Sept. 14, 2011
The following is a part of an ongoing series of feature stories that appear in the Southern Miss Kickoff Magazine. These stories premiere at every Southern Miss home football game and highlight a senior Golden Eagle football player.
"Leader of the Pack"
By Kyle Neaves, Asst. Director of Media Relations
"Worst to First," is as Hollywood a phrase as "Lights, Camera, Action!" but for redshirt senior kicker Danny Hrapmann, it's life as a former walk-on, now scholarship kicker at Southern Miss.
When Hrapmann, a transfer from FCS level Southeastern Louisiana, stepped onto campus, he came without the promise of a scholarship or even playing time. With him, he brought the ire of his family who questioned his move from an FCS school where, at the very least, his school was paid for.
"For me, I just didn't feel happy (at Southeastern Louisiana)," said Hrapmann. "I wasn't very heavily recruited out of high school but I knew I wanted to play at a bigger school and Southern Miss was a school that had talked to me early on." Hrapmann was forced to sit out his sophomore season due to NCAA transfer rules and entered the 2009 campaign with the hope of earning playing time as the kickoff man for the Golden Eagles. But even with all that hope, it wasn't going to earn him a scholarship and, as a walk-on player, he knew that there was something to prove.
"As a walk-on, you aren't necessarily given anything less than a scholarship player, but you have to work just a little harder for the coaches to take notice of you," said Hrapmann. "Coach (Larry) Fedora didn't even know who I was when I first started kicking but he said to me once, `You keep kicking like that, I'll remember who you are.'" And remember him he did.
Fedora placed Hrapmann on the kickoff squad that season and things were going smoothly. But, that all came to a screeching halt in typical Halloween fashion at Houston on Oct. 31.
Hrapmann went 4-of-5 in PATs and was 1-of-2 in field goals. For most kickers, this might have been a normal outing, but for Hrapmann and the 2009 Golden Eagles, it was the continuation of a season of shortcomings in the kicking game. The unit finished as the worst kicking unit in the nation with just an 82 percent success rate in point-after-attempts and just 66-percent in field goal attempts.
"It was just a lot of different things that contributed to those numbers," Hrapmann is honest enough to note. "I had a nagging hamstring injury and there were snapping issues and holding issues and all of these things built this lack of confidence in the kickers that year."
In the final game of the 2009 season, the New Orleans Bowl, Hrapmann began to show signs of confidence even if the coaching staff did not. The Black and Gold scored four touchdowns and attempted four two-point conversions. However, Hrapmann makes no mention of this but rather chose to focus on the perfect 2-for-2 performance he saw as a sign of things to come.
"The bowl game, when I hit both of my attempts, was really the first time that I felt confident on the ball," he added. "It gave me the confidence I needed to go into the Spring and on to 2010 that I could do this."
With this newfound confidence in his abilities, a scholarship and the help of another walk-on, Hrapmann made 2010 his breakout year.
"(Punter) Peter Boehme was really instrumental in my turnaround as a kicker, and he can be attributed to a lot of my success," Hrapmann said. "He took holding to another level and gave me that trust to say to myself, `The ball is there and ready,' so that I just had to kick it through."
The senior finished 2010 a perfect 51-for-51 in PATs and 26-of-30 in field goals. All of this culminated in Hrapmann being named to the Walter Camp first team All-American squad, becoming just the second player in Southern Miss history to earn the honor behind the legendary Ray Guy.
"When you look through the record books at Southern Miss, you see guys like Darren McCaleb and Ray Guy at the top of many of the lists for the kickers," said Hrapmann. "It's humbling and exciting at the same time to know you have done something only two other men have ever done, Ray especially"
He was also a finalist for the Lou Groza award, given to the nation's top kicker, but came up just short of winning the award. Nonetheless, Hrapmann found the positives in the decision.
"Not winning the Groza award stung a bit, but (Oklahoma State's) Dan Bailey won the award and he's a great guy," Hrapmann added. "I got to know him really well along with (Notre Dame's) David Ruffer, and all three of us were walk-ons, which I thought was neat. I get to have the recognition of being on the Walter Camp team which, to me, means that I wasn't overlooked and was still seen as one of the best kickers in the nation."
After attending the awards banquet in Florida, Hrapmann returned to Southern Miss with a new idea he picked up along the way, a group he called the "Walk On Player's Union."
"The WOPU!" Hrapmann says with a laugh. "It was just something I picked up from the other kickers who had done something similar at their school. It's just something we do as fun, to highlight the accomplishments of walk on players at Southern Miss. When I got back, I looked at the list of guys who came as walk-ons - Austin Davis, most of the specialists, Gerald Baptiste a few years ago, Francisco Llanos. A lot of big things have been accomplished by walk on players here."
His turnaround, with as much credit as he can give to his teammates, also occurred off the field as well when he met his now fiancée, Kyndal Roberts. Hrapmann is able to credit her support and understanding of his role for his success a season ago.
"We started dating (just before the 2010 season)," said Hrapmann. "And she was always there supporting me and making sure that I didn't have to worry about anything off the field. I could focus on football and know she was always behind me."
The rest of the script for the kicker who walked on at Southern Miss and became one of the best kickers in the nation is not yet complete, so in 2011, it's "Lights, Camera, Action!" for Southern Miss' Danny Hrapmann.