Joe Tacopina will have a great ice-breaker when he meets his new Temple football teammates next month, and he knows it.
After all, not every incoming college freshman is on a first-name basis with Philly rapper Meek Mill.
Tacopina, in fact, has received some advice from Mill as he begins his time at Temple, where he was recruited as a preferred walk-on kicker.
“He told me with the city, and having the same name as my father, there will be people out there to test me,” Tacopina said in a recent phone interview. “He said he will help me when I get there, and I am excited.”
His father, also named Joe Tacopina, is an attorney who recently represented Mill, who was released from prison April 24 after a controversial five-month stint behind bars.
The younger Tacopina attended Cheshire Academy in Connecticut and when word spread quickly there that he knew Meek Mill, an excitement permeated throughout the school.
“I am not going to lie to you — it was a pretty big thing [with the students],” Tacopina said. “A lot of people were big Meek Mill fans. It has definitely drawn a lot of attention to us, and it’s good attention. I don’t mind, I am a big fan.”
The Owls view the 5-foot-11, 185-pound kicker-punter as a player with great upside. Tacopina has been kicking for only two seasons — he’s a former soccer player who converted to football as a junior in high school.
“His upside is unbelievable,” said Ed Foley, Temple special teams and tight ends coach. “When we get him in here, we can refine his technique, but from watching him, he has what it takes: a good solid base of technique and a really explosive leg.”
Kickers frequently have to earn scholarships. That was the case with current Temple placekicker Aaron Boumerhi, who walked on and earned a scholarship after his first season. Boumerhi, who is entering his junior season, has been the regular since midway through his freshman year.
Tacopina made college visits to Miami, Michigan and Massachusetts and says he was also being recruited by Nebraska. He also met with Alabama coach Nick Saban, who had visited Cheshire Academy.
Temple was really an afterthought at first. Actually, he had given it no thought.
“I really wasn’t looking at Temple, but my dad really wanted me to look at the school,” Tacopina said. “When we go there, Temple blew us away.”
First, second-year coach Geoff Collins met with the Tacopinas for 40 minutes.
“Other schools, you didn’t get that kind of time with the head coach,” Tacopina said. “It showed how interested he was.”
The elder Tacopina was just as impressed with Temple and the staff.
“Coach Foley pulled out a piece of paper and was able to cite the GPA of everybody on the team in a second,” the elder Tacopina said. “Nobody asked the questions about our family like Temple, and they were asking about Joe’s brothers and sisters and wanted to meet Joe’s mom.”
So the player and his parents came for a second visit. The younger Tacopina committed to Temple in mid-March.
He will compete as a kicker and punter at Temple. He has come a long way in two years thanks to the help of kicking coach Ricky Krautman, who kicked first at Syracuse and then finished his career at William Paterson. Krautman, 34, is based in North Jersey.
“He is the main reason I have been able to make so much progress,” Tacopina said.
Tacopina’s longest field goal in a game is 40 yards, but Krautman says he has hit from 55 in workouts.
“He has been consistently good from 50 yards,” Krautman said.
Tacopina also has a booming leg on kickoffs.
The elder Tacopina was the one who suggested Krautman to his son, and the two have enjoyed a strong relationship.
“When I first saw him, we had a two-hour introductory session,” Krautman said. “Right away, I knew he had potential.”
Regardless of potential, Temple has an established placekicker in Boumerhi. Temple had four punters in spring practice competing for the job after the graduation of four-year starter Alex Starzyk. So Tacopina has his work cut out, which he realizes.
“My goal is to get there and compete,” he said.
And there will be an added bonus with his arrival:
Meek Mill promised to talk to the team sometime during the 2018 season.
“That is going to be a cool moment,” Tacopina said. “Obviously, he is from Philly and it will be pretty unique, and I am just excited to get there and get going.”