Chase Winovich doesn’t remember much about August of 2004, when his older brother left home to play football at Bowling Green State University. All he remembers was the sadness.
“I was so young, but it was a pretty emotional time in my life,” Winovich said. “All I could think was, ‘I’m losing my hero!’ I was six or seven years old at the time, but he was the guy I looked up to, my role model. That’s all I knew, that he was leaving.”
Winovich got used to that absence, but 10 years later, he needed his only brother again. He had his own path to navigate toward becoming a college football player. His brother knew what that path entailed.
Wednesday is national signing day, when recruits make their college choices official by putting their signatures on a letter of intent. Winovich, a linebacker from Pittsburgh’s south suburbs, is expected to be part of Michigan’s incoming 2014 freshman class.
When he arrives on campus later this year, he’ll be less than an hour away from his older brother, Peter, a former tight end at Bowling Green who is now a financial adviser in Toledo.
“Having a support system like that nearby, like Peter and [his wife] Kristin, they’re two of my biggest fans, and I’m blessed to have them and that connection so close,” said Winovich, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound linebacker at Thomas Jefferson High School in Jefferson Hills, Pa. “I’m far enough away from home and from my parents to really become my own man, but I’m close enough to be near family. If I needed someone, they’re there for me.
"And if they weren’t so close, it might have been a game-changer.”
In fact, Peter Winovich helped mentor his younger brother — one of four children in their family — through the recruiting process, which can be heady for an 18-year-old.
Never mind being the big man on campus. A top-notch football recruit nowadays has thousands of Twitter followers, can be inundated with media requests, and has his every move on the football field analyzed by online scouting and recruiting services. Add to that the responsibilities that come with being a student and a football player who has to focus on contributing to his team each season.
“The process was really, really hectic and put strain on me,” he said. “It was about trying to comprehend my future, and it was kind of a pressure cooker. Schools want to know, ‘what do you want to do?’ ”
That was a far cry from what Peter Winovich experienced when he committed to Bowling Green in January of 2004, his senior year at Thomas Jefferson.
“With the age difference between Chase and I, I’ve taken on a mentoring role with my baby brother,” said Peter Winovich, who works for Wilcox Financial in Toledo. “I was more forward in my conversations with Chase, but I learned through this process to take more of a back seat.”
Chase Winovich is ranked as a four-star linebacker by several online recruiting services. In his senior year at Thomas Jefferson, he had 57 tackles and 13 sacks at linebacker and ran for 981 yards and 16 touchdowns at running back.
Per 247Sports.com, Pittsburgh was the first program to offer Winovich a scholarship, and his decision came down to Michigan, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh.
“When he hinted in the direction that he wanted to go in, my take was, ‘once you know, you don’t have to be rushed for time,’ ” Peter said. “Take a night to sleep on it. Envision yourself at that school and when you wake up, see if it’s still the place you want to go.”
Chase can’t remember the exact instance when he decided that, yes, he was going to give a verbal commitment to Michigan.
“But I remember being in my room and it just clicked,” he said. “What was the point of delaying the inevitable? I knew where I wanted to go. I walked downstairs and said to my dad, ‘I’m committing to this school.’ ”
When Winovich came down to his final decision, he took the advice his older brother gave him.
“For me to draw on him, if every kid has someone like that in their life and in the recruiting process, they’re blessed,” Chase said. “Without having that person to help give them advice and help answer those questions, it adds another difficulty to that process."