WR Apke brings speed to recruiting class

It didn’t take Troy Apke very long to make an impression on new Mount Lebanon High School football coach Mike Melnyk a little less than a year ago.

“I saw him in the summertime one day. I don’t know if I even knew his name. I told him, ‘Son, you’re going to be a star in my offense,'” Melnyk said.

Apke lived up to Melnyk’s prediction and then some. After catching just nine passes in a run-heavy offense his sophomore year, Apke broke out and was one of the top receivers in western Pennsylvania last season, hauling in 54 passes for 1,048 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Apke’s combination of speed, size and production also made plenty of colleges take notice: He’s already gotten around a dozen BCS-level offers from the likes Pitt, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Minnesota.

Apke, though, decided to commit to Penn State following an unofficial visit over the weekend. He became the fourth member of the school’s 2014 recruiting class.

He did that despite not having met many of his future teammates or even given a great deal of thought to his course of study. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound rising senior and consensus three-star prospect just felt the Nittany Lions were his ideal match.

“It seemed like everything up there is what I like, and I think I’ll fit in well,” Apke said. “I couldn’t think of another school I would want to go to.”

Charles London handled Apke’s recruitment for the Lions.

Some thought Pitt might have the inside track on Apke – his father, Steve, was a linebacker there in the 1980s. However, the younger Apke, whose been playing football since he was in second grade because of his dad’s ties with the sport, said his decision to go to the Panthers’ longtime rival didn’t create any hard feelings within the household.

“Both of my parents went to Pitt. They said it was my decision. It was my school that I wanted to go to,” said Apke, whose mother, Sue, was on the Pitt track team. “They said I made a good decision.”

Apke’s size is good and his hands and route-running are quality, but there’s another aspect to his game that sets him apart.

“The first thing is speed,” Melnyk said. “They say you can’t coach speed, and that’s something that Troy has. He has an outstanding burst. He’s a legit 4.4 kid, and he plays fast on the football field.

“And he’s getting faster all the time. He’s out for track for the first time.”

Apke’s close to posting sub-11-second times in the 100 meters, but WPIAL coaches like Woodland Hills’ George Novak didn’t need to see that to become believers. Apke scorched Novak’s Wolverines for 12 receptions for 273 yards and three touchdowns in an overtime win last season.

“To say he had a good game is an understatement. He had a fantastic game,” Novak said with a chuckle. “Yeah, he has a pretty good game.”

Novak has coached a number of future NFL and big-time college players in his 26 years at Woodland Hills, as well as coached against many of the state’s best. He thinks Apke has the goods to get it done at the next level.

“He has great field awareness, great confidence, and he’s very confidence. Then you throw in that he has great speed, he runs great routes and he has great hands. He’s the total package,” Novak said. “Nobody ever caught that many balls against that. You’d tell the kids on the sideline who was going to get the ball. He still caught it.”

Apke’s been around the game his whole life. He started as a receiver but played quarterback, running back, linebacker and safety as he came up.

Apke spent most of his sophomore year as a blocker because the Blue Devils had one of the most prolific rushers in the WPIAL in Luke Hagy, who graduated from Mount Lebanon as the third-leading rusher in WPIAL history. He said it was nice getting a chance to shine in the pro-style offense Melnyk brought over from Manheim Township.

“I knew I had to step up. I knew I had to do something,” Apke said. “That offense Coach put in is really good for wide receivers. This year has really shown me that football is my main [focus]. It’s going to be what I’m doing for the next four years. It showed me I can do it, and it’s given me a lot of confidence.”

Penn State is heavily involved with two other blue-chip receivers in this recruiting class, Delaware’s Chris Godwin and North Carolina’s DeAndre Thompkins, but it’s unsure whether the Lions will be able to take both because the NCAA-imposed scholarship restrictions probably will limit them to 12 scholarships.