Haplea settling into Seminoles role

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Deep down, Kevin Haplea knew what was coming.

During those tumultuous few months, starting when legendary coach Joe Paterno's legacy crumbled amid the horrifying discovery of the sexual abuse of children by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky until the final ruling came from the NCAA, Haplea did his best to remain optimistic, to hope the current Penn State players wouldn't become collateral damage caused by the egregious mistakes of others.

When the decision finally came, however, Haplea wasn't surprised.

"Unfortunately in my heart, I kind of knew it was going to be really bad," Haplea said Monday in his first public comments since transferring from Penn State to FSU in July. "I think it's kind of telling that I wasn't completely shocked when we found out what happened."

It's been six months since the whirlwind that took Haplea from Penn State to Florida State, and while the pace of life in Tallahassee is a lot simpler than the chaos he endured in State College, Pa., the depth of all the changes has yet to sink in.

In the wake of the Sandusky scandal, the NCAA levied devastating sanctions against Penn State, opening the door for all players to transfer without penalty.

It was a feeding frenzy for coaches around the country as Penn State's players were inundated with overtures from other schools hoping to pad their rosters. Simply deciding to leave was an arduous choice for Haplea, who had grown up just a few hours away in New Jersey and formed strong bonds with his teammates at Penn State.

"It was crazy," Haplea said. "I was talking to my family a lot and had to narrow things down right away. It was like a week and a couple of days [to make a decision]. I had to go with my gut a little bit."

That's where Florida State had a distinct advantage in landing Haplea.

The junior tight end was interested in FSU in high school, even making a trip to Tallahassee late in his recruiting process to meet with Jimbo Fisher and offensive coordinator James Coley. Haplea liked what he saw at Florida State and quickly built a rapport with the coaches, but in the end, Tallahassee was just too far from home for the 17-year-old to go for college.

With the clock ticking to make a decision after the NCAA's ruling last summer, however, Haplea instantly thought of Florida State. He placed a call to Coley, and things moved quickly from there.

"The transition was really comfortable because I knew I was going in where I knew the head coach and my position coach, so it wasn't like I was just taking a shot in the dark," Haplea said.

Still, there were snags along the way.

Haplea was five semesters into college, and he needed assurances his credits at Penn State would transfer. It was lucky, too, that Florida State had a scholarship to offer after two players were medically disqualified earlier in the summer. Simply finding a place to live, however, was a chore. Other players already had living arrangements made, and Haplea was scrambling.

He arrived on campus the day before fall practice began, and although Coley had sent along copies of the playbook, Haplea walked into a nearly impossible situation.

"Any time you're trying to learn a Division I offense, it's not going to happen overnight," Haplea said.

Still, Haplea's first season at Florida State wasn't a loss. He caught three passes, including a touchdown, in a victory over USF. He made his first start Sept. 8 against Savannah State and was a regular on special teams.

As hard as he's worked to move on, there are still ties to his old life. Haplea was able to watch most of the Nittany Lions' games this season. He's kept in touch with former teammates, and said he was thrilled to see Penn State finish with a strong 8-4 season in the wake of so much turmoil. The bonds formed at Penn State were strong, even in the face of one of the most devastating scandals in the history of college sports.

"It was crazy and hectic, but we were a really close-knit group up there," Haplea said.

Haplea said he's been embraced by his new teammates, too, but he laments his late arrival in Tallahassee. The real bonding, he said, happens over the summer, when coaches and classmates aren't always nearby and teammates rely on each other for everything.

Still, Haplea has no regrets. His career hasn't unfolded as he had planned, but things have a funny way of working out.

"It's just really kind of unfortunate the way it had to play out but I think it's worked out for the best," said Haplea, who has another year of eligibility. "I just took that leap of faith, and [Florida State] has been great."