Nate Stupar’s Rookie Year Roller Coaster
The 2012 NFL draft was in its closing round and Nate Stupar was still on the board, despite expecting to be a mid-round pick. The Dolphins, Jets, and Bucaneeers had all expressed interest in him. But after the Dolphins passed him up in the seventh round, the reality of becoming a free agent started to set in.
“Miami called and said ‘we’ll maybe get you with our last two picks in the seventh round,’ but they ended up taking a wide receiver over me,” said Stupar. “I was coming back from California University of Pa. for my brother’s spring game and I was in contact with my agent and looking at where we wanted to go.”
And then came the announcement. With its seventh round pick and 230 overall, the Oakland Raiders selected Stupar effectively beginning his NFL career and a roller coaster ride of a rookie year.
“It was amazing,” said Stupar. “It was just an up and down day and just to end with a call that changes your future, your life, and knowing that team wanted you.”
Stupar wouldn’t be the only Penn Stater picked up by the Raiders. Oakland added defensive end Jack Crawford to its roster with a fifth round draft pick and former cornerback Chaz Powell hitched on as a free agent to play safety. They joined the Raiders second round draft pick from the previous year, Penn State all-american center Stefen Wisniewski.
“It was cool because I knew people there, Jack, Chaz, and even Wiz,” said Stupar. “It was just cool to be around them and just to have some familiar faces.”
Playing primarily as an outside linebacker in college, Stupar made the switch inside to middle linebacker in the Raiders 4-3 scheme. The physical part of the switch for Stupar wasn’t bad. It was the mental preparation that he focused on. He needed to know exactly where everyone was on the field.
Despite Stupar’s successful preseason, which included an 11 tackle, one sack game against the Seahawks in the final preseason game, he did not make the final 53-man roster. Instead, he was one of the Raiders final cuts and the only draft pick to be released, only to be signed to the practice squad the next day.
“On the practice squad you’re always close to getting to the active roster, but then you’re also the next person cut,” said Stupar. “There’s always pressure, you’re worrying about your job. I stopped worrying about it. All I can do is control how I practice.”
His time on the Raiders’ practice squad didn’t last long — he was cut after the first game of the season. During the Raiders Week 1 22-14 loss to the Chargers, Pro Bowl long snapper Jon Condo went down with a concussion. The Raiders didn’t have a back up and instead used a reserve linebacker. He botched three snaps with one leading to a blocked punt.
“It was disappointing,” said Stupar. ” Our long snapper got hurt so they had to get another long snapper on the practice squad, which took up my spot.”
Stupar then waited for another team to call. He had a hand full of tryouts with different teams, including the Patriots and the Dolphins. It would be eight weeks before Stupar signed with another team.
“During that process I had a tryout with Miami and I was going to have a tryout with the Titans, but the 49ers wanted me and the Eagles wanted me,” said Stupar. “I went with the Eagles.”
Stupar stayed with the Eagles until his practice squad contract expired at the end of the season. He had the option of signing a deal with the Eagles. However, he went to the 49ers since the team was still interested in him. He was on the team for the 49ers playoff run and 34-31 loss to Ravens in the Super Bowl.
“It was such an amazing experience,” said Stupar. “It was just breath taking. Just to be on that journey with them. Hopefully we have the same journey this year and actually win it.”
Stupar has now turned his focus on making the 53-man roster. In the off-season he’ll focus on learning the defensive playbook from Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Stupar will also pick up an offensive playbook and learn how to play fullback.
“I’m looking for the opportunity to compete,” said Stupar. “It’s been awhile for me to put the pads back on. It’s an opportunity to learn the offense and defense and be as versatile and valuable as I can to find that spot on the 53.”