Daniel Sepulveda is an All-American. He is a two-time Ray Guy Award winner, and now he prepares for life as an NFL player. Sepulveda took the time to sit down with BearsIllustrated.com and talk about the months leading up to the draft, the range of emotions experienced during draft weekend, and what he hopes to accomplish in the future. Daniel Sepulveda is more than just a football player; he is a shining light whose love of God, family and his alma mater has allowed him to become a great representative of Baylor University.
When Daniel Sepulveda booted his last punt of his collegiate career during the Oklahoma game, the final opponent on Baylor's schedule last year, perhaps he didn't realize what was in store as he turned his attention to the NFL.
"The preparations, from the last game against Oklahoma last year to draft weekend is just a long process. It took a lot of grit to get through that. I know that it is not a typical off-season for a football player, so you just had to grind through it and do the best you could. It just seemed that every other day someone was asking you to perform to the best of your ability which is generally not how it works."
Sepulveda handled all the workouts well, all the challenges seemed to be met, and eventually, the eve of the 2007 NFL draft was staring Daniel Sepulveda in the face.
"The week leading up, you get kind of anxious. Everything is kind of surreal; you kind of don't really know what is happening. Once it started, and I always enjoyed watching the draft, but this year was a little bit different," Sepulveda explains with a hint of laughter in his voice.
"Honestly, you watch it with a little more excitement and a little more anticipation. I knew coming in that the first day [of the draft] was a possibility, but wasn't a probability. So, when I didn't go, I certainly wasn't upset. But you kind of end up thinking to yourself, 'Well, the best case scenario would have been the 3rd round and that didn't work out. It's no big deal'. But it was hard to go to sleep that next night."
Sepulveda realized that Sunday, the final day of the NFL draft, was going to be the day that would determine where he would be playing next year. However, Sepulveda treated that Sunday just like any other.
"I woke up and went to church, but as soon as I got home, and we missed the start of the 4th round, it wasn't 5 minutes before I got home that my phone rang, and it was Houston."
With the Houston Texans calling Sepulveda, perhaps it would have seem fit that he would find himself playing not too far from his home in Dallas. However, Sepulveda soon got another call.
"As soon as I hung up with Houston, Pittsburgh called shortly after. They asked if I had talked with anybody, and I told them I just got off the phone. They said, 'Great, we are going to make a move to come get you'. When you hear that, your heart just starts beating really fast. It was a pretty surreal moment, and definitely a moment I will never forget."
Baylor fans know Daniel Sepulveda's road to being named the nation's best punter twice in his collegiate career. But perhaps those outside of Baylor do not realize that Sepulveda walked on to a Baylor football team as a linebacker. Sepulveda talks about going to Baylor, and when he realized that becoming a punter was his true calling.
"My redshirt freshman year, Coach Morriss kind of pulled me aside. I thought of Coach Morriss as a pretty quiet coach. He wasn't going to say a whole lot. I hadn't spoken maybe 10 words to him since he had gotten there, but he pulls me aside and says, 'Hey, I don't know if you realize this or not, but if you keep working at this you will be good enough to do this in the NFL for a long time. I have played with those guys and I have seen what those guys can do, and I have seen what you can do. I want to encourage you to keep working.' That's really the first time I starting really thinking about it. From that point, it was just a slow process making that thought less of a dream, and more of a reality."
Sepulveda did work hard and relied on his faith to get him through some difficult moments in his life.
"I will be the first to tell you that God has blessed me with tremendous success along the way. I could not have done it without Him. The healing He did on my knee is one thing, and the list just goes on and on. He put me in a situation at Baylor where it worked out to get me where I am now. To have all the pieces fall where they did, and have everything work out, it is just a tremendous blessing."
While Sepulveda will be wearing the black and gold of the Steelers, he has experienced some great times wearing the green and gold of Baylor University.
"First of all, I wouldn't trade it for anything. The experience I had at Baylor, both as a university and as a football player, I could never have imagined my college experience being that positive. Obviously, there were some down times and some up times, but overall, I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was overwhelmingly a positive experience. Baylor is a school that obviously has a Christian affiliation, and you can definitely see that in the environment and in the people that go to school there. I think that has definitely helped to mold me and give me several different opportunities to speak out about my faith and how much that means to me. Hopefully, it touched some people's lives and made an impact."
Sepulveda provides insight into his playing days at Baylor.
"As a member of the football team, I had no expectations going in. I walked on as a linebacker to a program that was struggling. I don't know how many games in Coach Steele gets fired, the team was kind of without discipline, we didn't have a head coach, and it was a pretty rough time back then. Being there for that, and experiencing that football season, and experiencing the season we just finished, and the season before that, it just marks so much growth and progress in this program."
Sepulveda explains more about the Baylor football program.
"You know that re-building a football program in the Big XII is going to take time. It is going to take dedication and effort, and lots of it. I can see and I can tell you that it is happening. It's just a matter of continuing to persevere and strive toward achieving our goal."
So with his new career in the NFL ready to take off, Daniel Sepulveda doesn't believe he will be affected much by the pressures that come along with his new job.
"I think you are going to face hardships and struggles in any walk of life, not necessarily just the NFL. I imagine I would approach it just like anything else I have in my life. I have been grounded, and I have had the opportunity to grow up in a family that stressed faith at an early age. I became a Christian when I was 6, and it has been the most important part of my life ever since. I can't really say how I will handle certain things, but I do know that there are guys who have done it before and there are guys who are doing it right now, and they are doing it well."
Sepulveda will head to Pittsburgh soon, but is excited that at least one familiar face will be there with him. Former Baylor Bears running back Paul Mosley signed a free agent contract with the Steelers soon after the NFL draft.
"I couldn't be happier about that. When my mom told me the next morning that Paul had signed a deal with the Steelers, I was so happy. I was so excited because I almost ended up living with Paul my freshman year at Baylor. It didn't end up happening, but we have a great relationship. I respect him, and he is one of the hardest working guys that I have ever met. He has the best attitude, hands down. He is a great guy to be around, and he is a great guy to play football with. I couldn't have chosen anybody better than Paul to go through this experience with. I am looking forward to feeding off of each other and making the most of this opportunity."
While winning the Superbowl is certainly the primary goal of any NFL player, including Daniel Sepulveda, what other goals are set?
"I didn't go into college with any expectations, and I am kind of treating this the same. I don't necessarily want to set any kind of number goals or anything like that. I just want to do the best I can. I just want to feel at peace knowing that I am doing everything that I can to do the best that I can."
So with the Pittsburgh Steelers drafting Sepulveda, what is his take on playing in for the Steelers organization?
"I couldn't be happier with the way the draft worked out. What an awesome opportunity. My visit to Pittsburgh was about two weeks before the draft. It just felt right being there, I just had a good feeling about it. You come through the tunnel from the airport, and I went through it at night. Downtown was all lit up, and you see the three rivers and Heinz Field. It was just an awesome sight, and I had no idea that Pittsburgh was that awesome looking. I heard about it in the airport on the way over there from the driver that took me, but words cannot describe it. Once I saw it I thought, 'Man, I can play here'. I am just so glad it worked out that way."
The surroundings aren't the only thing that Sepulveda likes about Pittsburgh.
"The people that you meet there, everyone is diehard Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. It is just so neat to be in that environment. It just feels like home, and everybody loves their Pittsburgh sports teams which is just a really cool deal. I am looking forward to getting started."
Sepulveda admits that everything he knows is in Dallas, and he describes the feeling he has as a kid going off to summer camp.
"I feel like I am going to camp. But then you think about it, and you come back home from camp. I am not coming back from this, this is my job. I just have that anxious feeling that you get before you go to summer camp. That's how I would equate the feelings that I have right now. Obviously, it is a little more serious than that."
Daniel Sepulveda is now headed to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He left behind a legacy at Baylor University and in the collegiate ranks, and soon will find himself playing among some of the world's best athletes. With his strong faith, and the support from his family, something tells me that Daniel Sepulveda, no matter what happens, will be just fine.