FOOTBALL | Spate of Injuries Allows Kimpela to Shine
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 00:11
It is almost cliche to describe the average athlete as humble. But Georgetown freshmen running back Jo’el Kimpela is hardly the average athlete.
In his junior year of high school at Euless Trinity in Texas, Kimpela — who originally hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo — was still playing junior varsity football.
It was there that his high school and now Hilltop teammate Dezmond Richardson first noticed something special about the hard-working running back.
“He was better than everybody on JV his junior year,” Richardson, a freshman linebacker, said. “So I was like, ‘Why is he not playing?’”
When Kimpela did finally get his chance to take the field, he made the most of it: The 5-foot-10 ‘back was named to the Texas 5A All-State team his senior year, a season in which he gained 2,109 yards and scored 26 touchdowns.
It was under those Friday night lights that Kimpela truly fell in love with football.
“High school football in Texas was awesome,” Kimpela said. “It was great — the fans, the crowd, the atmosphere. There’s nothing like it.”
His play drew the attention of Head Coach Kevin Kelly. And although the Blue and Gray might seem a tough sell for an all-state Texas running back, it was the obvious pick for Kimpela. As his teammates noted, Kimpela’s deep religious roots and rigorous approach to academics made the Hilltop an ideal location.
“Georgetown seemed like a great place — the people, the studies, the football,” Kimpela said. “Academics are tough here, and I just try to stay tough on my school work.”
Early this season, it seemed like the freshman might once again have to wait a while to play, as he sat behind junior running backs Nick Campanella and Dalen Claytor and senior Wilburn Logan on the depth chart. Through the first seven games, he had only five carries for a zero-yard total.
But when Claytor went down with a shoulder injury, Kimpela stepped up. After carrying the ball six times for 23 yards in the Hoyas’ loss to Colgate, Kimpela broke out last week to help the Hoyas end their four-game losing streak in a 20-17 road win against Lafayette.
The Texan carried the ball 16 times for 80 yards and also caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from fellow freshman Kyle Nolan to fuel the Blue and Gray victory. The breakout performance earned Kimpela Patriot League rookie of the week honors, but even when talking about his accolade, the soft-spoken freshman could not help but praise others.
“It was definitely a blessing,” Kimpela said of the award. “I have to give a shoutout to my offensive linemen because I could not have done it without those guys, and they helped me get that award.”
That selfless attitude is part of what makes Georgetown football’s prospects look much brighter than they did just a few weeks ago. And Kimpela’s rise has coincided with the development of his new quarterback.
Nolan, who towers over Kimpela at 6-foot-5, began the season as the Blue and Gray’s fourth-stringer, but he has played in the last two games after injuries to senior Isaiah Kempf, junior Aaron Aiken and sophomore Stephen Skon.
Despite his recent emergence, the gunslinger has already earned himself a reputation of having an accurate arm with big-play potential. Against the Raiders, Nolan threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns, also earning the Patriot League rookie of the week title. The next week, the Connecticut native limited his mistakes and helped the Hoyas climb closer to .500.
Now, Nolan and Kimpela look like the future of the program, poised to be a tandem behind center for the next four years. What’s more, the two players seem to have developed a genuine friendship that further bodes well for the Blue and Gray.
“[Jo’el] is a runner, a blocker and can catch balls, so it is a great thing for a quarterback,” Nolan said. “He is always running hard and helping out guys like myself or other backs with his blocking.”
Nolan is not the only one with such effusive praise for Kimpela. It’s clear that he has already made an impact on his coaches as well.
“The sky is the limit,” Kelly said. “Just what I know of Jo’el so far is he is a very hard worker, and he is only going to get bigger and stronger. I think he will be an elite back in the Patriot League for years to come.”
Still, surrounded by praise in recent weeks, Kimpela has stayed grounded. His Christian faith — and infectious smile — have made him a favorite among many of his teammates.
“First and foremost, he is a really devoted Christian,” sophomore defensive back Javan Robinson said. “We both look up to each other in a way. He’s just a really good person.”
With only two games remaining this season, Kimpela hopes to continue to improve on the gridiron. But for him, football and life come down to the simple things.
“I just try to have fun,” Kimpela said. “Just bring a smile to anybody that I can. If someone’s having a bad day, I’ll try to do my best to lift them up.”
With his recent play, Kimpela has brought smiles to plenty of Hoya faithful.