Future on the Line

In a matter of days, Jason Capizzi will try to squeeze his six-foot-nine, 320-pound frame into an NFL team’s uniform.

The former IUP offensive tackle hopes he’s a perfect fit. Not just for the jersey—for professional football.

Capizzi will almost certainly wind up with one of the thirty-two NFL teams whose scouts have frequented the IUP football office in recent months, scrutinizing film of a lineman D2Football.com labeled one of ten “Pro Hopefuls” in Division II. The two-day draft will commence April 28.

“There are no doubts in my mind that he’ll get an opportunity,” IUP coach Lou Tepper said. “Jason will definitely be in somebody’s camp, whether he’s drafted or he signs as a free agent. He will get a very serious look.”

With good reason. Capizzi routinely neutralized defenders during his three-year IUP career, allowing only one sack and opening holes so gaping—think Moses parting the Red Sea—that tailback Chris Morgan was able to rush for 3,817 yards, the second-best total in school history. Capizzi earned first-team Daktronics and American Football Coaches Association All-America honors last fall, was a second-team Associated Press Little All-America selection.

The NFL prospect tag was applied to Capizzi almost from the moment he arrived at IUP after transferring from the University of Pittsburgh. Truth is, the Pine-Richland High School graduate was still very much a work in progress back then. Capizzi redshirted his first season at Pitt and played sparingly the following year, so he was more greenhorn than blue-chipper. But through his single-minded dedication to improve and the guidance of IUP offensive line coach Mike Campolo, Capizzi blossomed into one of the premier blockers in the land.

“He committed himself from Day One in the weight room, committed himself in the offseason conditioning program, and committed himself on the practice field,” Campolo said. “He paid attention to detail in practice and in the film room. He did a great job developing himself over time here.”

And yet, Capizzi confesses that he was initially reluctant to cast his lot with IUP. He feared joining a Division II program might compromise his dream of one day playing in the NFL.

“A good friend who played high school ball with me, Brandon Hunt, was playing here at the time,” Capizzi recalled. “I talked to him when I was thinking about leaving Pitt. I said, ‘Brandon, my main goal is to make the NFL. Can I do that at IUP?’ He told me IUP had a tradition of putting people in the NFL.”

Indeed, ten players have made the transition from Miller Stadium to NFL stadiums in the last twenty years. Frank Cignetti, who was then IUP’s coach, enlightened Capizzi about the program’s pro pipeline during the recruiting process.

“Coach Cignetti did an outstanding job of outlining everything for Jason,” Campolo said. “He told him about all the IUP people working in the NFL as coaches, scouts, general managers, players. That opened his eyes. And after Jason’s first year here, that’s when Kris Griffin, Mike Jemison, and LeRon McCoy got into NFL camps. We had more people go to the NFL that year than Penn State.”

Capizzi devoted himself to following in their footsteps. His efforts bore fruit during the 2006 season, when he attracted scouts the way Brad and Angelina attract paparazzi.

“I think Jason made tremendous strides between his junior and senior year,” said Tepper, who coached against Capizzi while at Edinboro in 2004 and 2005. “And that’s not to my credit—it’s to his desire to show people that he might have an NFL future, and to Mike Campolo, who worked with him. He was really a dominant player as a senior.”

Capizzi is blessed with the kind of the attributes that prompt talent evaluators to salivate like Pavlov’s dogs: a lean body, quick feet, the agility of a gymnast, herculean strength, and superior intelligence. About the only attribute he doesn’t possess is prescience: Capizzi hasn’t the vaguest notion what will occur once the seven-round draft kicks off.

“People have said I’m going to be a late-round pick,” he said. “I can see myself going anywhere between the fourth and seventh round. I don’t think I’ll go any higher than the fourth round, but no one can predict what’s going to happen.”

Representatives of four teams—Indianapolis, Cleveland, Atlanta, and New Orleans—have made three visits to campus, an indication of their overwhelming interest in Capizzi. But ask him where he’d like to begin his pro career and Capizzi expresses no preference. He only wants an opportunity.

“You can put me in Alaska, put me in Antarctica—I don’t care what team I play for, as long as I’m on a team,” Capizzi said. “As long as it’s an NFL team playing on Sunday.”

What he accomplished on Saturdays at IUP earned him that shot. Capizzi arrived as a diamond in the rough and worked diligently to become a polished gem.

“I’m proud of what Jason did at IUP,” Campolo said. “He’ll leave here as one of the best offensive linemen we’ve had. And I think that speaks volumes, because we’ve had a lot of great ones.” Several of whom now play in the NFL—where Jason Capizzi soon hopes to find a perfect fit.