Coaches and teammates have had some good-natured fun at John Kuhn's expense all season, joking that he's always lobbying for carries by reminding people that he was the career rushing leader at Division II Shippensburg.
The unheralded fullback is laughing all the way to the end zone these days. Kuhn rushed for two touchdowns and caught another in the Green Bay Packers' blowout victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.
His ability to get tough yards, especially near the goal line, has put him on the track to folk hero status in Green Bay. Fans at Lambeau Field growl "Kuuuuuuhn!" every time he touches the ball.
"It sounds like they're booing him, but they're saying 'Kuhn,'" special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said.
Kuhn isn't letting his newfound notoriety go to his head, but his friends and family are enjoying it.
"They're excited about it," Kuhn said. "(Fans) kind of did it a little bit in college, too. So my family's a little used to it."
Slightly bigger venue this time around, though?
"Yeah — a lot bigger," Kuhn said, laughing.
Kuhn began his career on the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad in 2005 and joined the Packers in 2007. Coming into this season, Kuhn had only 18 career rushing attempts — although he already showed an ability to score, running for two touchdowns and catching four more in the previous two seasons.
But after a season-ending injury to Ryan Grant in Week 1, Kuhn steadily has worked his way into the Packers' running back rotation. Going into Sunday's critical game against Chicago with the playoffs on the line, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Kuhn has become one of the team's leaders.
"I think he's making the push like everybody else on our football team," McCarthy said. "He's one of our leaders. He's a tough guy and well-respected in the locker room, and he's really stepped to the forefront."
Nobody will mistake Kuhn for a feature back; he hasn't rushed for more than 50 yards in a game. But he seems to be at his best near the goal line; he has six touchdowns this season, four rushing and two receiving.
And as if that wasn't enough to feed Kuhn's growing popularity in Green Bay, he also is a key player on special teams. He earned not one, but two, game balls from the coaching staff for his efforts Sunday — one on offense and one on special teams.
Slocum said Kuhn was in on four special teams tackles and made a critical block after a teammate blew an assignment on a punt.
"I think it speaks about what he's all about," Slocum said. "I mean, he's impactful on offense, playing quite a few plays in there. And then to go out and play on just about everything we're doing special teams-wise, he plays very hard and (is) very productive."
Not bad for a guy who didn't really consider a future in pro football until his junior year at Shippensburg, a school with an undergraduate enrollment of about 7,200 in Shippensburg, Pa. A chemistry major, Kuhn probably would have gone back for a postgraduate degree if he didn't have a shot at the NFL.
"My coach told me that he thought I could make the jump, and I kind of even batted an eye at that, like, 'Oh, you're crazy. This is Shippensburg,'" Kuhn said. "But at the end of the year, I talked to a couple people that knew a couple people and they said, you know, you might have a shot."
He left Shippensburg as the leading rusher in school history with a total of 4,685 yards.
"A lot of teams liked my size and liked my agility coming out of college because I ran the ball a lot," Kuhn said. "But they all said basically, 'You're going to have to learn how to block in the NFL.' I tried to take that and do the best I could at it."
He did, but Packers coaches eventually realized he could be a valuable asset near the goal line. When the Packers' marquee receivers are covered, Kuhn sometimes slips through the cracks.
"When we have a red zone meeting, we don't sit there and talk about John Kuhn, but I think our fans think we do. I'm a little nervous about that," McCarthy said. "He's put together two outstanding football games. John is one of the veteran leaders on our team. He's a tough guy, he's a detailed guy, he's a smart guy. He knows what to do when you put him in position to be successful."
Kuhn attributes his success to hard work, but acknowledges that his skills might have gone overlooked until now.
"Everybody in the NFL has skill," Kuhn said. "I heard LaDainian Tomlinson one time give a quote that 98 percent of the guys in the NFL could be a star if they just got the chance. And I always thought that was pretty interesting, because I was on the practice squad at the time when I heard that. That was always something that I looked toward for motivation."