Mind the Monster: Joe Kupcikevicius Is a Defense's Worst Nightmare

If you Google Joe Kupcikevicius (Cup-sih-kev-ich-us), you know what you will find?

Pages and pages of posts, articles, bios and analysis dedicated to the loveable offensive lineman, the not-so-gentle giant.

There are school biographies detailing his time at each of the three colleges he attended – South Dakota State’s touts his high school captainship and all-conference honors. Mt. San Antonio’s message boards couldn’t get enough of “Crazy Joe” (nicknamed so because of his bio picture and his intense and aggressive play). And Azuza Pacific’s page tells the story of a massive guy who just enjoys tackling people; whose infectious attitude makes the players around him better, both on the field and off.

“Joe Kup, yes he is very technically sound due to the great coaching he got from Jackie Slater, who is a 20-year NFL Hall of Famer,” said teammate and friend Andrew Elffers. “But what’s so special about Joe to me is his tenacity and his energy while he plays the game – it’s very contagious just how passionate he plays and it doesn’t only rub off on me, but it rubs off on the rest of the line in how aggressive they play and how they want to have that dominant mindset every snap and in between whistles. So that’s what makes him so special and that’s what was comforting to me as his quarterback.”

Yes that Jackie Slater. The one who played for Jackson State University, was a teammate of Walter Payton, was seven-time Pro-Bowler, with the retired Rams jersey. Yeah, that Jackie Slater. Although, now he goes by Coach Slater, teaching his tricks to the offensive lineman at Azuza Pacific University. Slater is also the main reason Kupcikevicius ended up at APU and became the certified on-field monster that he is today.

“After talking to Coach Slater, I realized that his football background and his experience would help me become the best offensive lineman that I wanted to be,” said Kupcikevicius. “We sat down on my visit to APU and we watched film and he shared his background. I knew his knowledge of the game was second to none, so I was really excited to work with him.”

Speaking of monsters…Kupcikevicius’ strength coach, Justin “Mags” Magallanez, who also owns and operates a training facility for football players looking to go pro called Creatin’ Monsters (named by his son Damien) has been preparing the tackle for his upcoming Pro Day on Tuesday, March 20th at APU.

Magallanez manages Kupcikevicius’ strength, but credits Slater with the development of his good football habits.

“He has the best teacher that any player would want in Jackie Slater,” said Magallanez. “Coach Slater is by far the best offensive line coach I know and Joe is a spitting image of what Jackie teaches. Joe is very smart on the field when it comes to scenarios, technique and positioning and he’s got overall man-strength – so much so that he really doesn’t know how strong he is at times.”

Strength and size have never been an issue for the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Kupcikevicius, who was always big for his age.

“I loved the game when I was younger but growing up I was always too big for the Pee-Wee league – I couldn’t make the weight,” admitted Kupcikevicius. “So I was stuck playing basketball and other sports until finally, when I got to high school, there was no weight limit. I wasn’t too far behind – other kids were coming in thinking they were all that, but I always just had that same ‘put my head down and grind’ mentality.”

It’s exactly that mental toughness that earned him first-team All-GNAC honors at APU as a redshirt junior after transferring from Mt. SAC in 2016. He was also a first-team All-GNAC selection as a redshirt senior in 2017.

His play may win him memorable awards but it’s his physicality that people, particularly opposing players, find hard to forget.

“I’m a physical player and that’s my favorite part of the game – doing anything to help my team win,” said Kupcikevicius. “That’s kind of something that sticks with me whenever I think about playing football - just how fun and physical it is.”

Plus, Kupcikevicius is the kind of guy who can throw a block that will change a game.

“I remember, our junior year we were playing at Humboldt State and there was a block Joe had to make – it was an extended run play, like a stretch to the right side and he pulled and just absolutely obliterated one of their defenders,” remembered Elffers. “Our running back was able to get us out of backed up territory and go 50-60 yards downfield. It was a huge, huge block to open up that hole and that gave us some more room to open up the offensive playbook. Four or five plays later we ended up scoring and when Humboldt State got the ball we ended up getting a pick six to win the game. But it was Joe’s block that jumpstarted our whole offense on the last drive of the game.”

Despite Kupcikevicius’ strength and aggressiveness, scouting reports have expressed concerns about his mobility and flexibility, a sort of stiffness when he comes out of his stance. But Kupcikevicius has been working diligently with some great people to prepare for Pro Day, utilizing methods like cryotherapy and yoga to combat his inflexibility.

“There has been some mobility concerns,” admitted Kupcikevicius. “I feel like I have been getting the right training, we’ve been really getting those kinks and knots out. Really just trying to get more flexible.”

Magallanez fully believes Kupcikevicius will excel at the next level because of his work ethic and willingness to learn.

“He’s very open to anything,” said Magallanez. “He’s very relaxed; he goes with the flow, which I like. I may twist it up with him and give him a hard scenario and he accepts it, he doesn’t question it - its more like a ‘what’s next’ type of attitude.”

Joe Kup is doing everything he can to achieve his NFL dream: he is going above and beyond with his homework from his trainer, he is bonding with current NFL players at his training facility and he is soaking up every moment of the process. And when he steps out on the field for his Pro Day, he will do so knowing that he is ready.

“I know I’m a great football player and I know what I’m capable of,” said Kupcikevicius. “I think I’m ready to block some guys in the league and do a really good job at it. The confidence is there and I know I’m a coachable player. The opportunity to play in the NFL is a dream and I will take any shot I can.”

Check out this interview Joe did with Draft Diamonds.

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