MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Nick Kwiatkoski isn’t looking forward to Sept. 14.
That day, his beloved Mountaineers are hosting one of his closest personal mentors as former West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will return to Milan Puskar Stadium with NC State.
“I saw NC State on the schedule, but I haven’t even thought about that [part],” said Kwiatkoski, a West Virginia linebacker from 2011-15. “Gibby, I’m very close with him. He did a lot for me and my career. It’s going to be tough. That’s gonna be something I have to figure out when the time comes.”
Kwiatkoski is considerably more eager for the upcoming weekend.
Other than a brief foray to the football facility for WVU’s recent Pro Day, the Chicago Bear hasn’t been back in town since last year. Saturday morning, he’ll be helping with former Mountaineers quarterback Jeff Hostetler’s 5K run and walk. The second annual event benefits the WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital.
“Seeing what those kids are going through first-hand when I was in Morgantown, it’s a good relationship to have with the hospital and football team,” Kwiatkoski said. “It’s something I wanted to stay involved in even though I’m not there.”
Following the 5K, Kwiatkoski is ready to see what the Mountaineers will look like under new head coach Neal Brown in the spring game.
Like many former West Virginia defensive players, Kwiatkoski openly advocated for Gibson to get the job after Dana Holgorsen’s depature for Houston. But any initial disappointment is fading based on what he’s seen thus far from Brown.
“From the outside looking in, it all seems great, the whole culture change around the building,” Kwiatkoski said. “I think what the coaches are doing is great.”
Kwiatkoski has seen first-hand how much a first-year coach can change a culture. After going through two losing seasons in Chicago, Kwiatkoski and the Bears won the NFC North under new head coach Matt Nagy last year.
“It was a complete turnaround this year from previous years. It can be a major impact,” Kwiatkoski said of the coaching change. “From my experience, coaching changes have worked out. It can be a great thing.”
Kwiatkoski made the most of many changes in his third year with the Bears. Last spring, Chicago used its first-round pick on a player at his inside linebacker position – Georgia’s Roquan Smith.
“I didn’t let it change how I approached things,” Kwiatkoski said. “I knew it would be more competition. That’s part of the NFL. Guys are coming in and leaving all the time. I tried to make the most of each day. I worked on what I needed to work on.”
Kwiatkoski proved himself an asset on special teams after Smith took over the starting linebacker role. Thanks to Nagy’s play-calling creativity, he also found himself in an unexpected spot in Week 17. Kwiatkoski caught a pass for the first time since high school on a successful 2-point conversion attempt against the Vikings.
Linebackers can score 2-point conversions too.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 30, 2018
“That was a highlight of my NFL career so far,” he said. “I did not expect that at all. It was a great experience.”
Kwiatkoski joined an unlikely group that included offensive tackle Bradley Sowell and 332-pound defensive tackle Akiem Hicks in scoring for the Bears last year.
“It’s a blast,” Kwiatkoski said. “The defense, offensive linemen, a D-lineman scoring a rushing touchdown. It’s fun. It’s awesome. When you see Akiem Hicks score a touchdown, the whole defense is rooting for him from the sideline. The whole team gets into it.”