Much has been made of rookie Mike Catapano since this writer first saw him play a year ago on a small school college field as a virtual unknown. Things have changed since then. Today he resides in Kansas City on the NFL's top ranked defense waiting in the wings for his big opportunity. Nobody had heard of Mike Catapano outside Ivy League circles a year ago when I first saw him play. Since then he came within 1/2 sack of setting the all time Ivy League single season record for sacks, won Ivy League Player Of The Year, dominated Offensive Lineman in practice all week at the East West Shrine game, had a full page write up in the NY Times, was drafted into the NFL, made the 53 man roster, recorded his first NFL sack and has looked very impressive with the limited time he has played thus far.
I was covering the Brown vs. Princeton game last October and was blown away by this monster nobody knew about wearing number 77 who looked like a man among boys on the field that day. The scouting reports talked alot about 300 lbs. Princeton DT Caraun Reid but not much mention of Catapano. Brown had blown Princeton out of the water the previous year but that didn't happen on this day. Princeton hammered Brown 19-0 and made the Brown offense look very bad. Catapano's talent and drastic improvement as a pass rusher really just jumped off the field! It was painfully obvious that this was no longer any ordinary Ivy League player. (See an edited youtube television broadcast of this game included with this article below)
What stuck me as so amazing about number 77 was how fast he moved for his size. Known primarily as a run stopper his junior year Catapano weighed a stout 290 lbs (of mostly muscle) and also had a respectable 5 sacks. For his senior season however that changed, and changed drastically. Catapano sought out off season help the summer before his final season, spending a month with NFL pass rushing coach and former All Pro Chuck Smith at his pass rushing camp down in Atlanta. What Catapano came back as in his senior year was quite amazing.
After changing his focus on pure speed and agility Catapano went from a 290 lbs monster to a 270 lbs. pass rushing force. Between taking up Mixed Martial Arts training with World Champion kickboxer Derek Panza, the month he spent in Atlanta with Smith and a retooled diet Catapano became the Ivy Leagues worst nightmare for opposing quarterbacks his senior season. Catapano averaged 1.2 sacks a game, 1.5 tackles for loss a game and led the league in forced fumbles (for which he seems to have a knack, even in his limited time in the NFL so far).
How much did this 290 lbs defensive end's speed and agility improve going into his senior season? Enough to have been in the top 3 of all defensive ends in the NFL Combine who weighed over 270 lbs...had he been invited that is. Catapano's numbers rivaled and even surpassed that of NFL great JJ Watt but nobody saw it because he got snubbed being an out-of-nowhere prospect coming out of a small college. While preparing for the draft Catapano ran a 4.6 40 on lazer time at Parisi Speed school in New Jersey while training with famous draft prep coach Rich Sadiv while weighing over 270 lbs. Catapano also benched over 30 reps and had a 38 inch verticle.
Catapano is no ordinary athlete. Had he been playing at a big school and had a combine invite his draft stock wouldve been in the first couple rounds. The Chiefs may have gotten the steal of the draft with the 207th pick. After being drafted as a pass rushing outside linebacker the Chiefs staff decided he could be an asset as a versatile pass rusher who could play multiple positions along the D-line. When asked him if he could gain 10 lbs. and play as an inside rusher Catapano said "sure, no problem". When I interviewed Mike a month into his summer training he said he had already gained 13 lbs since OTA's. When I asked if it was difficult he responded "no it was actually very easy, I just went off my diet". He had been dieting strictly since last fall to keep his weight down to 270 for speed purposes so the climb into the 280's was an easy one. When asked if he felt he had lost a step Catapano replied "No, not one bit, if anything I feel more explosive".
So the question of when we will see more of this guy may have just been taken up a notch this week. With DE Anthony Toribio being waived just yesterday, the Chiefs getting absolutely no pressure on Manning in their first loss last week, injuries to DE's Mike Devito and Tyson Jackson (who were held from practicing today) the time may be at hand to see what the rookie can do once given the chance. The limited time Catapano has seen so far this season he has produced. His QB rush on Chad Henne ended the game in Jacksonville, his strip sack/fumble recovery of Terrell Pryor ended the game against Oakland and he has certainly passed the eye test on all the plays I have seen him play thus far. He gets after the QB and he dislodges the football, two things a suddenly stagnant Kansas City Defense could use more of...and fast!
This defense has shown no pass rush the last couple games, especially from the inside. If Rivers is given the time to throw he is a very dangerous QB. A win against San Diego with Denver making a tough trip to New England would put the Chiefs in a good position. A win this week puts their destiny clearly into their own hands come week 13 in Kansas City. Without a pass rush however, the winning way in KC may start to change. If they can't generate a pass rush against Manning they can't beat Denver. Personally I'd like to see what an able bodied and talented number 77 could do in helping to reignite the best pass rush and best defense in football. Catapano rushing on the inside and Houston and Hali outside would be a very interesting combination. Its the perfect time to find out.
Princeton 19 vs. Brown 0 - Mike Catapano Princeton Football NBC Sports Oct. 2012 (via MrTigerfan10)