Justin Kurpeikis Interview

Recently, we had the opportunity to go one-on-one with former Penn State standout Justin Kurpeikis, who is currently a member of the Super Bowl bound New England Patriots. <p> We thought it would be appropriate in honor of the Super Bowl to share Justin's thoughts on a variety of topics, including Penn State, the Steelers, the Patriots, Tom Bradley and much more.

Justin Kurpeikis, a native of Allison Park, Pa., is currently playing professionally with the New England Patriots and is enjoying his time with the northern squad. Justin, a former All-Big Ten selection, finished his Penn State career with 172 tackles (128 solo), 17 sacks and 43 tacles for losses. He twice earned Academic All-Big Ten honors (1997 and 1998) and won the Hall Foundation Award, honoring the team's MVP.

FOS: Justin, catch us up with what you have been up to recently in your professional career.

Justin: Well, I left Pittsburgh the year before this summer's camp. I had the opportunity to head north with the Patriots for a shot. I ended up getting released, but after they had some shifts in personnel I got another shot with the team.

I moved up here in March of [last] year and was on the practice squad. A few guys got banged up and I ended up making the team and now I am seeing some action on special teams. It is going well and I am really enjoying the area and the program.

FOS: Talk about how the transition from college to the pros went for you out of school.

Justin: Honestly my career has not been exactly what I expected, but I think a lot of guys can say that after college. It has been crazy at times for me with the moves I have experienced. I feel like I have started to settle in though and have found my place. So, I would say after a bit of a rocky start things are going well now.

FOS: What have you enjoyed most about the professional football ranks?

Justin: Wow, the best part is the simple fact that I am still able to play football. I love it and it's been great to me. I wake up every day motivated because I love what I do and feel very fortunate to be able to say that. I just enjoy the experience and try not to take it for granted.

FOS: What do you enjoy least about it?

Justin: That is a tough question. Really, there is nothing I don't enjoy. I enjoy the preparation during the off-season, I enjoy the practices, and I enjoy playing. I guess the one thing I would enjoy more is more playing time, but I am working on that.

FOS: There seems to be a perception with the Patriots that the program embodies the meaning of team. Do you agree with this and what has your experience been like on the team?

Justin: The Patriots are a lot like the Steelers in some ways. Both teams are a close knit bunch of guys. I think that may be a reason why both squads have done so well this year.

I think the unique thing about New England is that it feels like a college team, much like Penn State did. The guys are playing for the right reasons and have a sincere caring for each other on the team. It is a special thing to be involved in.

FOS: As you know, there has been a debate swirling around whether or not it is time for Joe Paterno to step down as Penn State's head coach. What are thoughts on this?

Justin: I am further removed from the program now, but I do keep in touch with some of the coaches. I still think he has what it takes. Joe is a man who has coached for a long time with unparalleled success. There is no doubt in my mind that he can get it done. You'll never hear me say anything about Joe. He's a great man. He certainly did a lot for me and a lot of other guys I played with.

FOS: There has also been a lot of talk about Tom Bradley taking over for Joe. Talk a little bit about your thoughts on Tom and if you think he would be a good replacement for Joe.

Justin: It's not appropriate for me to talk about a replacement for Joe since he is still the coach running the program. As for Tom as a coach though, I can't say enough about him. Tom recruited me and my brother out of Central Catholic. He and I have kept in close touch since my days at Penn State. We have a close relationship. He is a phenomenal coach and person - one of a kind.

FOS: As you mentioned, he recruited you out of Central Catholic. People call him the master of Western PA recruiting. What is it exactly about his approach that you feel makes him such a successful recruiter?

Justin: He is not a salesman. A lot of these guys come in and the pitch you like a car salesman. He is straightforward with players and a genuine person. He recruits just like he acts everyday – with a frank, honest approach. People warm up to his approach and buy into it. The bottom line is that he cares about his players.

FOS: Justin, some folks have been quick to point to Penn State strength and conditioning program as a major reason for the drop off in performance at PSU in recent years. How do you reply to that and how do you feel it prepared you for the NFL?

Justin: I think it [the program] prepared me phenomenally! People say things like that as a knee jerk reaction. They want one simple answer to point to which is rarely the case. JT [John Thomas] is awesome. He is someone who helped me tremendously and I will never say a bad word about him. I learned so much while in the program. Let me tell you this Mark, the rigors they put me through at Penn State were so intense, I have not seen the likes of the program since. They push you so hard that you are more than prepared for the next level. At least I feel I was. The strength program is not an issue for Penn State.

FOS: The defense made some major strides this year, and was the number one scoring defense in the country. Having said that, what do feel is the key to a successful defense in the Big Ten?

Justin: The key to finding success on the defensive side of the ball in the Big Ten is having guys that work hard and don't care who gets the credit. The unit has to play a team concept of defense and just get the job done. Personal glory has to be tossed aside. The most important part is playing unselfishly and playing for each other. It is that simple.

FOS: Talk about Larry Johnson, Sr. and his coaching style.

Justin: Larry is one of the top three people in my life that has had an impact on me with football. He is unbelievable. He is such a motivator and has such an impressive attention to detail. A common theme you hear at Penn State is how tough the program and coaches can be while you are there.

The interesting thing is the common theme when you leave is how much guys realize what the coaches did for them and how they made them better players and better people. It is a special organization in that way. Coach Johnson taught me to never accept things as good enough – always strive for improvement. It is something I have carried throughout my life on and off the field.

FOS: Folks have said Coach Johnson could coach in the pros someday. Would you agree with that assessment?

Justin: I can't speak to whether or not he would actually go to the professional level, but I think Coach Johnson can coach at any level and find success. He is an incredible coach.

FOS: You went through a tough period on the field with Penn State in 2000. What advice do you give the current players who are going through a similar situation where wins have been the exception rather than the rule recently?

Justin: I am not sure it is the same type of situation I went through. We had success up until that point and had made it to post season bowl games. These guys have not been to bowl games and have not tasted the success on the field.

The advice I think that mat be applicable is that whether you are no matter up or down you approach needs to be same. You have to constantly strive for more and never be satisfied. These guys have their backs against the wall and in that situation they can cower or come out swinging. I would advise them to come out swinging!

FOS: Given your experience in the NFL playoffs what are your thoughts on the BCS?

Justin: No matter what the system has been in place there have always been disputes and discrepancies. I am in favor of playoff since any given day anyone can win. The game determines who is best not some outside variable. Teams should have the opportunity to prove it on the field. A playoff would give them that opportunity.

FOS: I am not sure if you heard, but Joe Paterno split his first place vote in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll prior to the bowl games into thirds for the top three undefeated teams. What you think of this?

Justin: Joe has been unrewarded for going undefeated so he knows what it is like. I am not sure how you determine which team is better if both are undefeated. I can't blame him for voting like he did. I think it must have gotten some folks to think about the system though.

FOS: How do you describe Justin Kurpeikis in three words?

Justin: Wow, tough question. I would say loyal, disciplined and driven.

FOS: Thanks for your time Justin. Best of luck with your career and the Super Bowl.

Justin: Thanks Mark. I appreciate it and am glad I had the opportunity to catch up with you.

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