Can’t Stop Kuntz! Duquesne alumnus joins NEC Brethren in NFL

Former two-time #NECFB DPOTY Christian Kuntz (PHOTO: @steelers)

Christian Kuntz never accepted “No” for an answer.

First, there was the ACL tear following his All-American sophomore season at Duquesne.

Following a year-long rehabilitation, Kuntz responded with two more All-American seasons in a Dukes’ uniform.

Kuntz, the 2015 FCS ADA National Linebacker of the Year, became one of the most-feared edge rushers in the entire Football Championship Subdivision. He possessed great football instincts and twice won the NEC Defensive Player of the Year award. Surely, the NFL was in his future?

While his collegiate resume pushed him onto the NFL radar, he went undrafted in 2017 despite boasting an immensely productive body of work.

Kuntz’s detractors in the scouting community pointed to his “lack of size” for a NFL edge rusher and his “lack of speed” for a pass-defending linebacker.

Surprisingly, Kuntz did not receive an opportunity until late in the 2017 NFL Preseason when the New England Patriots signed him to a UDFA contract, only to waive him later that week.

Jobless during the 2017 season, Kuntz embarked on a position change and began grooming himself to become a reliable long snapper.

With long snapping being a talent unto itself, not many pro snappers possess the same eye-popping instincts that are synonymous with elite defenders. Kuntz’s roots, however, make him better suited than most to get down the field in punt coverage and make tackles.

Having added a new skill to his arsenal, he signed with the Denver Broncos in March 2018. After a few months in their offseason program, Kuntz was released and on the move again.

Unsigned until December of that year, Kuntz landed on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad for the final two weeks of the regular season and was signed to a reserve/futures deal.

After working through the Jaguars’ 2019 offseason program, Kuntz found himself on the waiver wire again in June prior to the start of training camp.

Still, the best was yet to come for the Western Pennsylvania product.

Midway through August 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Kuntz and the Duquesne alumnus proceeded to log five tackles and a sack in the team’s preseason finale.

Despite the strong showing, the roster bubble burst on him.

Kuntz was without a 53-man roster spot for the 2019 NFL regular season, but he was far from finished.

The linebacker-turned-long snapper landed in the XFL with the Dallas Renegades in early 2020 and impressed enough to earn another chance with the Steelers.

Kuntz was signed by Pittsburgh on March 30, 2020 and worked through another NFL offseason program before being waived on August 2.

The relentless kid from the Pittsburgh suburbs kept at it though.

Late in the 2020 regular season, Kuntz served two short stints on the Steelers’ practice squad before signing a futures/reserve contract on January 14, 2021.

Now all he had to do was beat out an incumbent starter at a position where turnover happens less than regularly.

To no Duquesne fan’s surprise, Kuntz did just that.

Living a remarkable story of commitment and triumph, Christian Kuntz is on a NFL 53-man Opening Day roster.

TK!

He spent much of the last two seasons on the practice squad, but Tom Kennedy has earned a promotion in Detroit. Bryant’s former all-NEC receiver performed well enough during the 2021 NFL Preseason to earn a spot on the Lions’ initial 53-man roster. He has played in one NFL regular season game, becoming the first-ever Bryant alumnus to do so when he suited up for Detroit against

SEAHAWKS, STAND UP

Wagner alumnus Chris Williams (PHOTO: Michael Conroy | Associated Press)

Three Wagner Seahawks made the cut when initial NFL 53-man rosters were published.

Julian Stanford, a former all-NEC linebacker, will spend his ninth NFL season as a special teams ace with the Carolina Panthers.

Despite battling injury during the preseason, former two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year Cam Gill earned a spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ roster for the second straight year.

Former Wagner defensive tackle Chris Williams secured a spot on the Indianapolis Colts’ 53-man roster after spending the 2020 NFL season on the team’s practice squad.

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#NECinNFL: Late-Summer 2021 Update

Christian Kuntz (PHOTO: Chaz Palla – TribLive.com)

It’s Preseason Week 3 in the National Football League.

Teams have one last chance to evaluate their talent during game action prior to finalizing their 53-man regular season rosters.

There are plenty of Northeast Conference alumni in the mix, hoping to land on active NFL rosters for the 2021 campaign.

Here are the #NECinNFL names you need to know…

Cam Gill, LB (Wagner) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year made the Bucs’ 53-man roster as a rookie UDFA in 2020. He saw on-field action during Tampa’s victory in Super Bowl 55, but Gill has missed numerous reps this preseason due to injury. Normally, his roster status would not be in question, but his lack of preseason availability is something to monitor. Whether or not he fits into the Bucs’ plans for Opening Day, the organization clearly liked Gill enough to award him defensive snaps in the Super Bowl.

Christian Kuntz, LS (Duquesne) – Pittsburgh Steelers

Kuntz made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks as a collegiate linebacker, but he has transitioned to a long snapper at the professional level. The former three-time DI FCS All-American has bounced around the NFL training camp circuit and spent time in both the AAF and XFL. Kuntz’s tireless efforts could pay off in the form of a 53-man roster spot this time around. He spent time on the Steelers’ practice squad late in the 2020 season and signed a futures/reserve contract in January. Kuntz has seen a healthy number of reps at long snapper throughout Steelers’ camp and appears to be in a position battle with incumbent Kameron Canaday.

Tom Kennedy, WR (Bryant) – Detroit Lions

Kennedy, who has spent each of the past two seasons on the Lions’ Practice Squad and was active for one regular season game in 2019, has led his team in receiving yards during each of the first two preseason games. The former dual-sport college star may be playing his way into the Lions’ regular season receivers rotation. Kennedy made a 29-yard reception to set up a late, go-ahead field against Buffalo in Preseason Week 1. The following week, the Bryant alumnus produced gainers of 31 and 25 yards at Pittsburgh.

Jake Dolegala, QB (Central Connecticut) – Green Bay Packers

The all-time leading passer in CCSU history enters his third NFL season after spending much on the 2020 campaign on the New England Patriots’ practice squad. Dolegala, who spent the entire 2019 season on the Cincinnati Bengals’ 53-man roster after signing as a rookie UDFA, has bounced in between Green Bay and New England this offseason/preseason. The Packers resigned prior to Preseason Game 2, adding an arm in the wake of Jordan Love’s injury. Dolegala entered the game in the waning minutes of the Packers’ 23-14 loss to the New York Jets. He has NFL measurables and big-league arm strength that will continue to intrigue the Packers and others in the months ahead.

Greg Senat, OT (Wagner) – Cleveland Browns

Initially landing at Wagner on a basketball scholarship, Senat made a successful transition to the gridiron where he started two seasons for the Seahawks. Senat, a former Baltimore Ravens’ sixth-round draft pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad during their Super Bowl 54 championship season. In 2020, Senat signed with Dallas and saw action in 10 regular season games. Having since moved onto Cleveland, the 6-foot-6 Empire State product is battling for a spot on the Browns’ 53-man roster as a swing tackle.

Julian Stanford, LB (Wagner) – Carolina Panthers

Since landing with Jacksonville as a rookie in 2012, Stanford has established himself as a special teams ace. He earned six regular season starts at linebacker during his first year with the Jaguars, but has spent much his 104-game career as a contributor on special teams. After playing the 2018 and 2019 campaigns with the Buffalo Bills, Stanford continued his NFL career in Carolina last year. The Panthers used him heavily on special teams, where he logged seven tackles. This past offseason, Carolina signed Stanford to another one-year deal. He has been banged up during the preseason, but appears back at full strength now according to reports.

Chris Williams, DT (Wagner) – Indianapolis Colts

Williams developed into a NFL prospect during his time at Wagner, benefitting from the tutelage of position coach (and NFL veteran) Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton. The Empire State product signed a UDFA deal with the Colts following the 2020 NFL Draft and spent the ensuing season on the team’s practice squad. Listed on Indianapolis’ depth chart as a nose tackles, Williams has been battling for an active roster spot all summer long. He was credited with a tackle in the Colts’ recent 12-10 win over the Vikings. Pro Football Focus tracked Williams on a team-high 27 pass-rushing snaps in the Preseason Week 2 contest. Williams made two stops in the Colts’ preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. After the game, he caught up with the aforementioned Terrance Knighton who is in his first season on the Carolina coaching staff.

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NEC IN NFL (Post-Preseason Update): Dolegala, Stanford and Senat Secure Coveted Roster Spots

Jacob Dolegala (PHOTO: @Bengals)

Rookie Jacob Dolegala became the first former NEC quarterback to make a NFL team’s post-preseason 53-man roster.

CCSU’s all-time leading passer, who signed as an undrafted free agent following the draft, was one of four quarterbacks kept by the Bengals. It’s rare to see an NFL team carry four quarterbacks, but, the Bengals were clearly worried about the possibility of Dolegala hitting the waiver wire. Earning rave reviews since rookie camp, the rookie signal caller’s preseason production made him an appealing developmental option for a number of teams throughout the league.

Two former Wagner ballers found their way onto 53-man roster as well.

Veteran Julian Stanford, who was a virtual lock to survive cut-down day in Buffalo, is set for his seventh season in the NFL. Entering his second season with the Bills, the former all-NEC linebacker is highly valued on special teams and has owned the second-string reps at middle linebacker behind starter Tremaine Edmunds. Stanford saw time backing up Edmunds last year and it appears as if Buffalo’s coaching staff is comfortable with him there.

Former Wagner offensive tackle Greg Senat, a 2018 sixth round draft pick, snagged a spot on the Baltimore Ravens’ 53-man roster following a preseason battle. Senat, who possesses exciting athleticism at the position, spent his entire rookie year on Injured Reserve after sustaining an injury in a preseason game.

Five NEC alumni were not as fortunate as the aforementioned three.

Former all-NEC defensive backs Jermaine Ponder (Saint Francis) and Marcelis Branch (Robert Morris) were released and will hit the waiver wire. Both Ponder (Texans) and Branch (Steelers) came up with interceptions during their teams’ preseason finales. Ponder played in preseason games with three different NFL teams (Browns, Steelers, Texans) this summer. Branch had spent time on the Falcons’ practice squad before signing a futures/reserve contract with Pittsburgh this past winter.

Christian Kuntz, a former two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year at Duquesne, joined Branch on the Steelers’ cut list. Kuntz, who doubles as a long snapper, signed with Pittsburgh after being released by the Jaguars in June.

Bryant alumni Tom Kennedy (Lions) and Thomas Costigan (Chargers) were both placed on waivers Saturday.


Costigan signed with the Chargers on August 12 after participating in the organization’s spring rookie camp.

Showing up in the Lions’ preseason finale, Kennedy caught two of four targets for 24 receiving yards and logged four punt returns. He averaged 14.0 yards per runback with a long of 28. He totaled five rceptions for 76 yards during the NFL Preseason.

Ponder, Kennedy, Kuntz, Costigan and Branch can all be claimed by another NFL team (and subsequently placed on the 53-man roster) and all have practice squad eligibility.

 

Jacob Dolegala (Central Connecticut)Bengals’ 53-man Roster

 

Julian Stanford (Wagner) – Bills’ 53-man Roster

 

Greg Senat (Wagner) – Ravens’ 53-man Roster

 

Marcelis Branch (Robert Morris) – Released by Steelers

 

Jermaine Ponder (Saint Francis) – Released by Texans

 

Christian Kuntz (Duquesne) – Released by Steelers

 

 

Tom Kennedy (Bryant) – Released by Lions

 

 

Thomas Costigan (Bryant) – Released by Chargers

Dini’s MLB Debut Highlights Sizzling Summer for NEC Baseball Alumni

When Jon Heyman tweets your name, you’re kind of a big deal, in the baseball world, at least.

Former Wagner backstop Nick Dini, who has been working his way up the Royals’ farm system since being selected in the 14th round of the 2015 MLB Draft, received his first call-up to the major leagues and Heyman took to Twitter to spread the news.

 

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