Not too many players can claim to have had as tumultuous of a year as Kevin Haplea has these past 12 months. This time last year he was caught up in a scandal that was taking down Penn State and eliminating any post-season prospects the Nittany Lions would have for the next four years.
This year, after recording a few catches and a touchdown for his new team, he's preparing for an Orange Bowl game on January 1st.
Kevin Haplea was originally recruited by Florida State. As a high schooler Jimbo Fisher and James Coley attempted to recruit the 6-4 250 lb. tight end but ultimately Haplea chose to stay closer to home and enrolled early at Penn State.
"I liked Florida State a lot, I kind of visited [Tallahassee] sort of late in the process and at the time coming out of high school I wasn't that keen on getting too far away from home," said Haplea. "I was like 17 years old, but I had a really great relationship with [the FSU coaches]."
That relationship proved to be vital in the days and months following the Penn State scandal. After allegations of a sexual abuse cover-up were alleged against former Penn State coach Joe Paterno and school administrators, the NCAA came down hard on PSU and gave its players the option to transfer to another school without penalty.
After some soul searching, Haplea decided he wanted to move on. Unfortunately the timing of the decision couldn't have been worse.
"It was so close to preseason camp for all these schools that were starting up, so mutual interest wasn't the only factor, scholarship availability was something you had to factor in and once that got factored in academics.
"I had to make sure I wouldn't lose half my credits. It was pretty stressful, it was a really long, but fast process."
Haplea knew he had to make a decision quickly so that he could get started at his new school, after considering his offers out of high school, he immediately thought back to his trip to Tallahassee and the coaches at Florida State.
"I just kind of was thinking about coaches I knew from recruiting," said Haplea. "I knew coach Fisher and coach Coley were still at Florida State and I had a great relationship with both of them when I got recruited, so yeah I got my permission to go talk to other schools and gave coach Coley a call just trying to feel things out. He was really excited about it, and was just on the horn back and forth with him and coach Fisher a little bit just trying to see where everything was and it worked out that the situation looked good.
"I just thought it was the best move for me."
Florida State had stumbled upon a few extra scholarships as a result of players either transferring or being kicked off the team. Special teams holder (and walk-on) Chris Revell got one of them and Roberto Aguayo (Dustin Hopkins' future replacement) was moved from grayshirt to redshirt. The last spot was Haplea's if he wanted it.
So Kevin packed up and moved to Tallahassee the day before camp was set to kick off. The team got his living situation set up in the 11th hour, got his credits all to transfer and enrolled him. The next day he showed up to FSU and met his new teammates.
But Haplea was further behind than just learning a new offense. He was joining a team that had already had a chance to gel and grow close over the summer. He would have to develop a camaraderie with his teammates quickly in order to assimilitate on to his new roster.
"The summer is the time when a team will bond and gel the most," said Haplea. "It's 12-14 weeks, whatever it is and there's not really people around, there's some kids taking classes but you're pretty much with your team everyday. You know you're working out together, you're eating together, you're hanging out in your apartment.
"So it was tough to come in just right before camp started and I'm showing up 'oh yeah, hey guys I'm here now too.' But all the guys have been awesome, they've been really receptive of me and made me feel part of the team which is really important. Just getting the extra time in the spring to gel with the guys will be really important for me."
Haplea will likely be in a better position to contribute next season after a full year in the Florida State offense and with more time to form close bonds with his teammates. He's contributed three receptions and a touchdown already, but has played primarily in two tight end sets as a blocker this year.
"The biggest thing for me is I was trying to learn the playbook as fast as I can, anytime you're learning a Division I offense it's not going to happen overnight," said Haplea. "That was my first priority, I'm still not even all the way there yet but I've made progress every day I've been here."
For now though, even as a player on a learning curve, the junior tight end is much better off than he was a year ago.
On January 1st Haplea will play in the Orange Bowl. Meanwhile his teammates at Penn State will watch bowl season from home.
"It's just really kind of unfortuante the way it's had to play out," said Haplea. "But I think it's worked out for the best."