Neither defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer or special teams coordinator Robbie Discher, who was trying to overcome having to play so many brand new freshmen on the special teams a year ago, had a choice. That experienced linebacker and special teams veteran was academically ineligible.
Kris Catlin did not take care of business and as a result he spent game day Saturdays watching from the stands, watching on television and sometimes not being able to watch at all as his friends and teammates battled a five-game losing streak.
Catlin doesn't shy away from talking about his academic letdown. He owns it and embraces it. Just like he really embraces his opportunity to play football again.
He practiced all throughout the 2014 season and played on the scout teams helping the offense and also the special teams as a player that imitates the opponent. He also helped in position meetings and drill while trying to coach up young linebackers like Justin Phillips, Gyasi Akem, and Kirk Tucker, who were forced into playing early in part because of his situation.
He made the grades he needed in the fall so he was eligible for the bowl game in Arizona and he made two tackles in the win over the Washington Huskies.
“It’s been a long wait with coming off of last year being ineligible and all that," Catlin said this past week after the scrimmage. "It was rough but I got through it talking to my family, and my teammates, and the coaching staff and all that.”
When you watch Catlin at practice you see an older player that is fighting hard each and every drill and play he gets. Cornerback Miketavius Jones also missed last season for the same reason. You can kind of look at them and look at their expression and body language, things that head coach Mike Gundy always likes to check out. You can tell football is really important to them both.
“You could say that. You could definitely say that because I was really the one person that lost it all for the most part at the time," Catlin agreed. "I’m so glad that I stuck it out and that I’m here for the team.”
Remember this is preseason and fall camp is just recently in the rearview mirror of these players and the first game is still over a week away, but Catlin is having fun, maybe the most fun he's ever had playing football in his life.
“I’m having a great time out here," Catlin said of the fun aspect of it. "I’m having fun out here and doing it for my teammates and all my family and great friends back at home.”
“He is, he’s fresh-legged, he’s into it, and he is back on the field and I’m glad he’s having fun," defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. "He had work to do to get back on the field.
"He knows that he is going to really contribute a lot on special teams and I’m trying to get him work on the field too. I have Seth (Jacobs) and Devante (Averette) battling for that Will (weak side) backer spot, so I’m having trouble getting Kris reps. There will come a time that there will be an ankle sprain, an injury, where his play will pick up even more.”
Catlin is not looking forward to any of his teammates getting hurt and honestly the way he is playing he is likely to get reps in game just on his play in practice. The San Antonio Madison High School product is 6-1, 230 pounds and according to assistant strength and conditioning coordinator Gary Calcagno he had a strong offseason and summer in the weight room. He wants to earn that time at weak side linebacker.
“Yeah, I ‘m hoping so, I’m just trying to go out there and compete," Catlin said. "I know that I let a lot of people down last year with my off the field (academic) actions and all that. Now I’m coming out here and giving it my all and trying to do everything that I can to make up for that.”
“He’s having to knock off some rust and that started in the spring," added Spencer. "He had a good offseason and he has carried it through the fall camp.”
Football aside, which for Catlin is hard to do right now since he missed it so much, Spencer said it is good for Catlin, for his teammates, and good for the coaching staff to see someone bounce back from that kind of adversity. Spencer believes it will someday really help Catlin when the game of life throws him its typical curve ball.
“We preach it every day and very rarely do we get a situation as coaches, except when they come back to you later on in life, where they say, ‘you were right,’ but right now to say, ‘you see, I told you so.’ He had every situation two or three times where he could give up on it and go home and think this is too hard and I’m knocked down again, knocked down again," Spencer explained.
"He’ll tell you that all of that has been because of his own actions. He’s had to work hard to get it back and I think when you do that you have a better appreciation for it. Down the road life is going to hit him in the mouth a couple of times and I think he will be better off for it.”
Right now he's just having fun and as hard as he worked to get back to this point, it's okay to enjoy a little fun playing the game you love.