Reaching for New Heights

Chicks may dig the long ball. But the Nittany Lions' junior punter excels at balancing hang time and distance on his boots. That skill helped him land Big Ten Special-Teams-Player-of-the-Week honors after Penn State's season-opener.

Punting may not be one of football’s most glamorous jobs, but punters still have egos. When Jeremy Kapinos prepares to take a snap, his inclination is to show off, to strike the ball with as much force as he can muster. It’s human nature.

“There’s a saying: ‘Chicks dig the long ball.’ If you can put up 50 yards a punt or something, people think that’s really good,“ Kapinos said Tuesday.

That being the case, Kapinos must have been quite popular with the ladies during his first two seasons. He set a Penn State freshman record with his 41.9-yard average in 2003. And last year, he averaged 41.8 yards despite punting 51 times in Penn State’s eight Big Ten games, the most attempts of any conference punter.

In this year’s season opener against South Florida, Kapinos again demonstrated his strong leg with a 42.2-yard average on five attempts, including a 60-yarder, the third-longest kick of his career. But he showed something else, demonstrating great finesse in pinning the Bulls inside their 15-yard line on three occasions. For his efforts, he was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week, the second time in his career he has won the award.

Kapinos, who gave up soccer to specialize in punting at West Springfield (Va.) High, has been working to improve his hang time. Though the emphasis on height requires him to sacrifice some distance on occasion, the tradeoff makes it worthwhile. By putting more air under the ball, Penn State’s coverage team has a better chance to get in position and prevent long returns. For proof, look no further than the Nittany Lions’ 23-13 victory over South Florida. Of Penn State’s five punts in that game, the Bulls returned only one, gaining just 1 yard. For Kapinos — and for the Lions’ oft-criticized special teams — things could hardly have gone better.

“I guess I’ve put my ego away,” the junior said. “I don’t need to kick the ball 55 yards anymore to prove that I can punt. A 45-yard kick with no return is just as good or better. I guess you could say I’m feeling a little better in terms of that specific type of punting.”

Kapinos might not be as busy this fall if the Lions improve on their poor offensive showings of the past two seasons. But even if they don’t make dramatic strides — and their opener wasn’t entirely encouraging — Kapinos said he’s ready to perform.

“Anytime I can go out there and punt, it’s a good thing for me,” he said. “Obviously you don’t want to get too much work. But I don’t think I ever really get tired.”


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