When Jake Butt was collecting various Michigan records among tight ends, he landed Michigan’s all-time receptions and receiving yards marks, and came close in all the other categories. One of those, receptions in a single season, he finished second - only Bennie Joppru was ahead of him with 53. It was during a breakout senior campaign in 2002, when Joppru put up 579 yards - second to a young Braylon Edwards on that team - and 5 touchdowns. J-Booty fell just short twice, with 51 catches in 2015 and 46 in 2016. Only Mandich and Funchess - two other legendary tight ends - came close.
But I had never heard much about Joppru, so I wanted to dig a little bit deeper into one of the better tight end seasons in recent memory. After all, everyone loves Butt - and we all know why - and the same goes for Bunches o’ Funchess and Mandi.. well, Jim Mandich. But Joppru has been left alone for the most part.
Sometimes, your boat comes in. Sometimes, you’re simply stranded instead. That’s it.
Maybe the best written words to describe this comes from the introduction to one of my all-time favorite books, Their Eyes Were Watching God. (I can now use the rare-spoken words, “thanks, high school.”)
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
For Bennie Joppru, the ship never really came in. He had a break-out senior season in 2002, but that only netted him All-Big Ten Second Team honors. Then, after getting drafted, he suffered a groin injury. Then he tore up his knee. Over the course of his NFL career, he netted four tackles - which is four more than the number of yards he accumulated. He ended up as a second-round bust.
The ones who do remember him play felt he was underused, if anything, and he had “vacuum hands” according to one scout. Not only that, he was intelligent, hard-working, and overall a very exciting prospect at the next level.
Injuries derailed all of those gifts, as they have done for many great prospects. Now Joppru has that ‘bust’ title around his neck, and not much else to his football career other than that one, magical 2002 season. Those 53 catches.
AnnArbor.com caught up with him in 2011 and found out he was working as a scout, helping out high school kids in all sports who were figuring out where to go to college.
“I’ve kind of been wandering around, tried my hand at a couple different jobs, but started a job (in Minnesota) three months ago for a quote-unquote recruiting service, NCSA, out of Chicago.
“So that’s been pretty rewarding, getting kids some college placement, especially kids that otherwise wouldn’t ever ... get in touch with the colleges they end up going to. Or their parents don’t even know they could have the opportunity to play in college.
“It’s been a pretty unique experience for me just because in college I did a lot of growing up and learned a lot of valuable lessons and I want everybody who can to experience the college life, learning life’s lessons you learn playing a sport in college, and I’m trying to pass that word along and help people out. Plus I found a job I actually like.”
Other than that, he’s kept his head down. Or he’s been forgotten, other than the headlines that he had a stroke at age 32.
Maybe it’s been a rough go for him. Think I’m exaggerating? Joppru’s Twitter bio is literally this: “NFL BUST, major weirdo creep, University of Michigan DieHard, my Apologies beforehand..old, bitter, & alone.”
He was one for the ages, though, that #83. Even if it was just for a year.