Mainstay Caputo helps Eastern transition into new coaching staff


File Photo

Eastern linebacker Joe Caputo (45) during a game against Murray State last October. Caputo is back with the Panthersfor his redshirt-senior season in 2019.

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

The Eastern football team is flush with new faces headed into the 2019 season. Thirty-eight freshmen are on the roster, along with five transfers. The coaching staff consists of 17 new coaches, from head coach on down, with just one hold over from recent years. 

There will be new schemes, new plays, new players, but muddled amongst all the change and transition is a player who has seen more Eastern football, and possibly more change, than anyone else, redshirt-senior linebacker Joe Caputo. 

Caputo arrived at Eastern in 2015 and redshirted that season. In 2016, Caputo suited up for Eastern for the first time and has not looked back since. He played in every game in 2016, mostly on special teams and as a reserve linebacker, and he finished that season with 17 tackles. In 2017 he earned his way into a starting spot and started all 11 games for the Panthers. And again in 2018, Caputo started all 11 games at linebacker for Eastern, this time, finishing the season with a team-high 86 tackles. 

Since his debut in 2016, Caputo has had 33 chances to see the field and has been there for Eastern all 33 times. A lot has changed around Caputo in those 33 games, and since he arrived at Eastern in 2015. Entering 2019, Caputo has seen four different defensive coordinators at Eastern, two head coaches and three linebacker coaches. There has been an Eastern logo change and on-campus enrollment from his arrival in 2015 (7,616) dipped almost 3,000 students by the Spring of 2019 (4,943). 

Caputo has seen a lot of change at Eastern. He’s seen winning seasons (2015, 2016, 2017) and he has seen losing seasons (2018). He has been the anchor on good defenses and in the case of last season, played with poor defenses. 

But everything that has happened in Caputo’s years at Eastern, all the good, the bad and the changes have been put behind him. For now, he is ready to begin his final season Thursday against Chattanooga and help the new coaches and players transition into a new era of Eastern football. 

 “You have to look forward to the next play and just talking about it after practice (Monday) and we’re looking forward to this next game, so anything that happened in the past is kind of in the past,” Caputo said. “We’re moving forward. We have got a lot of guys that have played snaps, so that’s going to be to our advantage. We have been through those games before and we know what has worked and what hasn’t. So, we are looking forward to the first game to finally erase what we have done in the past and build something new here.”

Caputo is optimistic about the transition the program is going through currently as new head coach Adam Cushing and new defensive coordinator Chris Bowers instill their schemes at Eastern. The fact that Caputo has been through this kind of change before, he says, helps a lot this coming season. 

“The big thing I focus on is the defense, and having transitioned now four times, that’s helped obviously,” Caputo said. “And the big thing is just learning the scheme, learning the defense and the terminology. Like I said before, you just think about, cover four is cover four, every defense has it in so it really just comes down to learning the terminology. That’s really been the big thing I have been helping the younger guys do, and lining them up right and making checks.”

Cushing has said that having a player like Caputo, who has seen so much in his time here, around to help with the transition has been “unbelievable”.

“Joe knows football, not just our scheme, but he knows lots of football and he knows it inside and out, and so every chance that we have had to kind of lean on him out there on the field to make the calls correct and get us lined up the right way, and also just to talk to the young guys that are playing for the first time,” Cushing said. “(Caputo) said something the other day in our leadership council meeting. He said ‘the first drive you are going to be tired, and after that it is just going to be a football game.’”

As a player, Caputo has everything you could want in a linebacker. He’s big, strong, fast, and can tackle just about anyone that gets in his way, but what Cushing says really stands out about him is his high football intelligence. 

“What truly separates him from the guys next to him, from the guys around him is his football intelligence. He’s got great instincts for the game,” Cushing said. “I always believe instincts come from preparation and study and he studies football, he loves the game, he’s watching football all the time. When he is not here at the stadium he is watching football on TV and watching our video, that’s what creates good instincts is really just being that film rat, that football junkie.”

When Eastern opens its season Thursday night against Chattanooga and the Adam Cushing era begins in Charleston, the freshman get their first taste of college football. Win or lose you can count on one thing, Caputo will be out there for Eastern, making his 34th appearance in 34 games for Eastern. 

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]