On any exceptionable football team, an equally exceptional kicker is likely to be found. For the Slippery Rock University football team (11-2), junior Jake Chapla has proven himself to be one of the most superb kickers, not just within the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), but within all of Division II football, head coach Shawn Lutz said.
Chapla, a 2016 graduate of Plum High School, played soccer growing up and decided to start “kicking football” during his sophomore year.
“I had to decide my junior year whether to continue to play soccer or to give that up and pursue kicking,” a soft-spoken Chapla said. “I decided that it was time to give up soccer and continue kicking because I could see a future in it.”
Chapla said that he was recruited by a number of PSAC schools, like Mercyhurst University and Indiana University (Pa.), before deciding on SRU. Mercyhurst was a tad far from home for his liking and IUP “just wasn’t a proper fit,” he said.
Chapla was recruited by then newly-appointed defensive coordinator Domenick Razzano.
“I think Slippery Rock was a place that [Chapla] always liked,” Lutz said. “I never give out scholarships to kickers or punters and I did that with Jake. He plays at such a high level and I love him and I am so happy that he is here.”
Going into last Saturday’s game against New Haven University, Chapla was tied with Morgan Anderson’00 for the SRU record in scoring for a kicker with 259 points. During the game, Chapla recorded one field goal and eight PATs to surpass Anderson and take the record for his own. He is now ranked third in program history in all-time scoring with 270 points, according to Rock Athletics.
Chapla acknowledged that his record-setting season is indeed impressive, but said there are a number of other people that need praised as well.
“[The record is] not possible without the offense putting up points on the board,” Chapla said. “I had a long snapper my first two years, Garret MacFarland, who was great in the operation, I have to thank my holder Mike Merhaut for always getting the snaps down, and now we have a true freshman long snapper in Jake George who has done an incredible job this year. Without them I am nothing and those records are not anything without them.”
On the season, Chapla has made 16 field goals on 25 attempts (64%). On the rare occasion that Chapla has a subpar outing, Lutz said he never doubts his kicker.
“He kicks more field goals and PATs than any other kicker in the PSAC,” Lutz said. “Kicking is a mental game, so Jake just has to regain his focus and he will be good to go.”
Chapla attributes his ability to maintain his composure out on the field in high pressured situations to a high school coach by the name of Lorenzo Freeman, who played five seasons in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants as a defensive tackle. Freeman passed away in October of 2016 at the age of 52.
“He didn’t know a thing about kicking,” Chapla explained. “But he was the greatest coach I ever had for distractions. At practices in high school he would do the littlest things or the biggest things to try to distract me, and through my time I finally learned it was to block him out and that he was doing that so I would learn to block him out and anything that could possibly distract me.
In sports, superstitions are quite common among players and coaches. Chapla said he is no different.
“I wear the same compression pants every game,” said Chapla, grinning. “I have had them since like eighth grade soccer and I have worn them for every football game I have played in. There is a huge hole in them but I still wear them. That’s how superstitious I am.”
To continue being effective for his team this late in the season, Chapla said he began to start taking one day off a week to preserve his leg.
“I have been working with the trainers just for rehab just to keep my leg fresh and strong,” he said. “I am like a pitcher in baseball in that I am doing the same repeated motion again and again on my leg and that can be strenuous. But that off day has been helping a lot and I feel like it’s helping me be more effective later in the season.”
The Rock will look for Chapla to continue his dependability out on the field as they take on Notre Dame College (Oh.) in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals. Despite losing to West Chester University in the PSAC Championship on Nov. 10, The Rock has proven themselves as a force to be reckoned within the national playoffs.
“During camp, I got up in front of the team at one point, when Coach Lutz called me up, and I said to the team, ‘This is the most talented team I have ever been a part of at Slippery Rock,’” Chapla said. “I said, ‘I really think this team can put something together if we really focus and are determined to do it,’ and so far we have and it’s incredible.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game against Notre Dame is set for 12 p.m. at Mueller Field in South Euclid, Ohio.