VANCOUVER — Dane Kapler has always been able to see the forest for the trees.
In an allegorical sense, there he was Tuesday, the UBC freshman running back and forestry major taking a hand-off at the team’s fall camp and bursting through a seam from behind the Thunderbirds’ thick-stumped offensive line.
And, of course, in a twist on that woodsy, age-old axiom, the one which reminds us of the importance of keeping the big picture in focus at all times, there is Kapler once again, this time taking the time to explain why the son of San Francisco Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler chose football over baseball, and just why he has ventured some 1,300 miles north from his SoCal digs to play Canada’s three-down variety right here on the Point Grey campus.
He also speaks on what it’s like to keep track of his dad’s team, the winningest this season in all of Major League Baseball as we sprint to the finish of a most intense NL West pennant race.
Where to begin?
Well, how about choosing football over the family business?
“My dad is a huge football fan and he really wanted to play growing up, so having the opportunity to see me play is what he wanted for me,” says Kapler, a 2020 recruit who starred at Ventura (Cal.) High over his 2019 senior season. “I tried baseball when I was younger but it really wasn’t for me. Football was really just more accessible and it just worked for our whole family. We really loved it.”
Yet as Kapler and the rest of an up-and-coming running back room look to return the ‘Birds ground game to at least some semblance of its past glories beginning with its Canada West opener Sept. 25 in Edmonton against the Alberta Golden Bears, it’s the big-picture lessons he gleaned throughout his upbringing which he today credits as so very priceless.
“Just growing up in a family that has always been in professional sports, I’ve always had a sort of greater understanding, I think than most kids probably get in their families, of what it takes to be an elite athlete,” Kapler begins, referencing his dad who played 12 Major League seasons, and formerly managed the Phillies before assuming his current posting at the helm of the Giants.
“I was always growing up around top-level athletes and that exposure helped me stay focused and motivated and to have a greater understanding of what it takes.”
All of that has also honed Kapler’s work ethic, a key component which, over a will-testing cancelled 2020 season, has scored high marks with Blake Nill, the ‘Birds own rough-and-tumble head coach who is on the hunt for the program’s first Vanier Cup national title since his debut campaign on the Point back in 2015.
“He is a blood-and-guts kid,” Nill explained earlier this week of Kapler. “I am really excited to see his potential because I think the thing with Dane is… Dane doesn’t mind having to prove himself. There are a lot of kids nowadays who think they are owed something. Kapler? He’s not like that.”
“He’s a slasher… a very intelligent type of runner,” added Nill. “He knows how to read his blocks and how to get the most of his downfield decisions. He’s got good hands, too. He’s a good one.”
And when it comes to the reaction, en masse, that Kapler received from his circle of friends upon announcing his student-athlete’s path north through the forests to a football/forestry career in Vancouver?
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” explained Kapler, who while listed at 6-foot, 185-pound on the team’s 2020 roster, has become a much more stronger and explosive athlete the past 12 months under the auspices of Birds’ strength-and-conditioning coach Joe McCullum.
“But they have always known that I am a little bit of an outside-the-box kind of person,” he continued. “There’s no set path that I feel that I always need to follow, so when I heard about UBC it was just a great fit for me all around, like academically with a great forestry program, and sports wise, too. So my friends weren’t too shocked by it all.”
UBC's Dane Kapler: How 'Birds freshman running back and son of San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler found the vision to blaze a football path to Vancouver! https://t.co/WZac0rj3Iy @ubctbirds @CoachNill @SFGiants @VenturaFootball @LangleyEvents @FarhanLaljiTSN @ubcprez @BCHSFB pic.twitter.com/d7wMPEafyG— Howard Tsumura (@htsumura) September 16, 2021
HIS PLACE IN THE ROOM
The rest of training camp and the first few weeks of the conference season, including the ‘Birds long-awaited home opener Oct. 1 against the Saskatchewan Huskies, will go a long way towards sorting out UBC’s running back depth chart.
What can be said concretely is that the ‘Birds running game is looking for depth as well as a consistency, from down-to-down, to provide the kind of balance Nill seeks from the offence.
Yet with the addition of the likes of Kapler, as well as incoming 2021 rookie recruit Isaiah Knight, and the maturation and size of the UBC offensive line, the scales may start to tip back towards the required equilibrium this season.
When it comes to Knight, an Ottawa native who prepped the past two seasons stateside at the St. James School in Maryland, there is a U.S.-influenced flair potentially developing on B.C. soil to partner with the U.S.-schooled Kapler.
Lauded for his patience behind the line of scrimmage, Nill loves what the addition of Knight, one of the very brightest lights of the 2021 recruiting class, has shown over the first few days of fall camp.
“His stride-length reminds me of Mercer Timmis at Calgary,” Nill said, referencing the former CFLer whom he coached during his long stay as Dinos’ head coach, and who capped his career in 2015 by becoming that program’s all-time TD-scoring leader with 42.
“I think if Isaiah Knight is able to get through the line of scrimmage, he is going to cause issues. Like Mercer, he isn’t the biggest guy in the world, but once through that line, he was a guy who could cause all kinds of trouble for the opposition.”
With just over a week of camp remaining, it’s premature to stamp the Knight-Kapler pairing as the team’s 1-2 punch wearing blue and gold, yet Nill doesn’t deny the positives just such two-headed backfield would offer.
“They are different runners for sure,” Nill began, “but the thing that impresses me most about both of them is their approach to preparation. They get the game. Kapler and Knight do. They each have an instinct for the game.”
CHARACTER AND COMPASSION
There is plenty on-line which both documents and confirms the strength of character and the level of compassion which Dane Kapler has brought with him to Vancouver.
In a particularly revealing piece written in the Ventura County (Cal.) Times in November of 2019, it is hard not to glean the solidity of his foundation as the Grade 12 student addressed a number of questions about himself.
Published the same day on which Gabe Kapler was named San Francisco Giants’ manager, Dane Kapler was nearing the end of his blue-chip senior season at running back for the Ventura High team.
Yet we learn in that story that Kapler had actually had to start anew at Ventura High after his family home in Malibu was destroyed by the destructive Woolsey Fire a year previous.
That story documents some of the personal items Kapler lost in the fire, like treasured photographs and all of his youth football jerseys.
In that story, with the state quarterfinals just ahead and Kapler just shy of a 1,000-yard rushing season, he was asked about the after-shock of the fire and the impact it has continued to have on both he and his family.
Said Kapler, back then still a teen, to reporter Joe Curley: “We’re not materialistic people. I can do without all the stuff. But there are certain things that you can’t replace, that have memories attached to them.”
Added Kapler, with incredible perspective and compassion for others: “At the time, I was kind of numb to it. I was shocked. It was definitely really tough. But we were grateful that it hit us, a family that had the resources to recover, instead of hitting a family that wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
Kind of defines the ability to see the forest for the trees.
And now, it’s time for forestry, and time for some football.
. @SFGiants manager Gabe Kapler had a heartfelt reaction to today's news about the opening of the U.S.-Canada border to non-essential travel. For his family, that means Gabe can watch his son, Dane, play football for the @ubctbirds. "Super exciting news," Kapler said. @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 19, 2021
“We’re just trying to figure this all out together,” Kapler says of the kinship he and his fellow UBC running backs have developed. “I think that makes us a real tight-knit group.”
And oh, how about the small matter of squeezing in the time to follow what is a uniquely personal pennant race?
Baseball fans will tell you, having a team in the race in the very last stages of the 162-game marathon is the most nerve-wracking daily experience to be found in sports fandom.
But in Kapler’s own incredibly rare situation, one with school and football, and the fortunes of his dad’s baseball team each demanding a share of his daily thoughts, well… what’s it been like?
“I haven’t really gotten the opportunity to watch a whole lot of baseball this year,” he admits. “I’ve been following along with records (like 90 wins over its first 140 games for the first time in Giants’ history since 1913) and all of that, but that’s basically as far as I usually get to go,” said Kapler.
“It’s really been a race between them and the Dodgers, and where I am from is actually closer to LA,” he continued. “A couple of my friends are Dodgers fans so there’s been a bunch of talking smack between us. Whoever is on top of the division gets the bragging rights.”
And about perhaps finding a window to get down to the Bay Area and give his dad a hug, just like he did back on that November day in 2019 when Gabe Kapler was hired as Giants’ manager?
“Football and school are taking priority for me right now,” he adds, “but I mean, if I happen to have a chance to go support my dad and the team, I’ll do that.”
However you care to frame it, that’s Dane Kapler talking, the kid who has always seen the forest for the trees.
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