For the past 10 years, Chris Liwienski has been living a dream. The 6-5, 321-pound fifth-year pro is not only living out his dream of playing in the NFL (currently with the Minnesota Vikings), but also lived out a dream by playing Big Ten football at Indiana.
First of all, Indiana is a great place to go to school with a beautiful campus, Liwienski said. I learned a lot while I was at Indiana and I got to play Big Ten football, which was a dream of mine growing up. I definitely had a lot of fun at IU.
After being a seventh round pick , 207th overall, of the Detroit Lions in 1998, the Sterling Heights, Mich., native was cut at the end of training camp. He would later sign with the Vikings as part of their practice squad. After spending two years on the practice squad, Liwienski played in 14 games in 2000, making one start against the Chicago Bears.
The former Hoosier right tackle started all 16 games for the Vikings in both 2001 and 2002. He helped anchor an offensive line that led the NFL in rushing last year, as second year running back Michael Bennett posted the second-best single-season rushing performance in team history with 1,296 yards.
I have had my ups and downs in my pro career, Liwienski said. It started with uncertainty being drafted by Detroit and then cut at the end of training camp. I got an opportunity up here with Coach (Mike) Tice, who I worked out for in college. I was on the practice squad for a few years and when I got my opportunity, I made the most of it. I got on the field and established myself as a starter in the league. It really is a dream come true. It was hard to see in the beginning, but I just had to keep my nose to the grindstone.
Liwienski was a three-year starting tackle with the Hoosiers. He played in 43 games, making 36 career starts. He was named the Chris Dal Sasso Award winner, which is given annually to the Indiana offensive lineman who best exemplifies Dal Sassos qualities. Dal Sasso was a three-year letterwinner for the Hoosiers and a captain in 1936. Following his senior season at Indiana, he played in the Hula Bowl.
Coach (Bill) Mallory stressed getting a degree and I think that is important, Liwienski said. Football is a fleeting thing; you are an injury away from your career ending. The academic advisors and Coach Mallory kept us on track and made sure we did what was needed to get a degree. They also taught us how to be professional and accountable for what we did both on and off the field. The coaches taught us the fundamentals and prepared us to play the game of football.
Liwienski said his greatest Indiana moment was beating Purdue, 33-16, for the Old Oaken Bucket in 1996. The Hoosiers carried head coach Bill Mallory off the field in what was his final game on the Hoosier sideline.
Despite the rigors of an NFL schedule, Liwienski said he still finds some time to keep up with his alma mater.
I know they have (Gerry) DiNardo down there coaching now, A.T. (Anthony Thompson) is working with the Varsity Club and Coach Mallory is back working with the University, he said. He was definitely my coach when I was there. I am one of the Mallory Men.
Liwienski values his four years in Bloomington, a town with immediate appeal.
I would describe (Indiana) as a true college experience, Liwienski said. It is a beautiful campus nestled in a small college town. It is located in rural Indiana where the only thing really around is the University. IU is really a special place. It has great history with a lot of neat places on campus. Indiana has something to offer everyone with different extracurricular activities. It is a well-rounded place.
Through his career from Indiana to the Minnesota Vikings, Chris Liwienski has lived a dream both playing Big Ten football and starting in the NFL.