Varsity Letter: Jeremy Kapinos makes long journey from West Springfield High to Super Bowl

Steelers punter Jeremy Kapinos has come a long way since signing up to punt for West Springfield in August 1999.
Steelers punter Jeremy Kapinos has come a long way since signing up to punt for West Springfield in August 1999. (Paul Spinelli/associated Press)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 1:05 AM

The first step Jeremy Kapinos took on his unlikely path to becoming the Pittsburgh Steelers' punter occurred on a Saturday morning in August 1999 when the sturdy sophomore transfer approached the football registration table at West Springfield High.

"Oooh, here's a big one," one coach said, already envisioning the Spartan-to-be as a budding tackle or linebacker. Instead, the soccer goalie and football novice announced that he was interested in playing one position and one position only - punter.

"I played soccer and didn't know a single thing about football other than what I saw on TV," Kapinos recalled by phone recently from Pittsburgh. "I said, 'I can kick a soccer ball pretty far. I'd like to try it with a football.' "

The West Springfield assistant coaches had to hide their disappointment. Not Coach Bill Renner, a former NFL punter who was beginning his first season with the Fairfax County school. He was more than happy to have sole access to Kapinos's lively left leg and to develop a punter instead of finding one.

Kapinos went on to become a second-team All-Met as a senior, earned a full scholarship to Penn State, was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award his last year there and has punted off and on for four NFL teams in as many years.

In early December, he landed with the Steelers, who on Sunday will face Green Bay (Kapinos's team last season) in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.

Not a bad turn of events for a guy who, after being released by the New York Jets two years ago, worked as a maintenance man at Burke Lake Golf Course, cutting grass, setting pins, raking sand traps and, on at least one occasion, disposing of a fox-ravaged goose carcass. Living at home, he would rise at 5 a.m. for his $10-an-hour job at the course.

"It kept me in shape and out of trouble," said Kapinos, 26, who lives in Arlington. "It was kind of an escape for me . . . but I definitely would have preferred getting ready for practice rather than hopping on a mower. There was a sense of urgency to get something going because in my house there really were no free rides. At the same time, my parents [David and Rachel] were both extremely supportive of me. They wanted me to see this through."

Will Jennings, the Burke Lake course superintendent and Kapinos's boss when he worked there, is a Redskins loyalist, as is his crew, almost to a man. This week, however, they are big-time Steelers boosters. How could they not be? One of their own is in the Super Bowl.

"We're hoping he does good and kicks the you-know-what out of it," Jennings said. "Hopefully everything goes well and we all get to look at the Super Bowl ring eventually."

David Kapinos was an Army colonel, so the family frequently moved, bouncing from New York to Kentucky to Kansas to South Korea back to New York. Then to Georgia, Virginia, back to Georgia and then back to Virginia. That keep-your-bags-packed mentality in some ways helped prepare Kapinos for life as an itinerant punter.

Cut by the Packers after last season, when he finished tied for second worst in the NFL in net punting average, Kapinos had 12 tryouts in 11 NFL cities this season, including Washington, sometimes flying across the country to kick as few as six or eight balls in a brief workout for a team compiling a list of possible replacement punters. Indianapolis picked him up for one game, a Monday nighter against Houston.

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