Mike Catapano started playing the sport of football at an early age at the urging of his mother no less...Mike was always the biggest child around — 12 pounds 2 ounces at birth, his mother, Barbara, said — but so passive that he was bullied. When he was about 8, his mother signed him up for football to give him confidence and teach him toughness. His family still calls him the neutralizer because he is a calming influence. On the field, though, Catapano’s willingness to absorb instruction and follow orders was valuable.
"I never expected what we got," Barbara Catapano said. "I guess it was just his outlook to be able to release things. It was O.K. for him to go through the three hole and take that kid out; that was his job. It was his aggressiveness that he wouldn’t have displayed because he didn’t have that kind of temperament, until he got on the field. It became a vehicle that helped develop him, and really changed his life."
At Chaminade High School on Long Island, boys dropped their lacrosse sticks in the locker room on the way to class and the traffic passed on Jericho Turnpike as Mike Catapano hauled padded red shields and agility dummies up the concrete steps to the field. He is tall and chiseled, about 6 feet 4 inches and 270 pounds — with such a square jaw that one of his coaches called him Drago, after the Russian boxer from "Rocky IV" — and he is an N.F.L. prospect.
Mike Catapano didn't attend camps at Boston College, Virginia or Rutgers during his summer vacation before his senior year, so all three programs would be judging him on the first few games of his senior season, one the Chaminade High School standout plans to play with a chip on his shoulder. This 6-foot-4, 235-pound athlete already held offers from Army, Hofstra and Temple and was being recruited aggressively by some Ivy League schools and Syracuse as well.
"Boston College, Virginia and Rutgers all want me to come visit them for games this season and bring my senior film with me," Catapano said. "Unfortunately I could not get to their camps this summer, but I will be going to Boston College for their game against Army. I really like everything about BC from the social environment, to their great academics, to their football program. They are also very close to home and my high school coach went there and then played in the NFL, so I have some ties to the program and have seen someone who has gone to Boston College and been successful."
"With Virginia it is pretty much the same type of qualities," Catapano explained. "They have a great campus with an awesome environment and the academics there are some of the best in the country. The football tradition at Virginia is definitely solid and I enjoyed my visit there this summer. Princeton and Syracuse are two other schools that have been very aggressive recruiting me recently and I get a handwritten letter from Temple almost on a daily basis at this point."
Catapano hoped that a fine senior year will lead to more offers and is open to playing at both the Division I-A or Ivy League levels.
At Chaminade - lettered four years in football and two years in lacrosse ... ranked 15th nationally among fullbacks by Scout.com ... named to the New York all-star team ... earned all-league honors and named captain as a senior ... played both fullback and linebacker in football and defense in lacrosse ... led football team to two undefeated seasons and lacrosse team to one.
Mike Makes His Commitment - Princeton
Mike Catapano will be working hard to add an additional 10 pounds of muscle mass over the next several months as he’ll be playing defensive end for Princeton University in the fall of 2008. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Chaminade High School product had other offers from Army, Temple, Hofstra and Harvard, but said his decision became easy after visiting Princeton for an official. "I had known I was going to commit there officially for a while, but I had to wait to get accepted and that became official on Friday," Catapano explained. "After football I want to have a great degree that can take me places in life so that if professional football isn’t in my future I’m still making professional money." At first Catapano didn’t have the option of the Ivy Leagues with offers from Temple, Army and Hofstra, but once Harvard and Princeton came into picture his focus completely shifted. "It really came down too Princeton and Harvard, so I took officials to both and just felt more comfortable with the players, coaches and atmosphere at Princeton."
Catapano was off to a great start his season, however a shoulder injury ended his senior year early.
Mike's Playing Days At Princeton...
2009 - Even though Mike was a Fullback coming out of high school, he would start playing defensive end at Princeton during his freshman year. Catapano recorded 22 tackles, including eight solo stops, as a member of the defensive line rotation ... had season-best five tackles in 17-14 win over Cornell ... had three pass break-ups on the season and a sack against Cornell ... made first career start against The Citadel and recorded three tackles, including one for loss, a sack and a pass breakup.
2010 - Catapano earned Honorable Mention All-Ivy League distinction after recording 37 tackles and two sacks during injury-hampered season … recorded 20 solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble … also broke up two passes … led all Princeton defensive linemen in tackles … recorded three tackles, including one for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup in the season opener at Lehigh … recorded a career-best eight tackles against Colgate … had sacks against both Penn and Lafayette … had at least four tackles in five games despite playing with a nagging back injury that kept him out of the Cornell game.
2011 - Catapano earned second-team All-Ivy League honors … recorded 49 tackles, including 20 solo stops … had career highs in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (five) … served as team tri-captain … had six games with at least five tackles, including season-best eight at Hampton … had three pass breakups … recorded two sacks against Penn.
Catapano Wins Ivy Defensive Player Of The Year, Earns Tigers' 7th Bushnell Cup...
2012 - Catapano completed a dominant season on the Princeton defensive line, earning unanimous selection to the All-Ivy first team. He led the Ivy League with 12 sacks and ended the regular season ranked second in the Football Championship Subdivision with 1.2 sacks per game. He ranked second in the Ivy League in tackles for loss with 15.5, which was only a half tackle off the League lead, and ranked ninth nationally in that category. The two-year co-captain ended the season with 41 tackles, and he had five games with at least two tackles for loss, as well as five games with at least five tackles.
Catapano was at his best in Ivy League competition, when he led Princeton to its biggest turnaround in more than two decades. He had multiple sacks in four of the seven Ivy games and had at least half a sack in six games. He added five pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles during the season. After the Tigers were the seventh-ranked defense in the Ivy League in 2011, Catapano helped Princeton improve to the third-best scoring defense in 2012. Princeton produced its first winning season in Ivy League play since 2006 and remained in the championship hunt until the final Saturday.
His 12 sacks were the most for a single season at Princeton since David Ferrara '00 recorded 12.5 during the 1998 season.
Catapano is the seventh Princeton player to be bestowed with the Bushnell Cup, following Walt Snickenberger (1974), Jason Garrett (1988), Judd Garrett (1989), Keith Elias (1993), Dave Patterson (1995) and Jeff Terrell (2006). He is first Tiger from the defensive side to receive the Bushnell Cup since Patterson in 1995 and is just the second-ever Defensive Player of the Year as the award was established prior to the 2011 season.
"What means the most to me is that this is really a team award," Catapano said afterwards. "What we did this year, as part of this senior class, is flip the culture here. I'm part of a senior class that can say that the best is still to come. We really worked hard, and I'm so proud to bring this home to those guys, the coaches and te University. It's a team award, and I share it with those guys."
East West Shrine Game...
Defensive linemen Mike Catapano was all over the place today. Catapano showed a relentless motor all afternoon. One play in particular he closed the gap on the quarterback who was trying to get around the corner then said "cmon baby hell yeah," after eliminating the edge. Catapano was excellent in pursuit, and something I jotted down several times in my notes.
Mike Catapano's Pro Day Workout...
"When I woke up on the day of my pro day, I was smiling ear to ear," Catapano said. "To finally be doing it. I was so sick of talking about it. To be living it and doing it and proving to myself I wasn’t crazy."
Catapano 6'3" 271 lbs. has measurables the NFL likes. He has good size for an end in a 4-3 defense and decent enough speed (4.75) and athletic ability to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
His arms are 33¾ inches, longer than average for his positions, and his hands are 103/8 inches, also bigger than average. At his Pro Day at Princeton, he showed excellent strength in doing 33 reps on the weights.
Since he played in the East West Shrine game, Catapano has been on a terror. The Princeton Tigers defensive end dominated a week of practice against some of the finest players in the nation Catapano added another feather in the cap with an exceptional Pro Day. Posting numbers that are worthy of the top players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. When I hear of people nominating NFL Combine snubs, Catapano has been leading my list and his continued success is backing that up.
Forty - 4.67-4.69
Bench Press - 33
Broad Jump - 9'8"
Vertical - 37.5
3-cone - 7.04
Shuttle - 4.21
Pushes the pocket. Very coachable and dedicated. Fine athlete. Has excellent quickness off the ball and will often be in the backfield before blocker can react. Could be fine pass rusher. Good explosiveness and closing burst in pursuit. Some limitations, but has enough ability and the desire to get better. Overall excellent worker and team leader. Catapano has contagious personality to inspire and lead.
Mike Catapano had an interesting, no-lose decision to make coming out of high school in Bayville, N.Y. Should he try to live his dream of playing in the NFL, or choose a college better known for producing Wall Street executives than 3-4 linebackers — a school like Princeton University.
He decided to do both.
"Why couldn’t I do both," Catapano said recently, following a college football career at Princeton that has him projected as a mid-to-late round pick in next week’s NFL Draft.
"I’ve always been ambitious. It was hard to say no to a school like Princeton. So I decided why not try to do both, go to Princeton and still try to make it in the NFL."
Does DE Mike Catapano Have A Future In The NFL?
"I think I was naïve," Catapano said recently. "I didn’t see why I couldn’t go to Princeton and go to the N.F.L. That was always in the plan: I’m going to go to Princeton and go to the N.F.L. I was always very ambitious. I didn’t see the issue there. Looking back at it, it was not the easiest road to take."
"He’s a football meathead that just happens to be smart enough to get into Princeton," Tucker said. "The other guys on the team tell me he’s psycho." Said former Princeton offensive lineman, Ross Tucker, who spent all or parts of five seasons in the N.F.L., had the highest praise for Catapano.
Ivy Leaguers must overcome several hurdles in a scout’s eyes, the lower level of competition being the most obvious. But N.F.L. teams want players who consider football the most important aspect of their lives, and they fear that players with broad interests may not have the requisite love for football.
"It’s nice to have players with no fallback plan," said Daniel Jeremiah, a former N.F.L. scout who is now an NFL Network analyst.
Next month he will graduate from Princeton with a degree in psychology. Before that he has a chance to make another dream come true — the NFL.