Beating The Odds

There are more players currently inhabiting the Packers locker room than reside in his entire hometown, but Aaron Kampman, the fifth-round draft choice out of the University of Iowa, hasn't bothered to compute the numbers or factor his chances.

If he'd done that, he probably wouldn't be here.

Kampman, was raised in Kesley, Iowa, a town with only a few roads and a population that hovers around 80. Yet amazingly enough, he is the fourth player to come to the NFL ranks out Aplington-Parkersburg High School, which draws students from surrounding areas for an enrollment of about 300.

Other Aplington-Packersburg alumni in the NFL are Jared DeVries (Detroit), Brad Meester (Jacksonville) and Casey Wiegmann (Kansas City).

"It gives you a chance as your head is spinning a little bit to say, my friend went through this and he did just fine," Kampman said. "It kind of gives you more relaxation to know that some of your buddies did this, too."

Still, you half expected Kampman to shout 'Kesley!' - a la the 1986 movie Hoosiers -- when he walked into the Don Huston Center for his first Packers practice. But Kampman wasn't about to do that, it would have gone against the theory that got him here.

"Obviously my heart pounds a little bit and I'm excited to be here, but the thing to remember is that it's still football," Kampman said. "The sport hasn't changed, it still comes down to fundamentals and desire.

"There's a lot to take in right now, but I'm just trying to hustle and learn. It's like anything in life, as long as you're giving your best effort and not making silly mistakes you're usually going to be all right."

In the first mini-camp of the season, hustle is one of the few areas in which coaches are looking for perfection, and Kampman is making a good first impression.

"It looks like he's eager and ready and willing to learn," said fifth-year veteran Vonnie Holliday, who has a locker next to Kampman's. "I'm not on the field a lot right now, but one of the things that stands out about him is his willingness to learn. That's a big part of going to the NFL, you have to be a sponge."

The key is to learn lessons that will not only help you in the best of times, but also in the worst. Rookies may have 'get out of jail free' cards for their mistakes in mini-camp, but it won't always be that way.

"The expectations are big here," Holliday said. "He's a draft pick and the competition in the NFL is the best in the world.

"Coming into a situation like this there are going to be times where you feel like you don't belong. But if you keep your head up, grind it out and don't lose focus, you'll make it."

For a kid like Kampman, the next step might actually be easier than the ones that got him here.


They haven't penciled in a starter, but one thing is clear, the Packers are keeping their options open in the hunt for a punt returner.

"Frank Novak is a possibility if he's the best guy," joked General Manager/Head Coach Mike Sherman of the Packers special teams coach. "We are going to investigate every opportunity that we have."

Among those drilling at the position this week has been Terry Glenn, who did not return punts in his six seasons with the New England Patriots, but seems an obvious candidate considering his knack for wide receiver.

"Certainly Terry has skill at catching and has a short-area burst (of speed) that can make people miss, which is a criteria for out punt returner," Sherman said.

Also getting looks have been wide receiver Javon Walker, Richard Lewis and Jeremy Unertl.

Of the newcomers, Walker possesses the most highly-touted overall talent, but has limited experience as a return man coming out of Florida State. Lewis and Unertl on the other hand come with experience, albeit on less prestigious stages, Lewis having returned punts at North Dakota State, Unertl at Wisconsin-La Crosse.

"We're using a lot of different people back there at this present time and we'll find a good one," Sherman said.


His hair might be graying around the temples, but that doesn't mean Brett Favre has lost any zip on his passes. In fact, Coach Sherman suggested that Favre is throwing the football with greater velocity than he's ever demonstrated at this point of the season.

"I don't know what it's attributable to," Sherman admitted. "He usually throws balls to Rocky, his father-in-law down there (in the offseason). I don't know if Rocky got faster or what."

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