Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale is eerily quiet. The hustle and bustle of over three thousand students, Pre-K through 12th Grade, will awaken in a couple of hours, but for right now, its peaceful. Not a soul around… or so one might think.
A little past Banks Field, Pine Crest’s football practice “facility”, is the weight room and from it shines a lonely little light.
Open the doors and there’s a single person in the room, the sweat dripping from his face as the incredibly heavy load he’s carrying makes its way up and back down to the floor. The only thing louder than the banging of the massive plates on the ground is the music blaring from the speakers overhead.
With a full day of school, practice and homework waiting for him, Michael Cibene was working towards his dream in the wee small hours of the morning.
Thanks to his tremendous dedication, his dream is now his reality.
“I’m a strong believer in if you work hard and are passionate about your dreams, you’ll be able to conquer any obstacle that stands in your way,” Cibene said. “Ohio State didn’t just hand me a spot on the team. I had to prove my value to the program and I’m blessed they found value in me.”
In the fall of 2013, Cibene joined the Ohio State football team as a walk-on player and it was something that he, nor one of the most special people in his life could believe.
“I will never forget the day where I got the call that I would be joining the team once school started,” Cibene said. “ I remember hanging up from the phone call and then realizing what just happened. The first person I told was my grandfather. He and I talked for a very long time about the impact and the drastic change that would take place in my life.”
Michael’s grandfather, Stephen Mehallis, an Ohio State graduate and someone Michael refers to as his best friend, was speechless when he heard the news.
“There’s no way in the world,” Mehallis said, “I could have fast-forwarded to where we are right now. He took an opportunity and made the most of it.”
Mehallis took Michael to his first Ohio State game after the 2002 National Championship season and instantly, he had a hunch that Cibene made a very real connection.
“I could tell. His reaction to the whole stadium atmosphere, to the school, to the campus, running up to Conrad’s on his own, I knew that he had a passion for it,” Mehallis said. “In the back of my mind, I always felt like he wanted to come here.”
While he was thrilled that his grandson felt at home at his alma mater, Stephen, or “Stu” as Michael likes to call him, never pushed Michael towards Ohio State. Michael, he said, gravitated towards the school himself.
“What I didn’t want him to do,” Mehallis explained, “was to do it for me or anyone in my family. I didn’t want to force it on him. I wanted him to be in the position where he could make his own choices as to where he wanted to go.”
Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Michael grew up with a strong belief that he could in fact play for Ohio State. Originally, it seemed a pipe dream, even to his beloved grandfather. As his tremendous work ethic only continued to grow, however, Michael started turning heads in his direction.
Two of those heads were Michael’s brothers, each of whom look up to the tremendous work ethic and love of their brother.
Matthew Cibene, now a senior in high school, saw what his brother was doing and the dedication his brother showed pushed him to work harder as well.
“Michael has always been somebody that I will always look up to and someone who has always been a leader to me,” Cibene said. “He is the model person. Michael has always been the best leader and the best role model for me.”
In fact, Matt said, he even chose to wear the same number 72 that Michael wore in high school to show how much his brother means to him.
“I was a little hesitant at first to pick it,” Cibene said. “I chose number 72 because that (Michael) was everything I wanted to be as a high school football player and more. I wanted to grow Michael’s shoes and take it the next step further and make him proud by doing that.
While he is a bit younger than his older brothers, Cibene’s other brother, Mark Cibene, was equally as impressed with his brother’s character and work ethic.
As Michael entered his freshman year at Ohio State as a walk-on, he didn’t really know what to expect. Now most of the way through it, however, he says the experience has taken a toll.
“To be honest, the season has been more mentally difficult than physical,” Cibene said. “Having an 8 AM class every day coupled with the morning lifting takes a toll on my mind. On top of all the football responsibilities, I am still a student trying to earn a degree in four years. Sometimes the last thing in the world you want to do (after practice) is homework or study for a test.”
Whenever he is struggling, there is one thing he relies on more than anything other. More than his beloved grandfather, his parents or even his brother. That, Cibene says, is his devout faith in Jesus Christ.
“I’ve gone to prayer countless times,” Cibene said, “to ask God for strength, courage and patience and He has answered every prayer.” It’s this devout faith, in God, in himself, in those around him, that has helped Michael to do some extraordinary things.
After Ohio State’s win against Michigan on Saturday, Michael began to dream again, just as he has his whole life. With his first goal past him, there’s another in sight. While he hasn’t put on the pads for the Buckeyes during a game this season, next year, he says, that is exactly what he is going to do.
“I’m a competitor and plan to make an impact next season,” Cibene said with fervor. “Whether it is on the field or in practice, I want to continue to make this team better to compete for Big Ten and National Championships.”
For those who know Michael- his grandfather, his parents, his brothers, his friends- they wouldn’t doubt, for even a second, that Michael will make his next dream come true.
For now, however, Michael will keep pounding away. He’ll continue to grind through studies, through practices and through the pain that comes with the duties of a walk-on athlete. Through it all, he’ll make time for the things that are most important to him: Christ, his family and his friends. One day, Cibene will make it onto the field for the Buckeyes and make some big time plays and when he does, it will be a testament his resilient and brilliant character and to the man that Michael Cibene has become.