By Jack Shields
Florida State Sports Information Intern
Redshirt senior tight end Kevin Haplea returned to the Seminoles in 2014 after sitting out all of last season recovering from a knee injury. Pairing with Nick O’Leary, the Annandale, N.J. native gives FSU a pair of veteran tight ends with plenty of experience. Haplea transferred to FSU in 2012 from Penn State and has appeared in 40 games since his freshman season in 2010. And while Haplea has made a significant contribution on the field with two touchdown receptions, he has also made an impact off the field. During his year off from football, Haplea founded Florida State’s Uplifting Athletes chapter last fall and spearheaded events that have raised over $10,000 for Fanconi anemia research. Now in his third season with the ‘Noles, Haplea talks about his journey to his final season of collegiate football.
Q: You suffered a knee injury in the summer leading up to the 2013 season. Can you describe the healing process leading up to the 2014 season?
A: Well, it’s been pretty long. The normal ACL recovery is anywhere from six-to-eight months, and after that, once you’re healed, it’s more getting it back into shape – just conditioning it to play football again. It was a long process, you know, healing it, getting it strengthened up. But it’s over now, and I’m definitely glad it’s over. It was really long and really tedious and frustrating at times.
Q: Last fall, you founded Florida State’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes. Can you explain what this is?
A: It’s a national nonprofit organization that aligns college football players with rare diseases. And the way it works is different schools will pick their own disease to raise money for. For us, our inspiration was Ethan – Coach Fisher’s son. But it can be a former player or family member of someone on the team. They pick a disease that hits home for them, and they do different activities to raise money. We’ve done the Lift for Life event this summer and the Touchdown Drive. It’s all about raising money and using our platform as college football players to raise awareness for diseases that go usually underserved.
Q: You began your career at Penn State and transferred to Florida State. What qualities about FSU set it apart from other potential destinations?
A: Well, at the time it was the only school that I also got recruited by in high school that still had the same head coach, Coach Fisher, and my tight end coach, which was James Coley at the time. FSU was familiar for me because it was the same coaches that I had when I was getting recruited. And on top of that the academics fit well. The team, too. Obviously I came into a winning situation. The tight end depth situation was right. Everything pretty much lined up as well as it could have considering the circumstance where I transferred so late, so close to camp.
Q: How difficult was it to leave a program you had been a part of for two years and start new?
A: Yeah, it was pretty tough. You know, the hardest part was definitely leaving all the good friendships I had made there over the two-and-a-half years I was there. And, you know, it was a great place to go to school. My twin sister went there, and she stayed there and graduated. It was definitely tough, but it was kind of like a leap of faith I had to take, and it’s worked out great.
Q: Outside of football and rehabilitation, what did you do over the summer?
A: I just tried to stay busy. I mean, whatever it was, whether it was going swimming or reading. I just tried to stay active. Football, working out and working on my knee to get it strengthened up was definitely my primary focus this summer. But in the summer we have a lot of free time and we usually don’t know what to do with it. I just stayed busy.
Q: Your father and uncle both attended the Naval Academy. How did their military background influence your upbringing? Have the lessons they’ve learned been passed down to you?
A: Yeah, definitely. They both went to the Naval Academy, and I was definitely raised with a high standard for discipline and just what it meant to be a man; I think would probably be the best way to describe it. I definitely learned a lot of lessons the hard way. My dad sunk a lot of stuff into me that he wanted to so I think he’s probably pretty happy.
Q: Do the young tight ends on the team look up to you for advice? Does tight ends coach Tim Brewster rely on you and fellow senior tight end Nick O’Leary to provide them with guidance?
A: Yeah, definitely. He definitely looks for me and Nick to be senior leaders. We’re both seniors and we set an example on the field in terms of the assignments that we have to do. We help out the younger players off the field too. We let them know how the away road trips work, where you need to be, what you have to wear, what to bring, what not to bring. So he definitely looks for us to provide leadership in both those ways. The younger guys are always asking questions and stuff on the field, and they know they can come to us with anything they have.
Q: Talk about the different roles you have as a tight end this year, and do you prefer blocking or pass-catching?
A: In our offense you pretty much have to be able to do everything. To play tight end you have to be able to block, you have to be able to receive, pass-block. You have to go in motion sometimes, line up in different spots. It’s a pro-style offense, you can’t be confined to one thing that you can do or else you’re really going to limit yourself. So it’s best to be able to do everything and Coach Fisher will put you in spots that obviously play to your strengths. And of course, I enjoy catching the football.
Q: Tight ends coach Tim Brewster brings a lot of college and NFL experience to the FSU football program. Since his arrival, how has his presence and experience had an impact on the tight ends?
A: I think he’s had a huge impact. His track record speaks for itself in terms of where he’s been and who he’s coached. And for me it’s been all about listening to everything that he says and just different techniques, different ways that he explains stuff that maybe sinks in a little bit different than if someone else were to say it in a different way. But yeah, I think he’s definitely evolved the tight end position at Florida State a lot since he’s been here, and he’ll continue to do it.
Q: As a native of New Jersey, how often do you have a chance to go back home? Do you miss the northeast at times? What do you miss about it?
A: I go home for spring break, usually. I don’t really go to the beach. I like to go home and see my family and stuff like that. I usually get some time, even if it’s only a day or two around Christmas. But yeah, I definitely miss going home. I’d say the cold weather is what I miss probably the most because the summer is great down here and everything like that, but I like it when it gets cold and there’s snow around Christmas and the winter time. That’s probably what I miss the most.
Q: As far as the football field is concerned, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: Probably back in 2012 when we won the ACC Championship and the Orange Bowl. I wasn’t on the field last year. I was on the team but wasn’t on the field. I’d probably say that my best accomplishment was being part of an ACC Championship team, going to a BCS Bowl and winning an Orange Bowl championship.