Lost in the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs’ thrilling comeback in Super Bowl LIV was a moment of historical significance for the Santa Barbara sports community: San Francisco 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky became the first SBCC alum to play in the Super Bowl.
Originally from Perth, Australia, Wishnowsky played his first season of tackle football for SBCC in 2014, when he earned All-WSC and All-State honors before moving on to the University of Utah. Once at Utah, Wishnowsky put together one of the most impressive punting careers in NCAA history, becoming a three-time all-American and winning the 2016 Ray Guy Award for the best punter in college football.
“I’m really proud of him, and the main reason is that he is so humble,” said SBCC head coach Craig Moropoulos. “For a guy who has done all this: Ray Guy Award at Utah, fourth-round draft pick by the 49ers, and, in his rookie year, playing in the Super Bowl. He is the most grounded, humble guy I’ve ever seen, and so I really think a lot of him.”
Wishnowsky played a number of key special-teams roles for the 49ers, including punting, kickoffs, and holding the ball for field goals. At 6′2″, 220 pounds, and boasting 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash, Wishnowsky boasts rare athleticism for a punter, which made him a real weapon for Moropoulos at SBCC.
“Obviously he wasn’t a quarterback and he wasn’t a linebacker, but he punts; he kicks; he holds; he does some pretty crucial things,” Moropoulos said. “As a fan, you can kind of take those things for granted, but as a coach, you don’t. You value those things, so watching him do that on the biggest stage of football was pretty cool.”
In the Super Bowl, Wishnowsky didn’t punt until the fourth quarter, when the Chiefs’ defense locked in and enabled their offense to score 21 unanswered points to secure the victory. Wishnowsky finished with two punts for a total of 86 yards, including one that was downed inside the 20-yard line.
Wishnowsky also held for two successful Robbie Gould field goals, but overall, it was a devastating loss for 49ers fans, who have endured a 25-year championship drought.
PARTEE TIME: It’s not often that a quarterback who breaks school passing records with 2,210 yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games can fly under the radar. But that’s the case with San Marcos High quarterback Ben Partee.
Despite limited exposure, Partee managed to attract the attention of college programs before eventually settling on a full scholarship to Division 2 Gannon University, just before the February 5 signing day.
“I had a bunch of smaller schools interested, and the only Division 1 offer I had was from Valparaiso,” Partee said. “I’m not really big on the whole ‘got to play Division 1 football’ thing. I just wanted to find a school that really wanted me, where the coaches were really accepting of me, and that I knew I would be able to get a good education.”
Partee made a mature decision that emphasized academic and athletic fit over status and will likely pay dividends as he progresses in life. The opportunity to play football at the next level was hardly a sure thing for Partee, as he never played football until his freshman year at San Marcos and was initially plugged into a run-heavy system.
“My dad wanted me to go out and play quarterback because I had a background in baseball,” said Partee, so he gave it a shot. “My coaches ran kind of a Wing-T-style offense, so I was maybe throwing the ball twice a game,” Partee admitted. “I really didn’t start throwing the ball until my sophomore year, but that’s when I fell in love with the quarterback aspect of the game — footwork, reads, and all that kind of stuff.”
Partee’s father, whose name is also Ben, played football at Cal before signing as an undrafted free agent for a brief stint with the San Francisco 49ers. He has also spent time coaching football and as athletic director for College of Marin and Santa Rosa Junior College.
“I love the game of football, and I’m really happy that he’s done well,” said the elder Partee. “He’s going to go on and continue to play and play for free, which is phenomenal.”
It took some time for Partee to land on the radar of college coaches, as he didn’t participate in the college camp circuit and never had a private quarterback instructor until after his senior season of football was over. In essence, Partee reached the next level the old-fashioned way, developing under the tutelage of San Marcos High head coach Jason Fowle, who has a background playing quarterback and coaching the position. In the end, Partee’s skill set and game film were undeniable.
“That was one of the reasons my recruitment was so slow — I just wasn’t really aware of the camp circuit and what goes into the recruiting process,” Partee said. “San Marcos isn’t really known for getting kids out. I didn’t really have people that knew a lot about the process, so that was tough for me.”