Mike Midkiff is a walk-on long snapper on Syracuse University’s football team . His father, Lt. Col. Stephen Midkiff Jr., serves in the U.S. Army. Like many children of active duty service members, Midkiff had to move every few years when he was growing up. He rattles off the states where he’s lived: Georgia, Colorado, Missouri, Maryland, then back to Colorado. As he grew older, leaving the people he’d met became more difficult. “Going to a new school, the kids there may have been with each other their entire life,” Midkiff says. “Relocating forced me to create a lot of new relationships, meet people from different backgrounds.” He learned how to quickly build the bonds that grow out of playing a team sport, proving himself through action rather than familiarity. “It's one of those things where complaining doesn't help,” he says. “I just put my head down and worked.”
One could say football is a family tradition. Midkiff’s father played at Ball State University, as did his grandfather, who was a member of the undefeated 1965 Ball State football team. Playing football in high school, Midkiff was a wide receiver and defensive back. During his sophomore year, his father suggested he pick up a new skill that would increase his chance of getting on the field: long snapping. “Growing up, my dad was also a long snapper, along with playing linebacker,” Midkiff says. His father’s advice to pick up long snapping proved to be extremely valuable, and Midkiff went on to be a three-year starter at the position in high school. He recorded an average snap time—the time between the snap and when the punter receives the ball—of 0.68 seconds and ran a 4.81 in the 40-yard dash at the Kohl's Kicking Senior Challenge Texas Winter Showcase on December, 15 2018. Midkiff was also a 2018 Pikes Peak 4A All-Conference selection at defensive back and long snapper.
That same year, Midkiff’s experience and skill met with an opportunity initiated by his high school position coach, Tracy Babers, brother of Syracuse head coach Dino Babers. In the fourth quarter of the Syracuse football game at Clemson that year, senior long snapper Matt Keller injured his collarbone. After missing the final seven regular season games, Keller was able to return for Syracuse’s win in the Camping World Bowl, but the injury reinforced the need for a reliable special teams contributors like Midkiff. Tracy Babers approached Midkiff after one of his games and revealed his own connection to the Syracuse team, saying he would convey a personal recommendation. The coach’s advice was simple: Keep working, get in contact with my brother, and try to get a spot at Syracuse as a walk-on. Midkiff decided to visit campus to determine if he could see himself in Orange. “I definitely felt the love when I came here,” he says. Mike Cavanaugh, the offensive line coach, introduced himself to Midkiff and his family, and Coach Babers welcomed him with a hug. “The football team preaches family,” Midkiff says. “I felt that when I walked in.”
Midkiff found another connection that made Syracuse University a great fit—the Babers family had also grown up with a member serving in the U.S. military. With Syracuse University’s historical commitment to military-connected students , the University became a top contender for Midkiff. “Knowing how military-friendly they are here definitely made my family and me feel more comfortable,” Midkiff says.
When he first visited campus, Midkiff had no plans to participate in Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) , a leadership program that has been running consecutively at the University since 1919. ROTC prepares college students for service as an officer in the active U.S. Army or U.S. Air Force, or the Reserves/National Guard in a variety of career fields. Cadets who participate earn financial support like scholarships, living stipends and book expenses. Once again encouraged by his father, a ROTC cadet himself, Midkiff decided it was another excellent opportunity when he was extended an ROTC scholarship.
Though he had another offer to play college football, Syracuse University became his number one option. Midkiff joined the football team at the start of 2019 preseason camp and redshirted his first season. He is grateful to Syracuse Assistant Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator Justin Lustig for giving him the opportunity to compete for the long snapper position. And he is excited to be Orange. “Coming here I have an opportunity to get a degree that will lead to a great job. The academic advisors have helped me out a lot.” Midkiff has not declared his major, but he is interested in forensic science and psychology, with a goal of working for the FBI after leaving the military. Upon entering active duty as a second lieutenant, Midkiff will become the latest member of his family to serve his country. His brother recently enlisted in the U.S. Army and completed basic combat training.
Midkiff has found Syracuse’s commitment to military-connected students extends to its student-athlete cadets. “ROTC is really understanding of student-athletes,” he says. For instance, he can work out with his teammates in the morning rather than with the cadets. “I'm grateful that they let me do that because of football,” he says. For Midkiff, ROTC and athletics have worked in tandem. His ability to integrate into a team as a brand-new face in the locker room and on campus has been invaluable. Midkiff says he feels Syracuse University has him set up for success on the field, as a cadet, and in the classroom.