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A 2005 Reflection with Jeremy Kapinos

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Penn State's former punting extraordinaire takes some time to talk about the 2005 season.

PUNTING. IS. WINNING.
PUNTING. IS. WINNING.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Jeremy Kapinos is one of the most decorated special teamers in Penn State history, and is still a standout in the Big Ten record books, as well. Kapinos was a four year starter at punter (2003-2006) and went on to enjoy a six year NFL career with the Jets, Packers, Colts and Steelers.

During Jeremy's time at Penn State, he was remarkably consistent from year to year, averaging 41.8 yards per punt for his career. His 249 total punts and 10,396 punt yards are both good for seventh all-time in Big Ten history, and his 41.8 yards per punt average comes in at 17th in B1G history. He never finished lower than seventh in the Big Ten for any of those three categories during his time in Happy Valley (in fact, the only time he was outside of the top five was in 2004 when he was seventh in total punt yards).

Kapinos was also an integral part of the legendary 2005 team, as one of the leaders for the special teams corps that played a crucial role in the success of the squad. I was lucky enough to get the chance to talk with Kap about that magical '05 season, his memories from the team and his career in general and some thoughts on the state of the current team.

Was there one defining moment that you remember that turned things around for the 2005 team?

Obviously the offseason is extremely crucial in college football. So coming off the 2004 season where we were 4-7, we were involved in a lot of tight ballgames, and we were in a lot of the games that we lost, so although we were terrible record-wise, I think everyone had a feeling that we had a good group of players and were capable of a lot more than 4-7.

So then, going into the offseason, there was a campaign that we were aware of that Coach Paterno was extremely passionate about keeping his staff together, and he knew deep down that we had a special group of guys. We also had a lot of great leaders. Michael Robinson, Calvin Lowry, Tony Hunt was running the ball well. The defining moment was just the offseason, those senior leaders that we had all did a good job of keeping us all focused and motivated during 5 am runs and stuff like that. So it was a collective series of moments, not just one.

Was there any specific point during that offseason where you realized that this team might be able to compete for a national championship?

As a punter, I was usually sleeping in Holuba Hall or something, but there wasn't one particular moment. But we knew that with Michael Robinson at the helm- we always knew he was something special, so when he got full control of the offense I think we were all excited. We had seen his skill for a few years, so we were kind ready for him to break out. I think when we got into spring practice and we had the offseason that we had, we were all sort of optimistic. I don't know if anyone was thinking national championship. Our first goal, obviously, was to get to a bowl game.

I certainly just wanted the winning record and the bowl game. In college you don't get much more. It's not like the NFL where you get all this money, in college the bowl game is kind of the prize at the end of the rainbow, so we just wanted not to be 4-7. That bowl game was our main focus, and things just snowballed into a great season.

Regarding the rumors about Joe being ready to step down had 2005 been unsuccessful- do you feel that the team gained any extra motivation thanks to those rumors?

Yeah, I think we were all cognizant, not necessarily of those rumors, but we all understood that in college football, you can't continue to lose especially at a place like Penn State. I think we were extremely aware of the urgency we needed to have. Coach Paterno was also extremely motivating. Although he wanted to win, and wanted to win for the sake of winning, in our hearts, we all wanted to win because we could see how much it meant for him to not be 4-7, and to restore Penn State to the proud program it once was. We all had a lot of motivation to play well for him. At all of our meetings, Coach Paterno was giving a great speech and was truly passionate about the program and would talk about the history and what we were capable of. We all bought into it and we were Big Ten champs.

Do you have a fondest memory from that season?

I think the Northwestern game. When we were losing, and we shouldn't have been losing, Isaac Smolko made a great catch on 4th down. That was a defining moment and that stuck out in my head. That was definitely a defining moment. That and the Orange Bowl. Our experience was fantastic. That was number one, I'd say. We went to the Outback Bowl the following year, but when we went to the BCS game, that was fantastic. That was a great experience.

What was your favorite game from that season, excluding the Orange Bowl?

I think that would be the Ohio State game. I didn't have a particularly good game, but the stadium was packed, there were 110,000 people in Beaver Stadium and when Tamba Hali sacked Troy Smith and Scott Paxton recovered the fumble, the place just erupted. Chills go up and down your spine. That was number one for a lot of people, I think, on the team.

After the Michigan loss, was there any sense of "this season might take a wrong turn", or were you guys still confident in the team you had?

We were extremely confident. I think, that game if you take a look at it, conspiracy theorists aside, somehow they got some time put back on the clock, we were winning that until the last couple seconds. None of us were really defeated, we took the loss and thought about it for probably 24 hours and got back to work on Monday. There wasn't any of that feeling, the whole feeling from the offseason trickled into the season, and we were extremely confident. We lost that game, but whoever we played next week, we knew we were going to get after them.

What sort of pride do you feel knowing that you were a part of the team that helped turn around Penn State football?

I think it's a great source of pride for myself and lot of my teammates. I think it's a rarity in college football that any coach of any program is allowed to go through those peaks and valleys. A lot of times there is a down point in an organization and the athletic department and board of directors will just clean house. So I think it's more than being a part of something that turned the program around, but being a part of something that I don't think anyone will ever see again- having a program reaching its low point and being allowed to turn it around and regain its foothold atop the mountain of college football.

It's more for great stories. Like I said, the experience of going through 4-7 and then 11-1 and dealing with that adversity is a source of a lot of pride and it also taught a lot of my teammates, and myself, a lesson in how to stick with things and that preparation will lead to good results.

We're reaching quite a bit in comparing this year's team to that 2005 team (and 2014 to 2004), but do you see any similarities between that team and this year's squad?

There's obviously similarities. With all the things that have gone on at Penn State, there have been some things that Penn State has needed to rebound from. There's definitely similarities. The only difference is that, like I said, a lot of times when there's a 4-7 season, the coaches will try to do something drastic to try and save their jobs, and often times, a lot of the players that were in place for the 4-7 team aren't necessarily going to be in place the next season. We were kind of able to keep everyone together, and keep the core players. The starters from the 4-7 season were the starters on the 11-1 team.

Like that team, this year's team is kind of like a rebirth for Penn State, so I think the only difference would be that some of the players may not have gone through the adversity. They're Coach Franklin's first or second class, but clearly the ones that are there from when Bill O'Brien was there have gone through similar situations. It's more intense than what we went through, with the quote on quote scandal, that some other classes had to deal with.

Speaking of Coach Franklin, how do you feel about him? Do you like the fit at Penn State?

I've never met him, don't know much about him. I think taking the names off the jerseys is a good sign. I think he gets it. I think he's a good coach and I think he respects the traditions at Penn State, and more importantly, he respects the lettermen that have played there before. So I'm all for that, and hopefully he'll be there for a long run. The same thing that's said about teams revamping everything when they have a losing record, I hope he realizes that Penn State isn't just a blip on a career, it is a career. So I'm hoping that once he starts getting things in order and gets going, he's in it for the long haul, because our last coach [excluding O'Brien] was there for quite some time.

Since you brought it up, do you have any other thoughts on the names being removed from the jerseys?

I think it's great. I think college football is in need of something like that. Take a look around the landscape, guys are getting recruited as freshmen and they're told that they're the best and that their brand is what everyone wants. For one, it's great just that the players are playing at Penn State, and it's good that some players need to check their ego at the door and realize that, as I've learned in my football career in moving through the NFL, you're replaceable. So you're playing for something bigger than yourself. You're playing for over 100 years of football tradition. I think it's great, it's awesome.

Touching on your area of expertise, Penn State has commitments from two of the highest ranked special teamers in the 2016 class. From what you've seen of the team's special teams in the last few years, do you think it was a good move for them to go out and spend two scholarships on those specialists?

Yeah, I think it's a good move to, quote on quote, spend a scholarship on a kicker or a punter just because it's such a crucial play any time you have the ability to dictate where your opponent will get the ball. Obviously, you need a good punter, and then any time you have the ability to put points on the board, you need a good kicker. Some schools look at it as, we'll get four walk-on kickers and the best one gets the scholarship. But when you actually invest in a kicker, it lets the kicker and the punter know that they need to step up to the plate, and it also lets everyone else know that you're serious about special teams.

I think the most important thing they can do is to actually coach these guys. So often when you get to college, you're kind of left alone. As a kicker and punter, you're kind of in a field by yourself. I was fortunate enough to have Larry Johnson as my coach, who was a great coach. He wasn't necessarily a tactician at coaching punting, but he knew how to coach me. Hopefully, they have someone like that there. It's encouraging that they're going out and allocating resources to those positions.

Any other general thoughts about anything we've discussed?

We've got a puffy schedule, so hopefully that will help add to the win total. I'm glad they took the names off the jerseys. I think a lot of the lettermen, my colleagues, are happy. They've got a good quarterback, and that's all you really need nowadays. Hopefully they'll be in a nice bowl game or the playoff and they can get some trophies back to Happy Valley.

There you have it. Straight from the mouth of the B1Ggest players to ever play at Penn State.

Huge thank you to Jeremy. Maybe if you're all lucky, he'll decide to join in on the comments section if you guys have any other questions for him. No promises, though.