Got a chance to talk nothing but football with Colorado tight end Nick Kasa and he discusses his path to the position, the challenges and success he’s had making the move as well as a possible destination in the NFL Draft.
Peter Smith: How did you end up at Colorado?
Nick Kasa: I think it had a lot to do with how beautiful it is there and the feeling you get when you go there. I was coming out of high school and I was pretty heavily recruited and I was thinking a lot about Florida, Colorado, and Oregon. Those were kinda my top three.
Really, I was committed to Florida and stuff happened that they wanted me to move positions and I was not sure if I wanted to do that. I went on my visit to Colorado after all that kinda happened and just loved it there and they told me I was going to start playing right away. I fell in love with the campus and I believed they were going to turn the program around with a big recruiting class before my recruiting class with Darrell Scott and a couple other big names.
My class was pretty good as well, so I felt like we were heading in the right direction. We weren’t able to get that done and that sucks, but I had a lot of great experiences there and learned a lot through the kind of the biggest upset while I was there and took knowledge from that and ran with it. That’s just how it happened and of course being a hometown kid, I loved CU for a long time before I went there.
PS: Talk about the move from defensive end to tight end.
NK: I wasn’t producing a lot at defensive end and it really drug me down through the dirt, I think, getting really depressed about it. I felt like I was letting a lot of people down, letting myself down, and really wasn’t doing what I wanted to do with the position and for the team in general. So, halfway through my junior year, when I was still struggling being a 2 and a 3 guy on the depth chart, I went to my coach, Coach (Jon) Embree, and talked to him for a while about it. I feel I can do a lot more just on special teams.
Get me in on every special team, I’ll do that and I’m a big body and I just know I can do something else that will benefit us more, benefit me more. We just talked about it and how we were lacking a little bit at the tight end position and that’s kinda where we needed some help. I was willing to do that. I told him, you know, where you wanted to see me.
Next thing is a week or two later, we made the switch. It was great after that; it was rough at first, obviously, going from defensive end to tight end, there’s a couple things that are a lot different. Catching the ball and running routes and those kinds of things; even blocking and those things are a lot different.
With my knowledge and experience at DE, I kinda helped out the running game as a tight end, but I needed a lot of work with my hands and I put in a ton of work doing that. From when I made the switch to tight end, day to day I saw tremendous gains and still have a long way to go, but I’m excited about it and ready to work.
PS: What is the one play that sticks out to you from your time as a defensive end?
NK: It was probably my freshman year, it was the second game that I played in, I was hurt for the early part of the year. I think I missed like eight games in total. I missed four my first half and four my second half.
I think it was the game against Texas and it was at Texas. I went in for maybe my 6th play of my career and I was all knee-braced up with a strained MCL. One of our guys had wrapped Colt McCoy up around the legs and I just went in and drove him to the ground. That was awesome. I came off the field the play after and everyone was all over me about it. That was great and it was still kinda before I was struggling at defensive end. That was definitely the one I remember, because it was Colt McCoy obviously too. That definitely felt pretty good.
PS: Where do you feel like you are in your development as a tight end?
NK: I think, like I said before, just day to day I progressed so much, so at the beginning of the year, if you watched the CSU game, I was terrible. I think I played terrible and wasn’t doing either my assignment or trying to beat guys down the field or anything like that. I was just kinda going through the motions, trying not to mess up too bad.
Then after that game and just watching it, I kinda started to get it a lot more and really go on and about halfway through the season, I had a little more hype about it I guess. I started to get some confidence and then I could really start playing around guys and when we were better teams like Stanford, Oregon, SC, and those kinds of players where you had to definitely know what they were going to try and do and just playing around that. I think about maybe halfway or maybe a little before, I really started to gain some confidence and started to really up my game.
PS: Talk about the game against Washington State(35-34 win, Colorado’s only victory of the year) to you both for the impact you had individually and to the team.
NK: I think it meant a ton individually and for our team. I guess people have said it was my coming out party and that felt really good.
After all of the struggles I went through at defensive end and then got really down on myself, it was kind of like I was doing something again and it felt really good.
That felt good for me and then of course at that point in the season, our team was struggling as well, and to come back, I think it was a 17 point deficit in the 4th quarter, that was pretty amazing and it felt great for our team and at that point, I thought it was kind of a launching point to more good things throughout the season and it didn’t turn out that way, but it was a great feeling for me and for our team.
PS: For you personally, do you feel like you sent a message in your final game against Utah?
NK: I think I did a little bit. I wanted to send it out a lot more. Obviously, we wanted to win that game and I had a couple key catches there at the end. I had to come out for a play at the very end of the game too and we were driving to go score and win.
I think I came off, we ran one play and I went back in and we threw an interception and lost the game. That’s never how I wanted to go out or saw myself going out. We definitely wanted to go win that game; it was a tough game and a great game both by us and by Utah. That’s just how it rolls I guess. Hopefully, I’ll get it going next year.
PS: What was your attitude going into the Senior Bowl? Where do you feel like you were when you left?
NK: I felt great at the Senior Bowl. I felt like I was in really great shape and I just wanted to show what I could do against the best guys in the country. I think I showed that definitely in the running game.
I showed what I could do in the passing game a lot too. I wanted to put that out there and still dropped a few balls here and there like a lot of other guys did. I really just wanted to show what I could do. I was kinda more of the unheard of guy going in, I think. I felt good about what I did and I enjoyed the whole process.
PS: Do you feel like you proved that you belonged there?
NK: I definitely feel like I proved I belonged there with those guys and that I could hang with any of them. Really, I know and everybody knows that I’m lacking a little bit in experience that a lot of these guys have or every one of these guys have because they’ve been playing that position for probably at least eight years.
I’ve just been playing for really the one and a half that I’ve had. I really think that it showed I can pick thinks up fast and definitely excel at them with time. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish there showing people that I could hang and compete at that level as well.
PS: Where are you doing your training? What is your focus as you train heading to the raft?
NK: I think my focus is that keeping that progress going. I think I definitely need a lot more than a lot of guys to keep progressing in that same fashion as I was before. So, what I’m doing with that is I’ve gotten with a bunch of different coaches and guys that are helping me along the way. I was down in California training with guys likeJackie Slater, Ted Tollner, and a couple different coaches there.
Right now, I’m back in Colorado and I’m actually training again with my ex-coach from last year (formerUniversity of Akron head coach J.D. Brookhart), who was part of every staff and was fired and is now going back into the financial world and still helping me out.
That means a ton because he’s pretty much made me over the last year and a half or two years like I said, helping me do everything that I have done, he’s kind of unrestricted and can help me do everything I need to do. That is helping me accomplish what I need to accomplish and helping me progress day to day in this process.
PS: What was it like learning and receiving coaching from a guy like Jackie Slater?
NK: It was great. He knows what he’s talking about, of course, and he’s really a great guy. He is really outspoken and he definitely helped me out a ton.
I still need a lot of help in blocking as well; I know a lot of people think I’m kinda of a run blocking tight end but he’s shown me a lot of different things, even in my stance and coming out first steps and pretty much everything, you’ve got kind of a different philosophy and that adds perspective to what I already have and definitely helps to put all that knowledge together.
PS: What is your reaction when people describe you as a run blocking tight end? A point of pride or are people short changing you?
NK: It’s kinda the better part of both. I love run blocking. I love to butt heads. That’s what I’ve done for eight years as a defensive end.
I’m ready to do that, but at the same time, it is kind of offensive to me because I think I can be a great pass catching tight end as well. I strive to be a complete tight end. I know that I definitely will be. I do know that, of course, that I need to keep adding to that progress, but definitely want to show people that I can move well.
I was really, really angry at the Combine because I couldn’t show my speed as much as I wanted to. I don’t know if a lot of people know, but when I ran that 4.71 in the 40, I pulled my hamstring so I really didn’t get to finish.
I really wanted to show that I could definitely get into that 4.6 range and somewhere in there, but I couldn’t show that. I know that would have helped out even more. In the pass catching as well, I work on that every day both to get in to shape and to work on those ball skills.
I just want to show that overall, I’m a more complete guy than just a run blocker. I’m fine with doing that and I’m kinda fine with the label right now because I know wherever I go, I’m going show them what I can do. People can say that right now and that’s fine, I’m fine with it. Wherever I go, I’m gonna show that’s not all I am.
PS: Is there a particular or few players that you looked up to in the NFL and did that change when you changed positions in the NFL
NK: I think it definitely changed a little bit because obviously as a defensive end, I was looking up to more defensive players and now as a tight end, I look up to different guys. I would just say I have just strive to be one of the best guys once I get there and I’m gonna definitely try to do that.
Right now, I compare myself to a Gronkowski kind of guy and obviously he’s the top tight end right now. I strive to be that and I know that’s going to take a lot of work to be there. Measurables, we are kinda both the same size, he’s got speed on him as well and can be the complete kind of tight end.
PS: Talk about your connection to the Cleveland Browns.
NK: Coach Embree is their tight ends coach right now. I definitely have a connection with him. He was my head coach the past two years.
PS: Does Cleveland stick out as a team that might pick you because of that connection?
NK: I definitely think he’s going to take a hard look at me for sure because he knows what I’m all about. He doesn’t have to do a lot of interviews with me or watch a lot of tape. I’m sure he still will, of course, he’s been watching for the past two years.
Me and him used to watch film as well while preparing for teams there as well. He helped me out a ton because he was a tight end at CU back in the day. He helped me out tremendously too, watching tape of tight ends he coached in the NFL as well. He helped to mold me throughout the process as well; him and coach Brookhart both kinda contributed tremendously to what I’ve become today.
PS: In a deep and talented class of every flavor a team could want, why should someone be pounding the table for you?
NK: I think because I haven’t even scratched the surface. I’ve really only had one year to progress from the CSU game where obviously, I did not show at all what I could do. I was absolutely terrible to the Utah game where I made all the key catches we needed, I was run blocking pretty well as well.
The upside that I have and really the measurables too that people don’t know about yet. I really wanted to show off my speed and I really haven’t had the chance yet. I think I’m gonna have that 4.71 pegged on me for a while unless I can maybe try and run another 40 sometime soon, but I don’t think that will happen.
Right now, I’m at the point where I’m ready to go anywhere and wherever I get, I’m gonna show them what I could do when they see me, but it’s definitely more about run blocking.
PS: 4.71 does not seem slow to me, but if you can be faster, that’s definitely not a bad thing. Just to put it out there, what do you think you could have run?
NK: I’m not saying I’m gonna rip off like a 4.4 or something like that, but I know if I didn’t have to pull up just a little bit at the end, I think I could have gotten 4.67 or 4.65. A 4.6 would have had that ‘wow’ factor to it.
PS: What do you think teams should expect from your teammate, OT David Bakhtiari?
NK: I think they should expect everything from him. He is the all-in-one package. He’s a great athlete. When we were at CU, he would keep up with skill players running conditioning drills, speed and agility drills. He can do that, he’s up to like 310 or above now with his weight.
He’s a tremendous athlete and works his butt off, does everything right. He’s never one of those guys who caused any problems at all. He knew the whole playbook up and down. He could coach guys on the field.
He was pretty much, to me, the All-American offensive tackle. I think he’s willing to move around where anyone needs him to play on the offensive line. He’s definitely a moldable guy and be the best that he can be as well.
PS: Other than Coach Embree, tell me about another coach who helped you develop in your career?
NK: Like I said before, J.D. Brookhart has done ridiculous amounts for me. I’d say, definitely at the tight end position, coach Brookhart has done the most that I could ever ask for. I’ve had a couple other coaches that were great to me over time.
A couple of coaches at Legacy (High School): coach Wayne Voorhees, coach Borden, coach Griffin was my defensive end coach and my D coordinator. They all taught me a ton of things; just how to play the game in general, whether it was defense or offense. They all taught me a lot about football and life, so I’d love to thank them all for it.
PS: In terms of success, your career did not go like you’d hope, but do you feel like the Colorado football program can turn around? Any thoughts on the incoming coach, Mike McIntyre?
NK: I hope it gets turned around and I think, just talking to Coach McIntyre and the new coaches, I think they are going to get it turned around. I’m not sure how long it will take. I hope they can get it done fast.
I’ve been to a couple of the practices there and it’s been looking great. The practices they run are really fast paced, good tempo. They definitely know what they are doing and they did wonders for San Jose State. I think people are going to be surprised even next year by what they are going to come out and do.
PS: More proud moment for you? Getting drafted or graduating from college
NK: Both are great life accomplishments. Right now for me, my life is all about football; this is a dream. A lot of people can graduate from college. Not very many at all make it to the NFL. That’s what I wanted to do since I was 8 years old and it’s finally coming to an end here. It literally is just a dream.
PS: Anything else you wanted to add or tell people?
NK: All I want people to know is that I’m ready to go, this is what my life is all about now, just training up until the draft and then I’m ready to go wherever I go. I’m ready to get it done. I’m ready to be the best of the best and I know that’s not going to happen right away but I’m going to work my butt off to get it.
Good luck to Nick as he continues chasing his NFL dream and one thing is for sure, whoever gets him, gets a passionate player who appreciates the people who have helped him along the way and the value of hard work.