Only in the United States is American football known simply as "football." Almost anywhere else in the world, that term refers to the sport Americans call "soccer." And it's that latter sport that first ran in senior punter Derek Epperson's blood.
"I played club soccer my whole life, all the way up until I graduated high school," recalls the Metroplex native and Keller High School graduate. "I was in the Olympic development program for awhile. I grew up playing soccer, and just started playing football in middle school because that's what you're supposed to do in athletics. I thought college soccer was what I was going to play."
That is, until the college football coaches came calling.
"When I got to high school I started kicking, and my sophomore year they needed a punter, so I started doing that, too. That was kind of a natural transition from playing goalie in soccer," Epperson says. "My kicking coach used to play in the NFL, and whenever I first worked with him, he said I had a better leg than a lot of kids he had sent off to college - and that was my freshman year of high school.
"After my junior year, he said he felt I should stick to punting because he thought I had a definite future in it. Then when I went to some camps and did a lot better than anybody else there, the coaches took notice, and I thought, 'Hey, I could probably get a scholarship for this.'"
That offer came from Baylor even before Epperson began his senior year, and it only took a few days for him to commit to the Bears.
"Baylor was close to home and had a good academic reputation. My parents really liked that," he recalls.
The decision has worked out well for both Epperson and the Bears. As a true freshman in 2007, he took over for departed senior Daniel Sepulveda, who had just been selected in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers after becoming the first two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter.
"It was tough having to come in after him and fill in right away, because you have one of the greatest players ever to play here, and if you don't come in and play at the same level then it's a downgrade," recalls Epperson.
But the rookie filled Sepulveda's shoes admirably, earning honorable mention freshman all-America honors from The Sporting News. A season later, he was named a Ray Guy Award semifinalist, and then in 2009 received honorable mention All-America honors from two publications.
Entering his senior year, Epperson had already written his name in the Baylor record books. At the start of the 2010 season, his career average of 42.4 yards per punt ranked fourth all-time at Baylor, while his career punting yardage ranked eighth.
As one of the best at his position in college football, Epperson may have a shot at following Sepulveda again -- this time, to the NFL. To get there, he's also following a few words of advice the Steeler has shared.
"Work hard, keep your head down, and as long as you just keep doing what you're supposed to be doing, everything else will take care of itself," Epperson says.
"So that's what I've been doing - just working hard and trying not to think about too much else, because it just distracts you in the end. I just focus on punting and school."
Epperson's attention to academics helped him earn a pair of Academic All-Big 12 honors before graduating this past August with a degree in management information systems. He began work on his MBA this fall, entering Baylor's health care administration program.
"It's a two-year program. Hopefully things will work out with professional football and I won't get to finish it," he admits. "That would be a good dilemma to have."
Should football not work out, however, Epperson would be fine with following his father into a career in health care administration. Jeff Epperson is chief financial officer at Millwood Hospital in Arlington.
"Working in health care, helping other people before yourself, is something I think I'd find really gratifying," says the younger Epperson. "Baylor's program trains you for upper level positions at hospitals. They've had a 100 percent hiring rate. If I complete it, I'm almost guaranteed a job in health care somewhere, and then it's just a matter of how fast you climb the ladder."
That, of course, assumes Epperson isn't lured back into soccer -- or, more likely, busy climbing an NFL depth chart somewhere next fall.