Monday, January 21, 2013

Cat Had Their Tongues at Shrine Game


BY JAY GREENBERG

These players were bigger, sure, and at the end of the week, Mike Catapano’s chances of playing in the National Football League still grew larger.  The competitors at a major college all-star game were faster, of course, yet his steps towards being selected in the April draft quickened.

“There is a big monster in your head,” said Princeton’s first invitee to the East-West Shrine Game in 10 years (Taylor Northrop) and it’s first non-kicker in 18 (Keith Elias). “You see it on TV and hear everybody talking about the next level and then you finally get out there and realize you belong.

“I felt that way from the very first practice.  I got more confident as the week went along and I excelled. Absolutely, I wanted everyone to know where my helmet was from.  I had something to prove every day and every play.”

Mike Catapano '13
He slayed the monster in his head.  Next Catapano goes after the elephant in the room –- that Ivy Leaguers have a much better chance of owning or running NFL teams than they do playing on them.    

On Saturday in St. Petersburg, he tipped a pass, got credit for a half sack, fought off a block to make an impressive tackle for no gain and had a couple hurries.  He also was blatantly tackled -- you can take that as one more sign of respect -- as Matt Scott of Arizona hit Chad Bumphis of Mississippi State for a touchdown pass.

Catapano’s case for a place in the draft was not helped when the exhibition game rules forced him to line up inside, not outside, the tight end, hardly a premium spot for a defensive end to strut his pass rushing stuff, No. 77’s long suit.  But he also rode off a block for an impressive stuff of a run for no gain.   

Nobody from UCLA or Texas A&M knocked the big chip off Catapano’s shoulder and no defensive lineman from Maryland, Florida State, or Georgia Tech on his East team outplayed him. His coaches were talking about Catapano all week, so an important invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 23-26) in Indianapolis probably will be forthcoming. 

“They re-vote at the end of the week,” said Catapano.  “This time around, I think I really swayed the people who needed to be swayed.”

About 80 per cent of the players who have played in the East-West Shrine Game have been drafted.  There are about 300 players invited to the combine, who will get the vast majority of the 224 draft slots over seven rounds.  If Catapano isn’t selected on April 26th or 27th his phone surely will ring within an hour with invitations to camp, but it’s looking more like he will be some team’s investment, not their training camp filler.  

“It was noted time after time by his coaches and people in attendance that he showed the most promise of practically anybody on the East club,” said Princeton’s assistant head coach and defensive line coach Steve Verbit, who was in St. Petersburg for the game.  “He worked so hard for the right to be there and then showed he absolutely belonged.”

The next step hopefully will be the combine, then probably a Pro Day before scouts, likely at Princeton.  Catapano is working out with Rich Sadiv, guru of Chris Long and Deion Branch so there won’t be a piece of meat in this market in any better condition than the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.

“A lot of people don’t want to work with [Sadiv] because of how intense he is, how crazy he is,” said Catapano. “I love him because he is one of the few people who have pushed me harder than I have pushed myself.”

That’s a lot of pushing, begun last summer when he attended Chuck Smith’s pass-rushing camp.  Ever closer gets the prize.

“I am hearing from my agent (Alan Herman) and on-line and everywhere else that I did well,” said Catapano.  “I had fun.”