Mike Wysocki on killer robots, Scottish fabrics and Carnegie Mellon football | The Cheap Seats | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Mike Wysocki on killer robots, Scottish fabrics and Carnegie Mellon football

It’s tough to get recognition at an institution that emphasizes engineering, drama, robotics, computer science and the fine arts over football.

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When you start naming the football teams located in this city, the Carnegie Mellon Tartans probably isn’t the first one to come to mind. Or the 11th. In fact, it probably won’t hit you until after you rattle off a few high school squads. Some people might think that CMU doesn’t even have a team, or that, if it does, maybe it is made up of robots.

Mike Wysocki - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • Mike Wysocki

Tartans football began in 1906, just six years after the founding of the university. The program has amassed more than 500 victories, and nearly 200 of those have come under current head coach Rich Lackner. Mount Lebanon native Lackner has been running the program since the Reagan administration, another fact you probably didn’t know. It’s tough to get recognition at an institution that emphasizes engineering, drama, robotics, computer science and the fine arts over football. I don’t know what’s wrong with them.

Also, “Tartans” is not exactly an overused team nickname like Wildcats or Tigers. It just might be the only football program at a level higher than high school to be named after a Scottish fabric pattern. It’s just a fancy word for plaid. It’s the pattern worn by famous Scots like Sean Connery, Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Proclaimers and Groundskeeper Willie. But don’t underestimate this team because of its fashion-forward nickname. Recently, the Tartans have demolished Grove City 44-0, and Bethany College 56-38; that’s a cool hundred points in two games. This might be the most explosive offense in town. 

Lackner is looking to bounce back from a couple of subpar seasons. This year’s team is led by sophomore running back Sam Benger. He hails from Hingham, Mass., and checks in at 5’8” and 175 pounds — not the usual size of a dominating back. This season, Benger became just the fourth running back in 109 years at CMU to rush for 1,000 yards in a season — and he did that in just the first six games. 

On the defensive side, watch out for sophomore inside linebacker Stanley Bikulege, a chemical-engineering major from Greer, S.C. He’s a smartypants from the same hometown as DMX. Another sophomore having a good season is Davenport, Iowa, native Brian Khoury. This guy is a beast, as the kids say today, on the defensive line. But the most talented member of the Tartans’ tenacious defense is senior Nico Cosma. The linebacker from Connellsville crushes everyone who comes near him. 

Gesling Stadium is the home of the Tartans, and the team still has a few home games remaining this season. Cosma and Benger alone are worth checking out, and you will get to be surrounded by smart and/or rich people. On Nov. 7, CMU hosts the University of Chicago, the alma mater of Bernie Sanders and a couple other famous folks. But CMU gave us Lenny and Squiggy, Ted Danson, Holly Hunter and Ethan Hawke. 

On Nov. 14, Case Western Reserve University (please shorten your name) comes to town. The CWRU Spartans tangle with the Tartans. But the Spartans are from Cleveland, so it is a safe assumption that they will lose. I researched famous people from Case Western Reserve University and the only recognizable name besides Don Shula was the guy who invented Craigslist. Thanks for that, CWRU. I’ve only read about good, positive things happening on Craigslist.

You won’t see highlights from CMU players on ESPN or even local news. But you also won’t see them on the news getting arrested every couple of weeks. CMU is a proud university that I’m sure is right now constructing the robots that will eventually take over the world and kill us all. But until that happens, get out and support Tartans football while you still can.


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