Michael Hnatkowsky could have graduated college in May.
But he had some unfinished business to take care of.
Hnatkowsky, a Bustleton resident and Penn Charter graduate, had racked up massive numbers at Muhlenberg College prior to his senior year.
He had school records for touchdown passes in a career (97), passing yards in a season (3,640), passing TDs in a season (46), total offense in a season, total yards, total touchdowns in a season, efficiency rating in a season, competitions in a season, attempts in a season and touchdowns in a game. He also shattered every passing record by a freshman.
But one thing he didn’t have was a senior season. At least before this year.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 football season for many colleges, including Muhlenberg. That meant Hnatkowsky missed what was supposed to be his senior campaign. He was on pace to graduate, but he knew that if he didn’t come back for one more season, he knew he’d always wonder what would have happened.
“That definitely caused that little fire in my belly to come back,” Hnatkowsky said. “Before going into it, I had to see if it would work financially. The school made it happen. I’m taking one class and I’m able to play football with my friends and I’ll graduate in December. It worked out perfectly for me.”
Hnatkowsky stayed sharp during the long layoff, working out just off campus when he was staying in Allentown, or in local playgrounds, including the turf field in Lower Moreland when he was home.
“It was hard finding places because, with the turf fields, a lot of them had fences you couldn’t get in,” Hnatkowsky said. “And we couldn’t use anything at the school. We had to find places to work out. But we were able to do that, so I was able to put in some work and get some throws in.”
Whatever he did to stay sharp, it worked.
This year, in five games (four victories), Hnatkowsky has thrown for more than 1,700 yards with 18 touchdowns. He’s run for another.
In the Mules’ most recent game, a 54-19 triumph over Gettysburg on Oct. 2, Hnatkowsky threw for 402 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. For his efforts, he was named the Centennial Conference player of the week for the seventh time in his career.
But just as he distributes the ball to Muhelnberg receivers, he throws the praise to all of the men around him.
“I feel really good,” Hnatkowsky said. “A lot of that comes down to preparation. Our quarterbacks coach and our head coach are always on the same page. I work with them a lot and they always have me prepared.
“It also helps to be on the same page with receivers and running backs and the offensive line. They are a big part of any success I have. We have eight or nine guys who came back this year to play, so we’re all working hard. The way it ended, ending it abruptly, we felt we had more to do. We didn’t want to go out, we wanted to go out on our terms, not because there was a global pandemic.”
He also credits his high school for helping him at Muhelnberg.
“Penn Charter really prepares you for college, academically,” Hnatkowsky said. “When I got to college, I was ready with time management. And with football, the coaches at Penn Charter really prepare you. I think Penn Charter had a lot to do with me being ready to play, especially as a freshman.”
Hnatkowsky puts in a lot of time and effort to prepare for the games, and this year, he’s as fortunate as ever.
He’s taking just one class to graduate. That means he has plenty of time to work with his coaches to be ready for Saturday.
“I always watched a lot of film, but this year, I have so much more time because I’m only taking one class,” Hnatkowsky said. “I always did, but this year, I have so much time.”
For the time being, the only thing Hnatkowsky has to worry about is one class and football, at least until graduation. Once the semester is over, he already has a perfect job lined up. He’ll work as a producer for Johnson, Kendall & Johnson.
“I’m really fortunate, I had an internship there and I learned so much and they offered me a job,” Hnatkowsky said. “They call it a producer role, it’s basically a sales person in training. I found out I got the job the Friday before the season. It’s been great. I know I like the company, it’s a great place to work and I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just focus on football and my class.”
He’s hoping this could lead to a memorable senior year, and he’s happy he can share it with his teammates. He’s also happy to share it with his family, including his parents and his two sisters.
“My parents have been to every game I’ve played, they’re so supportive,” Hnatkowsky said. “My sister (Lexi) goes to most of my home games. My younger sister (Katelyn) is at Penn State, but she’s coming to a game. It’s hard for her.
“I’ve had so much support. All year, I’ve been getting texts from people I haven’t seen. This year has been surreal. I’m very lucky to have so much support, from my family and everyone.”