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From Gold's Gym Trainer to NFL Hopeful

Long Islander Chris Koepplin is still kicking for a spot on an NFL roster, this time with the Buffalo Bills.

Long Islander Chris Koepplin is still kicking for a shot in the NFL. Photo Credit: Chris Koepplin.
Long Islander Chris Koepplin is still kicking for a shot in the NFL. Photo Credit: Chris Koepplin.
Chris Koepplin’s NFL dream is still alive, and at 27, that’s no small feat.   

The Kings Park resident and St. Anthony’s graduate signed with the Buffalo Bills last Thursday and will compete in training camp with 14-year veteran Rian Lindell for the kicker job.   

It’s the continuation of an odyssey that began as a senior at St. Anthony’s and took Koepplin to Nassau CC, UMass, Arena football and even the Gold's Gym in Smithtown.   

“Kicking isn’t just something I enjoy,” said Koepplin, who worked with kickers as an assistant coach at St. Anthony's last fall. “I feel more like myself kicking than at any other time.”   

That’s why he’s still trying to crack an NFL regular season roster. And if you knew how it all began, you would still be fighting too.  

Koepplin played three years of soccer at St. Anthony’s before a growth spurt transformed his body. He felt awkward on the soccer field and played sparingly as a junior. But he could kick.   

“Chris had a strong kick,” St. Anthony’s Boys Soccer Coach Gene Buonaiuto remembered. “Being he was a junior, he didn't play a lot. I'm glad he found his niche in football.”   

The 6-foot-3 Koepplin decided to play football as a senior, kicking for the perennial champion Friars and playing some wide receiver.

And then he went to Boston University and spent his freshman year working as a team manager for the Terriers men’s basketball team. His playing days appeared over.   

But something stirred inside and Koepplin gave kicking another shot. He left BU for Nassau CC and spent the next two seasons punting and kicking for the NJCAA power.   

That landed Koepplin a walk-on invitation at UMass in 2006. He won the job and kicked as the Minutemen rolled to the Division I-AA National Championship game. After another playoff run in 2007, Koepplin’s collegiate career was through. But his hunger to keep on playing football burned more intensely.   

No NFL teams showed an interest. Koepplin’s next stop on his journey was Arena Football 2’s Manchester (N.H.) Wolves until the league folded after the 2009 season.   

He went from one kicking combine to another in 2010, hoping to draw NFL interest.   

Koepplin returned to Long Island. He was working as a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Smithtown when he got the call.   

The NFL lockout had ended that day – July 25, 2011 – and teams from around the league were scrambling to fill rosters for training camp. The New England Patriots signed Koepplin.   

He was cut at the end of training camp, resigned by the Patriots in 2012 and cut again. Now Koepplin has a fresh opportunity with the Bills. It could be the start of something great. Or it could be his last.    

“I’m stubborn,” Koepplin said. “I’ve continued to improve and have continued to have opportunities the past three years. But more importantly, I know how fortunate I am to even get this close to realizing my dream and once I got a taste of it I was even more determined.   

“I also owe it to all of my friends and teammates who had NFL aspirations but were not able to get an opportunity to give it everything I have. I don’t want to look back and have any regrets.”

So a decade removed from his first breakthrough moment on the football field, Koepplin still kicks with something to prove. His dream is tantalizingly close.

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