More than 20 years ago, Bill Renner was the Packers' punter. Now, one of his protégés is getting the chance.
Green Bay signed Jeremy Kapinos on Wednesday afternoon, and he'll make his Packers debut on Sunday against the Houston Texans.
Kapinos played for Renner at West Springfield High School in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. Renner convinced Kapinos, a superb soccer goalie, that football was the better option.
"I said, ‘Jeremy, look, you've gotten good enough where you're going to be able to do this without paying for your college education,'" Renner said in a phone interview on Thursday. "So, he put a lot more time in it. He was good at soccer but he was really gifted at punting."
First, though, Renner had to convince Kapinos' dad that it was OK for his son to play football. David Kapinos was injured while playing football at Army, and one of his sons suffered a severe knee injury playing football. So, football wasn't an option for Jeremy.
"His dad wasn't fired up about him playing, so I had a conversation with him," Renner said. "Once I'd seen him and worked with him as a sophomore, I told his dad that if he just continues to do the drills and training, I don't think you're going to have to worry about him playing another position because he's going to be too valuable just being a punter."
Renner had plenty of expertise behind his opinion, and not just because he punted in six games for the Packers spanning the 1986 and 1987 seasons.
While a student at Virginia Tech, his master's theses was titled "Physical Factors that Affect the Hang Time and Distance of the Football." He's run kicking camps for more than 25 years and written a book on punting. Some of the guys who've kicked in those camps are five other current NFL punters: Denver's Brett Kern, New Orleans' Glenn Pakulak, Jacksonville's Steven Weatherford, Baltimore's Sam Koch and Cincinnati's Kyle Larson. Larson ranks second in the NFL in punting while Koch is ninth.
"That's why I had a good idea Jeremy was going to be really good," Renner said. "Those guys were all a little older than him and they made it, so he's been punting against guys who would end up being pro punters ever since he was a sophomore in college. So, I was pretty convinced that if he kept plugging away, he had the talent to do this."
Indeed, Kapinos was good enough to be Penn State's punter for all four seasons, including being a Ray Guy finalist as the best punter in college football during his senior season. He kicked in one game for the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie last season. He failed to make the Jets' roster this season and had been out of football since getting an invite on Monday to audition to replace inconsistent Derrick Frost.
"I was just always ready," Kapinos said on Thursday. "That's pretty much what you have to be. ‘Have cleats, will travel,' I guess is my motto. It was a nice Monday surprise."
Kapinos kicked inside the Don Hutson Center and outside on Tuesday and beat out three other competitors. He signed a two-year contract on Wednesday, and on Thursday, his first couple of punts at practice earned cheers from teammates who had grown accustomed to watching Frost's struggles.
"You hear stories of the Frozen Tundra, and I'm well aware of that after working out Tuesday in the snow," Kapinos said. "You had to stay aligned on your feet, otherwise you were going to wind up on your rear. It was a nice introduction, and the challenge was awesome."
Kapinos had been spending his Sundays with a notebook and stopwatch studying NFL punters to learn which teams might be in need of his services. He punted five days a week and worked out three hours a day to stay in shape.
"My parents have been bugging me to get a job," Kapinos said. "I told them I had one, it just wasn't paying very much."
This job, obviously, pays well. Assuming he lasts all four weeks, he'll pocket $67,000. Kapinos is the 10th punter the Packers have turned to since then-general manager Ron Wolf let Craig Hentrich sign with the Tennessee Titans in 1998.
"He's a very talented you man. He's a really good, athlete, too," Renner said, saying Kapinos runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and has a 33-inch vertical jump. "That's where it starts and that's why he's a very good punter."
With a few exceptions, most NFL punters bounce around for a few years before being able to plant roots in a city, so Kapinos' journey to Green Bay is hardly unusual. Renner, for instance, failed to make the Vikings' roster as a rookie in 1983 and the Bears' roster in 1984. He signed with the USFL in 1985, then failed to make the Packers' roster in 1986. However, Renner signed with the Packers late in 1986 and punted in the final three games of the season, then punted in the first three games in 1987.
"I was the journeyman, that's for sure," Renner said.
When he saw he wasn't going to make the Jets' roster in 1988, Renner decided to take a high school coaching job. He coached in northern Virginia for two decades, including leading the West Springfield Spartans to the semifinals of the state playoffs this year. That team was quarterbacked by his son, Bryn.
Renner resigned as coach on Monday so he can watch Bryn play football and baseball at North Carolina, though he'll remain a physical education teacher at the school.
"We've been very blessed," Renner said of his family.
Green Bay remains a special place to Renner, a point amplified after one of his pupils signed with the Packers.
"It was the best time I ever had," Renner said. "It's a special place, and it's hard to tell people about it unless you've experienced it. I always considered myself a Packer because that's just a special, special place."
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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