As the Chiefs rushed onto the field for Friday’s preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, the emotions bubbled up inside defensive end Mike Catapano and nearly spilled over.
“When I ran out of the tunnel it was a combination of so many feelings and emotions,” Catapano said. “I took a knee in the end zone and almost started crying.”
After missing the entire 2014 preseason and regular season because of a virus and concussion, Catapano saw his first preseason action Friday. He was scratched from last week’s opener against the Arizona Cardinals because of a slight groin injury. A setback, but Catapano and the Chiefs trainers saw no reason to risk further damage.
“I had waited a year to play again,” Catapano said. “I could wait another week.”
Catapano made the most of his return. He led the defense with 39 snaps, seeing action with the starters and reserves. Nobody else on the defense played more than 31 snaps.
On a night when the Chiefs kept the Seahawks’ offense out of the end zone, Catapano was credited with three tackles and perhaps the biggest one of the game.
The Chiefs had taken a 14-10 lead on their first possession of the third quarter with their second-team offense and Seattle was putting together an emphatic answer drive with their reserves. The Seahawks reached the Chiefs 2 and faced third and goal.
Running back Robert Turbin took the handoff from R.J. Archer and was immediately greeted by Catapano, somehow left unblocked. Catapano slung Turbin for a 7-yard loss and the Seahawks settled for a field goal that wound up as the game’s final points in a 14-13 Chiefs’ victory.
“It just opened up for me,” Catapano said. “You can’t miss the layups.”
He didn’t, and the crowd reaction sent chills through Catapano.
“The get the crowd going like that, to have that feeling,” he said. “As soon as I got him I felt the pulse of the crowd.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game that he figured Catapano was having a good game because he kept seeing him on the Arrowhead Stadium video board. After a night of film study, Reid said Saturday he liked Catapano’s progress throughout the evening.
“He got better as the game went on,” Reid said. “His energy was good. When he was with the ones, he probably wasn’t as productive as when he played with the twos.
“But he kept pushing and you could see him refine a couple of things. I thought initially he was kind of taking guys down the middle on his pass rush and they were pushing toward him, so he was getting double (teamed). But he worked through it.”
Just as it is for other Chiefs who missed all or nearly all of last season because of injuries, such as linebacker Derrick Johnson and tackle Mike DeVito, preseason games take on an extra meaning as the players return to form.
Catapano, a seventh-round selection from Princeton in 2013, brought energy as a pass rusher as a rookie, chipping in a sack, three solo tackles and three quarterback hurries in about 80 pass rushing snaps.
The 6-foot-4 Catapano played around 270 pounds then. He’s added about 20 points, and earlier in training camp declared himself the “leanest, meanest 290 in the NFL.”
He lived up to the billing on his tackle for loss against Seattle and is building toward more consistent performances. The big thing, though, is after a year or rehabilitation and study, Catapano, is back where he belongs.
“I tried to turn it into a positive situation, but being out there, what a great feeling,” Catapano said.