Jeremy Kapinos was at school in Springfield, Va., listening along with some classmates as a guidance counselor explained how to apply to colleges, when someone bust into the room with the news: Terrorists had crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The United States was under attack.
They tried to keep us together and focus on the task at hand, but none of us wanted to hear it, Kapinos said. I just started walking around the hallway. A television was on, and we saw what happened.
The 9/11 attacks traumatized the entire country, but Kapinos felt the tremors even more acutely than most. In 2001, his father was in the army and had an office in the Pentagon. Col. David Kapinos was in the building when American Airlines Flight 77 erupted into a fireball after crashing into west side of the massive office complex. For an hour or two afterward — he can't recall exactly how long it was — Jeremy didn't have any idea whether his father had survived. All he had was a premonition.
I had a gut feeling that everything was fine, he said. There was never really a thought in my head, 'What about this? What about that?' I was more concerned about the big picture, an attack on American soil, than anything else. I knew in my heart he was fine.
That feeling turned out to be right. Later that day, someone from the school stopped by one of Kapinos' classes to let him know that his father was OK. His office was opposite the side of the building that was hit. His family would not see him again for a week, but David Kapinos was alive and well.
Five years later, life is very different for this military family. David has retired from the army, and Jeremy is gearing up to start his own career, possibly as an NFL player. He's in his fourth year as Penn State's starting punter and is enjoying perhaps his finest season.
A contender for the Ray Guy Award, Kapinos has shined in conference play after a disappointing start. He was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time in 2006 after pinning Illinois inside its 20-yard line four times last Saturday.
Heading into Penn State's game Saturday at Purdue, Kapinos is averaging a career-high 42.5 yards per attempt. Seventeen of his 39 punts have been downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line and 10 have been fair caught.
I think I'm having the best Big Ten season I've ever had, Kapinos said. I finally figured out Big Ten punting. My preparation is so much different than in the past.
Kapinos said he spends more time watching video of himself and the team's opponent than he ever did before.
I'm more focused on the whole aspect of playing and not just kicking, he said. I'm just a lot more focused on helping this team out and getting better.
Kapinos followed a convoluted path to Penn State. His family moved constantly when he was younger, with stops in New York, Kentucky, Kansas, Georgia and South Korea, and two stops in Virginia.
It was during the second stay in Springfield — the family returned after a two-year absence, moving into the same house it had previously occupied — that Kapinos renewed acquaintances with his childhood friend Kevin Darling. Darling had taken up football and was gradually developing into a scholarship-worthy receiver. He talked Kapinos into trying out for the team. Overcoming his father's misgivings — David Kapinos had played football at West Point in the early 1970s — the younger Kapinos tried out and fell under the spell of West Springfield High coach Bill Renner, a former NFL punter who paid close attention to special teams.
In 2002, Kapinos and Darling both came to Penn State. Darling became a tight end. Kapinos, after redshirting as a true freshman, won the starting position the following season.
He's been starting ever since. With his 365 yards on eight punts against Illinois last Saturday, he became the leading punter in school history, surpassing Ralph Giacomarro, with 9,578 career yards.
Kapinos is still a bit incredulous at holding such a significant record — It kind of snuck up on me, he said — but he's not surprised in the least to be following a high-profile career track. That was the idea all along.
I came to Penn State because I knew that it was a large stage that I would be punting on, and I knew that maximum exposure would lead to NFL opportunities, he said. It's been my goal from day one to punt in the NFL, and I think to get there, I need to finish the season strong and keep doing what I've been doing. I don't think I need to make leaps and bounds to get ready for the next level. Obviously it's going to be really hard and will require a lot of training and attention to detail. But I need to keep focused and keep doing what I'm doing. If opportunity knocks, hopefully I'll answer.