional career, he’s still “Joey” back home in Mackinaw and St. Ignace. And he still knows his place in the family hierarchy, where he is Joe's and Angie's son, Abbey's brother. Some things are ingrained, such as rising at 3 a.m. to go to work at the bakery or staying up all night over Labor Day weekend to prepare for the tsunami of customers in town for the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk.
Expectations and responsibility have a way of keeping one focused and grounded.
“When I go home I help, I take the load off as much as I can,” says Ostman, responding as if there would never be a question as to what his role is back home.
Clearly, that drive has translated well some 160 miles south to Mount Pleasant.
“It’s rare that you find somebody that has those type of experiences,” CMU coach John Bonamego said of Ostman’s background. My hat’s off to anyone that works a job like that. To get that experience early in life and to understand what that really means is very valuable, very beneficial.”
Ostman carries a 3.68 grade point average and is majoring in general management. He has twice been named Academic All-Mid-American Conference and is a shoo-in to earn that distincition this season. He is a three-time all-conference honoree.
His name is prominent among the candidates for virtually every national award that honors the well-rounded student-athlete, including the William V. Campbell Trophy, which goes to the best football scholar-athlete in the nation. He is just the third in CMU history to make list behind Cooper Rush (2016) and Bob Stebbins (1987).
On the field, Ostman is tied for second among all FBS players with 12 sacks, he shares the national lead with 1.20 sacks per game, he has recorded 18.5 tackles-for-loss, which ranks seventh nationally, and he ranks fourth nationally with 1.9 tackles-for-loss per game.
His next game will be his last in a Chippewa uniform, and he will leave as the second-ranked sack man in program history. He has epitomized student-athlete and leader during his time at CMU. He is scheduled to play in the East-West Shrine All-Star Game and he is hoping for an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine and then to hear his name called on draft day in April.
“I think he’s got a great opportunity,” said Bonamego, who coached as an assistant in the NFL for 16 years before taking over as CMU’s head coach in 2015. “Everybody who comes through here asks questions about him. It might involve a position switch for him, which I think he is perfectly capable of doing.”
If Ostman’s phone does not ring on draft day, he can draw motivation and hope form his former teammate and good friend, Rush. The former Chippewa quarterback went undrafted last spring, then signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys mere hours after the conclusion of the draft. Today, he is the club’s backup quarterback.
Don’t count out Ostman. He, like Rush, had just one scholarship offer – and that came from CMU -- coming out of St. Ignace, where he was a dominant force on the football field and on the wrestling mat, winning three individual state titles.
Ostman, like Rush, will leave CMU as one of its all-time best football players. And one of its best citizens.
“I knew I wanted to become the best I could be and just work hard at it and see what happens,” Ostman says. “I’m just thankful for the way things have worked out and for the opportunities I’ve been given here.”