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Kasa could be next late-blooming NFL tight end

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(Eds: Adds background, quotes. With AP Photos.)

By ARNIE STAPLETON

AP Pro Football Writer

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) - Nick Kasa? Oh yeah, he's the guy who ratted out NFL teams for improperly asking potential draft picks about their sexual orientation at the combine.

He's hoping to soon be known for more than just that, saying those comments in a recent radio interview were blown out of proportion and he regrets saying anything.

Kasa wants to become the next Antonio Gates or Jimmy Graham, big tight ends who blossomed only after reaching the pros.

The 6-foot-6, 269-pound Kasa converted from defensive end eight games into his junior season at the University of Colorado, then showed great promise during his senior season.

His size, skills, smarts and speed have caught the attention of NFL scouts who consider him one of the top tight end prospects in next month's draft.

Eighteen months ago, Kasa was a defensive end fighting for playing time. Seeing the end of his football career closing in on him, he went to then-Buffaloes coach Jon Embree and offered to play any position to get on the field more.

Embree converted him to tight end and he caught one pass for eight yards in the season finale against Utah. Then, he caught 25 passes for 391 yards and three TDs his senior season.

Kasa is a fast riser on many NFL draft boards despite playing the position just one full season in college and pulling a hamstring at the combine that prevented him from running routes or the 40-yard dash just weeks after shining at the Senior Bowl.

"Oh my God, if you would have asked me a year and a-half ago if I thought I was going to the NFL combine and the Senior Bowl and possibly getting drafted, I never ever would have thought," Kasa said after doing position drills at the Buffaloes' pro timing day this week for representatives of two dozen teams.

"When I was on the defensive line, I was like, `Wow, football's about to be done and in a year, that's terrible. I was almost coming to grips with it and then it was just like a 180 the other way."

Former Buffaloes quarterback Tyler Hansen, who didn't make it out of Cincinnati's training camp last summer after pulling a hamstring, threw to Kasa at Colorado's pro timing day and was impressed with how much progress he'd made.

"I think he did good. I think he's still trying to get comfortable with playing tight end. You know, he's only played there a year but he's getting better and I think two years down the road he could be a stud in the league," Hansen said. "I think he just needs to get comfortable."

Hansen said he saw Kasa's potential the first time he huddled up with him.

"He's obviously huge and he can run, but he needs to develop that skill set with his hands, a little more skills blocking, but I think he has all the tools to be a great tight end," Hansen said. "You could see he had the right makeup. He wants to be great and it wasn't happening at D-end for him, so it was his idea to come to the coaches and it paid off for him."

Turns out, it's the best move he ever made on the football field.

"It was really that fear that football might be over for me and I just wanted to show that I can play tight end and play some special teams," Kasa said. "I just wanted to show that I could keep playing football."

It was in the days after his mind and body were poked and prodded at the combine that Kasa really made a splash, and not one he particularly wanted to make, either.

In answering a rather innocuous inquiry about what types of things teams wanted to know, Kasa told ESPN Radio in Denver that during interviews with team officials at the combine in Indianapolis: "(Teams) ask you, like, `Do you have a girlfriend?' `Are you married?' `Do you like girls?"'

He did not identify who asked him.

Since then, Michigan's Denard Robinson and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell each have indicated in radio interviews that they were asked similar questions. Soon, the NFL and the players union were chiming in.

"Like all employers, our teams are expected to follow applicable federal, state and local employment laws," the NFL said in a Feb. 27 statement. "It is league policy to neither consider nor inquire about sexual orientation in the hiring process. In addition, there are specific protections in our collective bargaining agreement with the players that prohibit discrimination against any player, including on the basis of sexual orientation."

Kasa said he never intended to create such a stir.

"I was really surprised about the whole thing. I don't really want to talk about it too, too much," he said. "But really it was just, I think, taken out of context and really spiraled into a lot of buzz that I didn't want at all. I think it was kind of my fault. I should have known with the whole situation going on right now that I shouldn't have even touched on that."

Kasa said the NFL called him to discuss the issue and he told the league that "it wasn't anybody directly asking me that and so it wasn't really that big of a deal at all."

Asked if the matter might hurt his draft stock, Kasa said, "I hope not. I don't think it will right now. I've talked to my agents and I think the NFL coaches were saying, `We see this all the time, it's just the media ... just creating a story, something to talk about."'

Kasa pulled a hamstring at the combine, and although he said it was 98 percent healed, he only did position drills for the 27 scouts who attended his pro timing day.

He said he plans to start making team visits soon and the No. 1 thing he needs to show teams is that he has good hands.

"Most defensive linemen don't have the best hands," he said, "so, that's what they want to see is just constant improvement with that."

So, he's catching balls all the time, even throwing them to himself at home, he said.

"I just do any kind of ball work that I can do, even just feeling the ball and getting used to it."

Coaches saw Kasa's potential as a tight end early on. He de-committed from Florida and came to Boulder "because they said they might move me to offense, to tackle or tight end," Kasa said. "So, in hindsight, they might have known what they were talking about. I wish I had made the move earlier. But right now, I can't think about it. It's going well and I just need to keep improving."

With that, Kasa gathered up his bags and began waiting to hear which teams might want to fly him in for a workout once his hamstring is healed.

"I would love to run a 40 right now. I want that 4.6. I know I can get it," he said. "And I just can't do it. I might try to set it up later but it would be stupid of me to do it again and pull it again, you know? I can't risk it until I prove that I can do it."

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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