GREEN BAY – Nearly four years have passed since Jake Kumerow last played a game in which the wins and losses truly mattered.
That game – the 2014 NCAA Division III National Championship – saw the future Packers receiver catch eight passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater's 43-34 victory over Mount Union to complete a perfect 15-0 season.
With the Warhawks' third national title in four years secured, Kumerow set out to achieve his NFL dream and hasn't deviated from that plan despite his winding odyssey as an undrafted free agent over the past 3½ years.
A member of practice squads in Cincinnati (2015-16), New England (2017) and Green Bay, Kumerow has twice been within reach of playing in an NFL regular-season game over the past three seasons.
The first came when Kumerow was promoted to 53-man roster in time for the Bengals' regular-season finale in 2016. While initially it looked like he'd be active, Kumerow wound up a healthy scratch after injuries hit on the offensive line during the practice week and Trey Hopkins was promoted from the practice squad the day before the game.
"They were gonna suit me up and then they ended up having an injury in practice that week and we suited up a lineman as a backup instead," Kumerow said. "That's what they said, at least. I think that was true though because the guy did get hurt."
The second close call occurred this past summer on the heels of Kumerow becoming the Packers' training-camp darling, rocketing up the receiver depth chart after catching six passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns in Green Bay's first two preseason games.
On that second touchdown, however, Kumerow fell awkwardly on his shoulder in the end zone. The injury seemed harmless enough at first until he was diagnosed with a sternoclavicular joint sprain near his sternum, sidelining him for the rest of training camp and landing him on injured reserve to begin the season.
It left the 6-foot-4, 209-pound receiver in limbo for the past three months, waiting to see if he'd be designated to return at some point this season. Then, only days away from Thanksgiving, Kumerow finally received word Tuesday he'd been given the green light.
After returning to practice Wednesday, it didn't take long for Kumerow to feel back at home.
"Once you get back out there, it's like you really don't forget," Kumerow said. "They say you have to get your legs underneath you. I've been running around for seven weeks now, my legs are underneath me. Yeah, I'm good. There's not much getting back into the swing of things, really.
"It took me maybe five minutes to get back into the swing of things, just getting out there realizing, 'All right, I'm practicing. Get your mind right.' That's basically it."
Kumerow felt he turned a corner a couple weeks ago and remained optimistic about his chances of returning this season despite the Packers using one of their two IR designations to bring back fellow receiver Trevor Davis to the active roster last week.
Kumerow's fellow receivers could sense their teammate's excitement in his return to the practice field, with veteran Davante Adams noticing a little extra "bounce" in Kumerow's route-running.
"I'm happy for Jake. He was a baller in camp," Adams said. "To be able to have him back now is going to mean a lot to this team. I know he's been waiting on it for a while, too, so he has a lot of rage and some plays he's ready to unleash for y'all."
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was effusive in his praise of Kumerow throughout the summer. After recently mentioning how the Packers are in need of a "galvanizing moment" on offense, Rodgers playfully suggested maybe it could be Kumerow when asked about the first-year receiver's looming return Wednesday.
"That could be the galvanizing moment," said Rodgers with a smile. "He's a talented guy and I think a lot of us were wondering if he was going to be back on the field this year. He understands the game, he has a great sense about him. In space, he can get open. He was incredible in training camp earning a spot on the squad. Unfortunately, he'll learn from diving in the end zone there."
Kumerow said the first call he made after being told he'd return to practice was to his agent, Ron Slavin, and then his parents. His father, Eric, and uncle, John Bosa, were both former first-round picks of the Miami Dolphins, while his cousin, Joey Bosa, was the third overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Chargers.
Kumerow now hopes to join his family members in that exclusive fraternity. Fittingly, it comes at the same time Whitewater is again in the midst of another NCAA run. The fourth-ranked Warhawks will host St. Norbert College in the second round of the D-III playoffs Saturday.
Having spent 11 weeks on IR, Kumerow is eligible to be activated at any time over the next 21 days. Should Kumerow get that long-awaited summons to the active roster in the coming weeks, the 26-year-old receiver vows to make the most of it.
"It means everything to get out there and get a chance to help this team out on Sundays," Kumerow said. "I haven't had the opportunity to be out there on a Sunday yet and play. If I get that chance, I'll never look back. I'll give them everything I got."