By Justin Maskulinski, Senior Staff Writer
It's Oct. 4 and the fans at Yager Stadium are bundled up like it's late November. After the National Anthem is played and the marching band forms a tunnel, the RedHawks enter the field. Many of the players chose to wear long sleeves on the brisk fall day.
Not Mitch Winters. He stood on the sideline drinking ice-cold water as the captains took the field for the coin toss. He wore no sleeves or leggings; he simply embraced the cold.
He embraced the cold because he grew up in it. The junior defensive lineman is from Mississauga, Ontario. The now 21-year-old Winters began his journey to Oxford in high school, when there was an athletic fork-in-the-road. The options were football and hockey.
"I basically just decided if, you know, I was gonna just focus on one sport and go anywhere with it to college I needed to put all my time into one so I decided just to play football," Winters said.
In 2013, 990,553 immigrants either renewed or received a green card in the United States according to the Department of Homeland Security. Canadians make up 1.3 percent of that number.
Chair of Miami University's Spanish and Portuguese Department and Associate Professor, Shelley Jarrett Bromberg, Ph. D. said the immigration process and juggling of two cultures is easier today than it was in previous generations.
"[Immigration] is different in one way," Bromberg said. "Modes of transportation are much faster. There wasn't an opportunity to be bi-national in previous generations. It's easier for people to have dual identities."
Winters, who is majoring in sports leadership and management, grew up with a dual identity as an athlete, playing hockey and football through eighth grade. Once he decided that football would be the sport he would pursue, Winters had his eyes set on the United States. He would travel south for the summer to attend the camps hosted by schools in the Midwest in an attempt to be noticed and, in turn, offered scholarships.
Winters said he attended over 20 camps in the summer and hoped that his large frame and athleticism would allow him to play college football.
Winters, who wears No. 99 partially because of Canadian-great Wayne Gretzky, now stands at 6-foot-5 inches and weighs in at 285 pounds. That frame has been developed during his time playing for Miami. Winters, like many Miami students, was won over by the scenery in Oxford.
"Out of all the schools I visited, Miami just felt right," Winters said. "Especially when you're on campus, it's gorgeous. Just the way it felt, even when you're around the stadium and the atmosphere, the Cradle of Coaches and everything was just a huge attraction. I loved it and decided ultimately that Miami was the place."
It was not as easy as saying "yes" to Miami, however. Winters faced the same tedious process that all immigrants face in the United States: obtaining a visa.
"[Getting my visa] was a bit of a pain in the butt," Winters said. "You can't really do it anywhere in Canada- you have to go the border to U.S. Customs. Even my first trip down, it took a couple hours of paperwork I had to sign, even though I had already applied, gone through the whole background check process and everything. It is a lengthy process, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?"
Through the difficult process, Winters looked to his parents, Lorne and Christine, and his high school guidance counselor, Brian Burke.
"We looked to [Burke] for all the information we needed on how to get here, and what I needed to do," Winters said. "He was fantastic, he was able to really help us out."
Now that Winters is where he lovingly refers to as "the States," he feels comfortable.
Bromberg said that typically, adapting to the culture of the United States can be difficult for immigrants. Winters is one of the exceptions to the rule.
"I'm an hour north of Buffalo," Winters said. "It's just the little things that are different. Money's different, you know we're taxed a lot more up in Canada. Other than that, the culture and everything is pretty much the same."
Winters is able to make his way home for Christmas and a few times in the summer, as his mom works for Air Canada and he can fly home at a low rate. He was even able to make it home for spring break last year.
Winters said he will go wherever he gets a job after graduation, and he hopes he can play football professionally. He wants to be involved in sports, but he doesn't care if that is Canada or the USA.
Staying in the United States after graduation is not an easy task for immigrants. Bromberg said numerous factors are present when deciding whether an immigrant should be granted a visa to stay in the United States to work. The process for dual citizenship can take up to 10 years in some cases.
Winters said if he worked in the United States, dual citizenship would be ideal. Although he could be Canadian or American, Winters still roots for the Canadian side of sports. This can be troublesome when both of his countries compete. Junior running back and Winters' roommate Spencer McInnis remembers a moment when the cultures collided.
McInnis and Winters were uptown watching the USA vs. Canada Olympic hockey game and Winters was representing his home country.
"No one liked Mitch," McInnis said. "They were throwing stuff at him. So, then he wore a [Canada] shirt, because he was like one against a thousand. Once [Canada] won, nobody wanted to mess with him because he's so huge. Everyone's like, 'Woah, that's a big Canadian.'"
McInnis described Winters as a "physical guy who likes to hit" on the football field, but Winters' teammate also painted a lighter side of the "big Canadian."
"[Winters] is one of the funniest guys I know," McInnis said. "He takes jokes and he'll throw them back at you. He'll make fun of himself too; we'll have laughs about that. We make fun of his head - it's huge."
Winters may be Canadian by birth, but he embraces the American culture like someone who was born in the heart of the United States. The pregame National Anthem is one of his favorite forms of American culture, and it is a symbol of the dual-identity that he and other immigrants embrace.
"I just take it in, the whole culture," Winters said. "America's an amazing country with amazing history and culture and, you know, the best football in the world. When you're standing there and the National Anthem is playing, I just stand there and soak it in. I just think there's no place I'd rather be then right now, going out to battle with the guys on this team, the great guys we've got."