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Paul Kuppich: Tight end joins squad after transferring from Columbia

Sam Werner | Friday, November 21, 2008

Even though senior tight end and long-snapper Paul Kuppich is a walk-on in his first, and last, year with the Irish, he is trying to make the most of his Notre Dame experience.

Kuppich transferred to Notre Dame from Columbia after his freshman year, and he said the biggest difference he has experienced between the two schools is Notre Dame’s sense of community.

“[It’s] more of an undergraduate feel,” Kuppich said. “People are really supportive of each other. Not only supportive of the team, but just everyone in general.

“It’s kind of cliché to say ‘We are Notre Dame,’ but it’s real once you get here.”

Kuppich did not apply to Notre Dame out of high school, as he wanted to play football in college and Notre Dame did not offer him a scholarship.

At Columbia, Kuppich was the Lions’ second-string tight end and played regularly on special teams. However, during his freshman year, the Columbus, Ohio native decided that the New York City school just wasn’t for him.

“Because there’s so much going on outside of school in New York City, it kind of takes away from campus life and support,” he said.

Kuppich said he contacted Ron Powlus, who was at that time Notre Dame’s director of player personnel, to gauge whether or not he’d be able to walk-on with the Irish, though Kuppich said that football was not the primary factor in his decision to transfer.

“It played a small part,” he said. “But it wasn’t the end-all, be-all.”

After sitting out his sophomore year due to NCAA transfer regulations, Kuppich walked on in the winter of his junior year, and suddenly realized that he had stepped up a level from Columbia. But he didn’t back down from the challenge.

“In a sense it’s humbling, because you realize you’ve stepped up a level and so the competition’s going to rise, but I think that’s something that everyone wants,” he said. “As an athlete, you thrive on competition, being able to compete and make the team better.”

That competition was highlighted in Kuppich’s first training camp with the Irish this fall. He was listed as a co-starter at long-snapper with four other players.

“Every time you go into a training camp, from my experience at Columbia too, is that it’s really a competition. That’s to push people to become better themselves, but also to push others to become better. They put people on equal footing to see who comes out.”

Kuppich said his goal as a walk-on is to work his hardest to improve the rest of the team.

“You realize as a walk-on, it’s not about yourself,” he said. “You’re supposed to be making the guy across from you better.”

He also said that, even though he’s a walk-on, the rest of the team doesn’t treat him any differently than any scholarship player.

“There aren’t divisions or labels. Everyone’s a Notre Dame football player,” he said.

With the glory and prestige of being a Notre Dame football player though, comes the responsibilities associated with it.

“The players treat you the same, the coaches are going to treat you the same as a scholarship player,” Kuppich said. “They’re going to expect you to know the plays, they’re going to expect you to be on time, they’re going to expect you make every meeting.”

That hard work paid off for Kuppich against San Diego State, though, when he put on the gold helmet for the first time and got to run out of the tunnel as a Notre Dame football player. Even though he wasn’t a Notre Dame fan growing up, he said it was definitely a special moment for him.

“It’s kind of surreal in a way. As a kid, you always dream of playing for a big-time college program. Once you’re here, you’re seeing everything you always dreamed of.”

That feeling wore off quickly, however, when Kuppich realized that he had work to do.

“You have to actually become what you’ve always looked up to,” he said. “You expect to kind of take it all in, but in reality you’re so focused on the game, you weren’t in awe any more. You had to take it seriously.”

While he wasn’t with the team last year, Kuppich said he suffered through the team’s 3-9 season as a student, and was working hard to fix it.

“While I didn’t experience it first-hand, I’m still working as hard as I can for those guys who did because everyone deserves to be respected as a Notre Dame athlete, especially a football player,” he said.

Kuppich, who plans to attend law school after graduation, will have one more chance to take the field as an Irish player this weekend against Syracuse.