Sunday was a very tough day for Ethan Kilmer.
Call this one Joe Pa and The Walk-on.
It was Joe Paterno who called Kilmer into his office at Penn State that day before his senior season.
It was Paterno who urged him not to give up on football, to give it another chance. He could run. He had talent, the coach told him.
So, in the end, it was Paterno that was the reason a walk-on named Ethan Kilmer from tiny Wyalusing, Pa. (population 600) got drafted by the Bengals in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Yes, Sunday was a tough day.
“A lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts,” Kilmer said late Sunday night, the day Paterno died. “I know so much has gone on the last couple of months, but when you think back on what he meant to the school and the people that went there, it’s a very sad day. He certainly meant a lot to me.”
Kilmer has been retired going on four years now and is expanding his family’s insurance business from Wyalusing to the state capital in Harrisburg.
He was never able to overcome some serious leg injuries after such a promising rookie year. Remember? A former track star who found football late and a position even later when the Bengals moved him from wide receiver to safety when he arrived?
On his fourth snap in his life as a defensive player he picked off Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the Superdome for a 52-yard touchdown return. His 16 special teams tackles were second on the team.
Never would have happened, probably, without Joe Pa.
“I was struggling with my identity as a football player,” said Kilmer, who walked on to Penn State from his track scholarship at Shippensburg. “I didn’t really have a position and I just didn’t feel like I was making a lot of progress. It was just before my senior year and I was thinking, ‘Maybe this is it. Maybe it’s time to move on to something else.’ ”
As Kilmer remembers it, Paterno wanted to talk to him, not the other way around. And Kilmer found him not only engaged, but encouraging as Paterno talked him back into football.
Kilmer chuckles a bit now because that’s when the then 80-year-old icon was supposed to be growing more distant from the program.
“He was sharp,” Kilmer said. “I wish I could be that sharp now.
“I was a nobody,” he said of his status as a little-used receiver. “But he met with me and told me I had talent and that I could be something special if I stayed with it.”
Which is why Sunday was very tough for Ethan Kilmer.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» The bulk of the Bengals Pro Bowl contingent is expected in Hawaii by Tuesday in time for Wednesday morning’s practice.
» Former Bengals assistant secondary coach Louie Cioffi, coming off his first season in Arizona, gets in Thursday with his wife as guests of Cardinals Pro Bowl DBs Patrick Peterson and Adrian Wilson.
» There were a few sightings of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl on Monday, but no eyewitness accounts as he waits to hear from the Buccaneers on their head coaching job. ESPN reported that former Packers head coach Mike Sherman is the first Tampa Bay candidate to get a second interview.
» Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle is perceived to be the leading in-house candidate to replace Zimmer if Zimmer gets the Tampa Bay job, but Alex Marvez of FOX reported Tuesday that Miami has set up an interview with Coyle for the defensive coordinator job. Coyle and new Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin have never worked together, but know each other well from their northeast roots. They worked in Worcester, Mass., at the same time when Philbin, a Springfield, Mass., native, was at Worcester Academy and Coyle was at Holy Cross.
The interview is believed to be Wednesday.