KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The excitement of a potential breakout 2014 season from Chiefs defensive end Mike Catapano began building during the offseason.
The Chiefs’ seventh-round pick of the 2013 NFL Draft looked good coming off a rookie campaign where he appeared in 15 games as a reserve, recording four tackles (three solo), a sack and three quarterback hurries.
A gastrointestinal-based virus during training camp, however, saw Catapano start the regular season on the non-football injury list. The Chiefs then placed him on season-ending injured reserve with a concussion on Sept. 22.
To say the 2014 season proved tough for Catapano would be an understatement.
“Of course, it breaks your heart,” Catapano said Thursday during a media conference call with Chiefs beat writers. “Those are my teammates out there. I want to be out there fighting with them, helping them any way I can. This sport has been the love of my life since I was 8 years old.”
Catapano, who turns 25 in August, could have easily chosen to sulk the rest of the year. Instead, he concentrated on turning the negative of a lost season into a positive.
“I really believe this maybe could’ve been the best thing that ever could’ve happened to me,” Catapano said. “The shape that I’m in and my mentality, I’ve never been stronger and I’m just ready to roll like I’ve never been before. I feel like I’ve had a fire ignited inside of me.”
Catapano, who entered the league out of Princeton weighing 270 pounds, attacked his rehabilitation with the same mentality he brings on the field.
The native of Bayville, N.Y., focused on getting back in shape once he was cleared to train midway through the 2014 regular season.
And the results months later couldn’t leave the 6-foot-4 Catapano happier.
“I’m a little over 290 right now, but you would never, ever know,” he said. “I’m a lot leaner. People look at me like I’ve lost weight, but I’m a lot leaner. This is probably the best I’ve ever felt with this weight. I really had a lot of time to just train and work on my fitness, my speed and keep my explosiveness at this weight, so this is definitely the best I’ve ever been at this weight.”
General manager John Dorsey has also noticed the third-year pro’s dedication.
“If you look at Mike Catapano right now, he’s 295 pounds,” Dorsey said on April 24. “He looks wonderful.”
Catapano backed up Mike DeVito in 2013, and that role should continue in 2015 with both players returning healthy. DeVito, of course, saw his season end with a ruptured Achilles in the regular-season opener.
DeVito will command the snaps against the run, but Catapano’s value to the Chiefs’ defensive scheme emerges in passing situations.
“My kind of niche in this defense has been getting after the passer,” Catapano said. “It’s what I do really, really well, going in with that subgroup as well, just help in any way I can to bring my talents to whatever way I can to help this defense. I love being a part of this defense. It’s very, very aggressive.”
DeVito said on April 20, which marked the first day of the voluntary offseason workout program, the defensive line is “the best group” he has been a part of during his nine-year career.
The veteran defensive lineman pointed out Jaye Howard’s and Catapano’s emergence, adding he wouldn’t be surprised if both became Pro Bowl selections.
“You saw that in Jaye last year,” DeVito said. “Mike had a hiccup; I really feel he has all the tools to be great. This is a great d-line and I’m excited to watch those two guys continue to grow.”
For his part, knowing a player Catapano considers a mentor and big brother took the time to offer high praise carried a lot of weight.
“We believe in each other, and coming from him, there’s no greater compliment,” Catapano said. “I respect him more than any player in the game right now. I hope to make him proud, but, of course, I believe I’m capable of that.”
Catapano enthusiastically looks forward to getting on the field with the 2014 season in the books.
Still, the expectations linger from the past offseason and a fully healthy Catapano is set to tackle them with confidence.
“I know I missed some time, but I know, No. 1, nobody is going to outwork me,” he said. “And No. 2, I have the ability to get on the next level, which is being a special player for this team, and in the AFC West and in the league.”
Herbie Teope is the lead beat writer and reporter for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: