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Chasing a Family Legacy, Jake Kumerow's NFL Draft Dream Comes Full Circle

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterApril 25, 2015

USA Today


Marie Kumerow, nee Accardo, with first husband W. Palmer Pyle Jr. in June 1960.
Marie Kumerow, nee Accardo, with first husband W. Palmer Pyle Jr. in June 1960.Credit: AP via Chicago Tribune archives

Who, the receiver? Tall kid with the ponytail? You don't know him?

Kumerow. Whitewater, D-III. Yeah, we've been tracking him for a while. 6'5", 205 pounds. I had his 40s around 4.5. Short shuttle was 6.90. Probably has better numbers in him.

Production? 32 touchdowns, about 2,500 yards, two D-III national titles in the last two years.

Hold on, it gets better: Dad was a first-round pick. Uncle, too. One first cousin is an All-American, and the other is a 5-star recruit.

Don't know how he slipped through the cracks—but if he slips through the sixth round, we're calling him...

...and keep that under your hat.

In May 1958, Sports Illustrated dispatched columnist Gerald Holland to the Winnetka, Illinois, home of Mr. and Mrs. William Palmer Pyle. The Keokuk, Iowa, natives had a knack for raising elite athletes in idyllic suburban Chicagoland.

They were devoted Chicago Bears fans who rarely missed a game. Their house was stuffed with jerseys and equipment of just about every sport, game and outdoorsy pursuit imaginable. The walls were draped with newspaper clippings, the mantel laden with trophies.

As profiled by Holland, the Pyles were ideal sporting parents: endlessly supportive but never pushy. They let their sons choose their own path to success.

Their eldest, named William Palmer Pyle, Jr. but called Palmer, was a standout right tackle at Michigan State. His Spartans had just finished a sterling 1957 season, finishing No. 3 in the AP poll. Their second son, Mike, would go on to captain Yale's undefeated 1960 squad.

Cathryn Pyle, a three-sport athlete at Wyoming, told Holland they "would have been delighted if Mike had decided on Michigan State. But we've made it a firm rule not to try to influence the boys in the choice of a university. Both of them were approached by dozens of schools, but they made up their own minds."

Mike Pyle turned down numerous scholarships to walk on at Yale; the Pyles ponied up for Ivy League tuition. They commuted to East Lansing for Palmer's games and on occasion made it out to Connecticut to watch Mike. Holland ended his piece with a warning to Michigan State head coach Duffy Daugherty: He'd better not let the youngest Pyle get away.

Palmer would go on to be drafted by the Baltimore Colts, and Mike by the Pyles' beloved Bears. Though Palmer's pro career would be cut short by injuries, Mike was the Pro Bowl pivot of the Bears offensive line throughout the 1960s.

Two years after the Sports Illustrated profile, and just months after being drafted, Palmer made national headlines—but not for playing football. He eloped with high-profile Chicago native Marie Accardo, described as "a daughter of Tony Accardo, reputed crime syndicate chief" in The Associated Press report on the wedding, via the Schenectady Gazette.

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The headline-making marriage didn't last—but it did produce a son: Eric.

In his mother's suburban Chicago home, Eric grew bigger and faster than any of the famous footballing Pyles. He became a three-sport athlete with incredible size and starred at quarterback for Oak Park-River Forest High School. After his senior season, he was named All-State in both football and basketball and Football Player of the Year by the Chicago Tribune. Per Brad Spencer of the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, OPRF retired his No. 14 in 2012.

The back of that jersey never read "PYLE." Eric's last name was, and is, Kumerow.

Marie Accardo married another Chicago ballplayer, Ernest Kumerow. He was a pitcher for the University of Illinois and went on to throw two years in the minors. After marrying Marie, Ernie raised Eric and his sister Cheryl as his own.

A sought-after college recruit, Eric Kumerow committed to Ohio State. When he arrived in Columbus, he found himself sandwiched in a quarterback depth chart that included eventual Bears signal-caller Mike Tomczak. To get on the field, Kumerow would have to take a different path. During his redshirt season, he switched to defense.

In his first year on the field, Kumerow started on the edge of a stout Buckeyes defense that included future pros such as safety William White and Bednarik Award winner Chris SpielmanBuckeyesFansOnly.com lists Kumerow as Ohio State's fourth-most prolific pass-rusher ever, with 23 sacks in two seasons. In his two seasons as a starter, the Buckeyes went 19-6 and finished No. 14 and No. 7 in the AP poll.

Injuries held Kumerow out of the Senior Bowl and combine, so Ohio State's pro day was his only chance to put up test numbers for pro scouts. At 6'7", 264 pounds, he had freakish size—but per Bob Hill of the Orlando Sun-SentinelKumerow's 40-yard dash that day was a pedestrian 4.84 seconds. According to Hill, Kumerow was "expected to be drafted between the second and fifth rounds." The Miami Dolphins took him No. 16 overall.

Kumerow family archives

"I almost went through the ceiling when [the Dolphins] called my name," Kumerow told Hill at the time. Legendary Dolphins head coach Don Shula, who'd coached Palmer Pyle on the Baltimore Colts, seemed to see something in Kumerow no one else did. But when Kumerow arrived in Miami, he struggled show it. Nagging injuries slowed his practice performance, and first-round expectations weighed him down.

"I told him that he had to practice like it was a game in order to impress the coaches," Shula told Barnes. "A lot of young players don't know how to practice at this level. You have to know your assignments and be able to carry them out."

Kumerow's struggles with injuries and opportunities mirrored those of second-year defensive end John Bosa. Bosa, taken No. 16 overall in the year before, quickly bonded with Kumerow on and off the field. The brothers-in-arms became brothers-in-law when Bosa married Kumerow's sister, Cheryl.

Kumerow never found his place on the field. He registered five sacks, 25 tackles and zero starts in three seasons spent bouncing between linebacker and defensive end. In 1991, Miami traded him to the Bears. His relief, per Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, was palpable.

"Being in Chicago means a lot," Kumerow told Sullivan at the time. "Coming back with my wife and family to our family and friends. God forbid, if things don't work out, at least we'll be home and we're all set and can go on with our lives."

Things didn't work out. An Achilles injury cost him that season, and he didn't make the 1992 squad. Bosa's repeated knee injuries cut his career short, too.

His playing days over, Bosa rented a South Beach building and converted it into a hot new gym, The Gridiron Club. In 1995, per Eric Conrad of the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, Bosa and Kumerow then decided to build a dream fitness facility from the ground up, going 50-50 in a $1.4 million venture. Kumerow moved his growing family from the Chicago suburbs back down to Florida.

The new gym was a success, but it didn't erase the failure of Kumerow's first South Florida career. Miami media outlets spent every April reminding the Kumerows' neighbors he and Bosa were back-to-back first-round busts. 

"I've got a 5-year-old son who wasn't even born when I was playing down here," Kumero, referring to his son Jake, told Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald in 1997. "He doesn't need to hear negative things about his father."

Competition for The Gridiron Club heated up as fitness chains swamped south Florida. Eventually, Kumerow and Bosa decided to sell the gym. Ready for a new start, the Kumerows moved—where else?—back home to suburban Chicago. Close to family and far from Dolphins fans, Kumerow began a successful sales career in Bartlett, Illinois, providing a peaceful upbringing for a house bursting with talented young athletes.

"It was pretty crazy," Jake told Bleacher Report. "Always competing all around the house, me and my brothers and my sister. Our dad was always coaching us, everything was pretty much sports all year round. Soccer, football, basketball, baseball, everything."

For all the competition, though, Jake says there was never any animosity. His sister Cortney agreed.

"Some siblings have those rivalries, that are really competitive all the time," she told Bleacher Report. "We never got into those big, crazy rivalries." The Kumerow kids all found their own niches; Jake took to football, while Cortney latched onto basketball. "I went to every game they ever played in, and they did the same for me. We just really supported each other a lot."

They were on local coaches' radar right away, especially as they were districted into Bartlett's brand-new South Elgin high school.

"There was definitely an awareness of the Kumerow family in Bartlett, of [Eric], and the success he had," South Elgin varsity football coach Pat Pistorio told Bleacher Report.

Was Eric Kumerow another Marv Marinovich, pushing his kids to make the pros, training them at all hours of the day and night? Were he and his wife Tammi obsessed helicopter parents, running interference with the coaches to make sure their kids got picked for travel teams, got starting reps, got extra attention? No. In fact, Eric took pains to stay out of the way.

"I was not the dad that pushed, and really really got involved, and put the pressure on the kids," Eric told Bleacher Report. "What happened to me is unique and special, and it's very, very difficult to achieve that goal of playing professional athletics. I tried my hardest to just have fun with the kids and let whatever happens, happen." 

Jake, Cortney and all the coaches interviewed for this article agree that's exactly what he did.

"Eric could be telling us all what to do, considering his pedigree," Pistorio said. "Despite being a first-round pick, he and Tammi stay out of the way. They really allow the coaches to do their job and support everything that we do." 

The Kumerows insisted their children follow through on commitments they made but allowed them to make those choices themselves.

Jake always chose football.

When he joined South Elgin's freshman squad, he was years away from having a first-rounder's body—but his talent was evident.

"You could tell it came naturally to him," Pistorio said. "There were weeks he didn't drop a ball."

Whether it was adjustment to balls in the air, making one-handed catches or high-pointing over opponents, Jake showed and developed technique far beyond most high school wideouts. Most impressive of all was his unrelenting drive, as he worked every practice rep with playoff intensity.

"It was like in wrestling," Pistorio said, "when you hear about state champions that never get pinned, even in practice? It's the same thing with him catching the ball. His hands are just unreal."

His ability was clearly visible even from the top of the bleachers where Eric, his parents Ernie and Marie and Tammi and her parents would sit during Jake's games. They supported and cheered him endlessly but gave him and the coaches the space they needed to succeed.

For all his ability, Jake lacked what seemed to be his birthright: elite measurables. In a recruiting world obsessed with height, weight and speed, he didn't have enough of the three to bring in scholarship offers from Big Ten universities.

"We knew he was a D-I talent," Eric Kumerow said. "He was just underdeveloped." Pistorio, who also has college and indoor coaching experience, agreed—and so did Ron Zook. Late in the process, the then-head coach of the University of Illinois offered Jake a preferred walk-on spot. Jake took it, and Eric and Tammi made sure their son could walk his chosen path to success.

But why Illinois? Was it the challenge of elite competition? The honor of upholding his grandfather Ernie's legacy?

"Well, it was close to home," Jake said, "and orange has always been one of my favorite colors." At Illinois, Jake got taller, and his role on the squad grew along with him. Late in his redshirt freshman year, he logged three receptions in a 27-7 loss to Minnesota. He didn't know it then, but they were the only D-I passes he'd ever catch. At the end of the season, Zook was fired.

"I was feeling a little iffy about my spot," Jake said of the following uncertain spring. "A couple other people had transferred out; it was just a lot different." To get onto the field, Jake would have to take a different path. That's when the Kumerows reached out to D-III University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where Cortney was a basketball standout.

The talented Kumerow family: Eric, Jake, Cortney, Tammi, Derek and Kyle.
The talented Kumerow family: Eric, Jake, Cortney, Tammi, Derek and Kyle.Credit: Kumerow family archives

"I talked to my dad, and the coaches," Jake said, "and I was like, 'Go win a couple national championships with the rest of the years I have left? Sounds good to me!' It turned out to be the best choice of my life."

"We welcomed him with open arms," former UW-Whitewater head coach Lance Leipold told Bleacher Report. Leipold, now head coach at the University at Buffalo, was glad to finally land the receiver—by then listed at 6'4", 190 pounds—he'd tried to recruit out of South Elgin.

Zook, now the Green Bay Packers special teams coach, was unable to comment about Jake due to his status as a draft prospect. However, Zook told Leipold that if he'd been retained, Jake easily could have earned a scholarship at Illinois.

That first season at Whitewater was one of transition, introspection and reflection. He worked on his grades, ate spaghetti at Cortney's place, tried to learn the offense and attempted to make friends. He was active for nine games but caught just 15 passes. It was an off year for the Warhawks, too. After winning D-III national championships in four of the prior five years, uncharacteristic offensive struggles held them to a 7-3 record and out of the playoffs.

Cortney's squad, meanwhile, was rolling. Averaging 13.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game from the center spot, the 6'1" senior led her team to the D-III national championship game. At the same time her Warhawks were beating the nation's best, her younger brother Kyle was tearing it up in track, making the state finals in the triple jump.

"While we were in the hotel at the state track meet," Cortney said, "Jake was like, 'Man, now it's my turn to do something awesome.' "

Genaro C. Armas/Associated Press

That spring, everything changed.

"Jake really took it upon himself," Leipold said. "He got in the weight room right away. He made as quick of a 180 as I've seen."

Alan Hensell, who joined Whitewater as wide receivers coach for the 2013 season, raved about his junior-year pupil. "He was a tremendous practice player," Hensell told Bleacher Report. "One of the best I've around. He leads by example, never takes himself out, wants to take every rep and get every rep perfect."

Then-defensive coordinator Kevin Bullis, who has since been promoted to head coach, agreed.

"His confidence just blossomed," Bullis said. "You could tell in his heart and mind, that second season, his priorities were hardwired into what he wanted to do." It was no surprise Jake dominated games that fall, Hensell said, because they'd seen it all along in practice.

If Coach Shula is reading this article, he's surely smiling.

As Jake's confidence blossomed, so did his easygoing, fun-loving personality. He grew his hair out and sported a beard. He became odd-couple roommates, and fast friends, with clean-cut quarterback Matt Behrendt.

All of Jake's coaches insisted he's a classic yes-sir, no-sir type on the field: utterly respectful, eminently coachable, a consummate teammate. As he spoke to Bleacher Report, though, his polite, soft-spoken, well-considered words crinkled at the edges.

"Oh, he's a total goofball," Cortney said, laughing. "He's big-hearted and fun-loving. He couldn't care less if people are judging him. He's like, 'I'm gonna do me, I'm not hurting anybody, I'm just here to have a good time, play football and win stuff.' " Like Jake's coaches though, Cortney affirmed that when it's time to work, that's what Jake does.

His junior year, he worked.

A standout on an offense full of standouts, the Warhawks wideout wearing No. 1 caught 77 passes for 1,331 yards and a whopping 19 touchdowns. With a rejuvenated offense, UW-Whitewater went back to the Stagg Bowl and put another national title in the trophy case.

The following season, NFL scouts set up camp in Whitewater to watch Jake, but he stayed focused on the task at hand. Eric, rather than making phone calls to and pulling strings with NFL contacts, let Jake attract his own attention.

Leipold told Bleacher Report a story: "Our first game of the year, we got up really early, by 21-28 points in the first half of the first quarter. It was a Friday night game and scouts were there, but we weren't going to play Jake just for the sake of playing him. Before our second game I made mention of that to Eric and his direct quote to me was, 'Coach, we've got plenty of time to deal with that. We just need to make sure the team and Jake are playing their best.'

"It was never about what Jake was going to do, if Jake's going to get a chance in the league, how many catches Jake was going to have. He was a firm believer that team success would get his son his opportunity."

Which brings us to now.

"Now here [Jake] is with an opportunity," Eric Kumerow said, "and he did that all on his own. I didn't push him there." Watching Jake's breakout season, he realized his son's dream of playing in the NFL could come true too. "He started making these circus catches all the time. The stellar catches that he makes are like, 'How did that even happen?' you know? He has a knack for making the catch when he needs to make the catch."

In this moment, Kumerow doesn't sound like a stage parent or even a justifiably proud papa. He sounds like a lifelong football man utterly sold on a spectacular talent. "I played with Cris Carter, who in my opinion, was the best receiver I've ever seen. Since Jake came on, his hands are just as good."

Jake continued to post even better numbers in his senior year, adding 66 catches, 1,113 yards and 14 touchdowns to his career totals despite missing four games with an ankle injury. The Warhawks went back-to-back in the 2014 Stagg Bowl, winning an incredible sixth national title in eight years.

Bucky's 5th Quarter @B5Q

Former @WarhawkFootball WR Jake Kumerow in 2nd 40-yd dash at #Badgers pro day http://t.co/bV5RYMJa9H

Jake was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, where he got an opportunity to work with legendary NFL coaches and players. Per CBS Sports' Dane Brugler, after he was a surprise exclusion from the NFL combine, the University of Wisconsin (Madison)'s pro day would be his only chance to put up numbers for pro scouts.

While training at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami, Jake stayed with his aunt, Cheryl Kumerow-Bosa, and his cousin Nick—that would be Rivals' 5-star defensive end recruit Nick Bosa, whose older brother Joey is an All-American at Ohio State. At 6'6", 275 pounds, per Ohio State's official site, Joey is about the same size as his uncle Eric and might even be more athletic. Nick is already 6'4", 255 pounds, per Rivals, and growing.

"[Jake] was so focused while he was down here," Kumerow-Bosa told Bleacher Report. "It was all about training." His daily workouts started at 7 a.m. and went late into the afternoon. "He'd come home, put a fishing pole in the water, eat, go in the hot tub, sleep and go do it all over again." 

Kumerow-Bosa laughed as she recalled how much fuel Jake burned while building up his body alongside some of the draft's hottest prospects.

"I'm used to cooking for my giant, beast sons," she said, "and I'm a pretty good cook. But it was just—food. Food, for the whole two months he was down here. It was 'when are we eating,' 'what are we eating,' 'when's the next meal' right after we just got done eating!" 

Nutrition and training, Leipold said, are two areas where Jake can take a massive leap forward.

"In Division III, we don't have training tables," he said. "Our kids feed themselves." With NFL-caliber food and facilities, Jake could unlock even more of his potential. With a better-developed body, he could be bigger, faster, stronger and more explosive—everything NFL teams want in a receiver right now.

On March 15, 2015, Jake joined a group of UW-Madison Badgers, and a few small-schoolers (including Behrendt), in performing for scouts at Wisconsin's McClain Center practice facility. He put up great numbers, per NFL.com, running 4.52- and 4.56-second 40-yard dashes and cutting an outstanding 6.90 in the three-cone drill.

Other observers had Kumerow's sprints timed much faster. ESPN.com's Zach Heilprin pegged his time at 4.36. Mickey Frigge of NFLDraftWarRoom.com had him at 4.46 and 4.51, and the Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Oates timed him at 4.50.

"The hard work paid off," Jake said. He was pleased with his times and proud to note he didn't drop a pass in any of the drills.

He's a bit thinner than first-round hits like Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin but a little quicker afoot, and the tape could tell a truly elite tale about Jake's ability after a year in the weight room. As he stands, his numbers are eerily close to those of Dorial Green-Beckham, whom Bleacher Report's Matt Miller rated No. 15 overall. 

For now, it's over. Save for a few visits and workouts, which included an April 7 workout with the Bears, Jake has done everything he can. He showed the world he can play like a top D-I talent, and he tested like one too. Whether his name is called on draft day or not, he'll be in some team's training camp this summer.

With his family's support, Jake took the best path he could to becoming the best player he could be and let the NFL come to him.

Maybe it's fate: For the first time in more than 50 years, the draft is being held in Chicago.

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