Photo By Hillary Ehlen
There are several words one could use to describe the collegiate football career of Jimmy Kepouros. Some of those adjectives might be “tumultuous” and another might be “turbulent” or even “stunted”. Whatever word you choose, it will likely describe the ups and downs the senior has seen.
Yet, within all of those ups and downs, Kepouros has forged himself into one of the toughest players on North Dakota State’s roster. The Lemont, Illinois, native has continuously shown a level of grit and determination that cannot be matched by his counterparts. This hard-nosed mentality has helped Kepouros to a standout senior season in 2019. Heading into the FCS National Championship game on Saturday, the senior is one of Trey Lance’s most reliable weapons.
It has not always been smooth sailing for Kepouros, however. That may not be entirely evident upon watching the wide receiver in 2019. He began his career at Western Michigan (a team coached by current Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck) and decided to depart following his redshirt season in 2015. From there, Kepouros enrolled at College of DuPage in Illinois.
With his football career in question, Kepouros committed to North Dakota State. Within moments of beginning workouts as a Bison, Kepouros suffered a knee injury, keeping him out for the entire 2017 campaign. In what was his junior season last year, Kepouros played in just four games and did not dress the 2018 national title.
All of those moments are behind Kepouros now and he has no time to take anything for granted this week. He reflected on last year’s Frisco experience in relation to this year, where he will actually see the field on Saturday.
“After last year, it was a great experience but at the same time, it was a little bit of a sour experience. I wasn’t able to dress, I was there just like all the younger guys,” Kepouros said. “Being able to be here and actually be playing is a big opportunity.”
Much of the senior’s success hangs on his rapport with quarterback Trey Lance. Coming off a disappointing 2018 season, Kepouros hit the ground running with a fresh start and new face under center. The senior has caught 30 passes for 394 yards and two touchdowns in 2019.
“A lot of it came down to summer workouts and getting that tempo and getting that rhythm back with everyone. After we figured out who was going to be where and how the offense was going to run, I think that was big turning point in our program,” Kepouros said of building rapport with Lance. “We figured out that Trey was going to step up and was going to be the guy.”
The result has been Kepouros becoming Lance’s third-down warrior. It seems that every time Lance drops back to pass on third down, Kepouros is the one making the play. The senior has even garnered the nickname “Third And Kepouros” in the locker room and in the media.
“It’s funny because a lot of the guys call me ‘third and Kepouros’, but I look at it more of my number being called. If my number gets called for the play, I’m going to go out there and make a play,” he said. “That has been the biggest thing this year so far. The trust between me and Trey and just being able to execute when we need to execute, especially on third downs. We want to move the sticks.”
James Madison, NDSU’s opponent on Saturday is heralded for their tough run defense. The Dukes are currently the best run-stopping defense in all of FCS. With that in mind, how will the Bison air attack factor into this title game? The weather in Frisco is supposed to be a little chillier than usual with the potential for some precipitation and heavy winds. While Kepouros says they are tracking the weather, it will ultimately come down to execution if they want to beat James Madison.
“I think it’s really going to come down to executing at the end of the day. That is something we do really well and really efficiently,” he said. “As long as we take care of the football and don’t give it up, we should be good.”
Kepouros will be one of the Bison seniors playing their final collegiate game on Saturday. While he admits to thinking about what that will feel like a few times, Kepouros is prepared for the Dukes first and foremost.
“There have been a few times where I’ve thought ‘man, this is going to be the last time I go out there and put on pads’,” he said. “I’m excited, but at the end of the day I’m locked in and ready to go.”
Jimmy Kepouros has not had a normal college football career. The trajectory of his career has changed each season and he is a better player for it. While all of the injuries and transfer waivers may put a damper on his career in the eyes of some, it has helped elevate Jimmy Kepouros into the player he is today.
That player has learned to not take a single play, moment or game for granted. It is that mindset that will be on display on Saturday when Jimmy Kepouros will leave everything on the field for North Dakota State.