SANTA CLARITA - College of the Canyons will be represented on Super Sunday for the sixth time in the last 12 years, after former Cougars defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched a trip to Super Bowl LV over the weekend.
Pierre-Paul was instrumental in the Buccaneers 31-26 victory over Green Bay on Sunday, finishing the game with two sacks of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and providing constant pressure. He finished the day with five total tackles and registered two more hits on Rogers.
"We just played tremendous football and look where (we're) at," said an excited Pierre-Paul during his postgame comments on Sunday. "We played like everything was on the line."
The Pro Bowl outside linebacker and edge rusher, who attended Canyons as a freshman in 2007, is now playing in his 11th NFL season and will be making his second trip to the Super Bowl.
On Feb. 5, 2012, Pierre-Paul hoisted the Lombardi Trophy as a member of the Super Bowl XLVI Champion New York Giants team that defeated the New England Patriots 21-17. The then second-year defensive lineman also earned First-Team All-Pro honors after recording 65 tackles, 16.5 sacks and two forced fumbles during the 2011 regular season.
This time around Pierre-Paul and his Buccaneers teammates won't have to travel too far with Super Bowl LV set to take place on Feb 7, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Bucs will become the first franchise to ever play the Super Bowl in its home stadium.
Pierre-Paul also played his final year of college at nearby University of South Florida, after a stop at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, adding extra meaning to this year's Super Bowl run.
"I went to college here, the Super Bowl is being hosted in Tampa, (we're) in the Super Bowl, it's just history being made, just history being written," added Pierre-Paul. "Hopefully we win the Super Bowl man. We do everything we have to do, and we play like we played tonight, we'll do it."
During his lone season at Canyons in 2007, Pierre-Paul registered 49 total tackles, 14 sacks and 19 tackles for loss to go with two forced fumbles and an interception. Those numbers earned the freshman All-Western State Conference and All-American honors.
Less than three years later Pierre-Paul was selected by the New York Giants with the 15th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
After a successful eight-year run in New York, the talented pass rusher was traded to Tampa Bay prior to the start of the 2018 season. He would go on to record 12.5 sacks in his debut season with the Bucs.
In 2020, Pierre-Paul ended the regular season with 55 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions to earn his second Pro Bowl selection.
He has now amassed 88.5 regular season sacks and 20 forced fumbles during his NFL career.
"I'm happy and excited about where I'm at right now, and where my teammates are at right now in life," Pierre-Paul told reporters on Sunday, when asked about his long journey back to the Super Bowl and the multiple injuries and setbacks he has endured during that time.
In 2015, an off-season fireworks accident resulted in Pierre-Paul having his right index finger amputated and limited him to just eight games. The following year he was forced out of the final portion of the season, and missed the Giants' playoff game, after undergoing sports hernia surgery. In May 2019, Pierre-Paul suffered a neck fracrture which threatened his season and ultimately limited him to just eight games.
"To give you a story to run down, it would take forever," he added. "Maybe I just got to write a book."
While Pierre-Paul is the most recent former Cougar to be associated with the Super Bowl, he is certainly not the first.
NFL running back J.J. Arrington (COC 2002-2003) became the first former Cougar to play in the Super Bowl when he stepped onto the field vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1, 2009. Arrington recorded two receptions for 35 yards in the game and also served as the team's primary kick returner.
Cornerback Justin Tryon (COC 2004-2005), a member of the college's 2004 National Championship team, signed with the New York Giants on Oct. 4, 2011 and appeared in three games before injury forced him to be placed on season-ending injured reserve. However, Tryon received a championship ring as a member of Super Bowl XLVI Champion Giants.
On Feb. 3, 2013, defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga (COC 1999-2000) started for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII vs. Baltimore Ravens. He recorded four tackles (three solo, one assist) in the losing effort.
Former Canyons offensive lineman Caylin Hauptman (COC 2009) earned a Super Bowl championship ring as a member of the Seattle Seahawks team (practice squad) that defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, 2014.
The following year, Hauptman picked up a second Super Bowl XLIX championship ring as a member of the New England Patriots team (practice squad) that defeated Seattle on Feb. 1, 2015. His journey was later chronicled in the pages of Sports Illustrated.
Canyons had three former players appear on NFL rosters for the 2020 season.
Joining Pierre-Paul was Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Domata Peko (COC 2002-2003) and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown (COC 2016).
(Jesse Munoz, College of the Canyons)
Image courtesy of @Buccaneers