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‘His Heart Was Always At Penn State’: Andrew Rappleyea’s High School Coaches not Surprised by His Flip From Michigan

This past Sunday, Penn State football got its latest commit, and in a sense, it was a little sweeter than usual for Nittany Lion fans. 

Sure, Andrew Rappleyea being a four-star tight end is exciting for Penn State.

But what adds sweetness to this commitment is that Rappleyea— a Millbrook, New York, native who has been at the Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts the past two years— had initially committed to Michigan before flipping to Penn State.

Truthfully, however, Rappleyea always wanted to be in Happy Valley, according to his high school head coach, Kevin Macdonald. 

“He really wanted to go to Penn State the whole time, to be honest with you,” Macdonald, who has been Milton’s head coach for 26 years, told Nittany Sports Now. 

So why did Rappleyea pick a different school— and conference rival at that— over Penn State? Here’s what happened, per Macdonald. 

Penn State offered Rappleya Sept. 1, and Rappleyea planned on committing there.

While Rappleyea was waiting to commit, he got a text saying he had four days to decide since the Nittany Lions had another tight end waiting in the wings. 

Rappleyea didn’t read the text, Macdonald said, and thus, the opportunity went up in smoke for the time being.

Rappleyea still kept in contact with Penn State, taking an unofficial visit to Happy Valley Nov. 20.

On Christmas Eve, Michigan offered him, and Rappleyea committed to Jim Harbaugh Jan. 16. 

A little more than two months after his commitment, Rappleyea again visited Penn State, and 15 days after that visit, he announced his commitment to James Franklin’s Nittany Lions. 

“When he committed to Michigan,” Rappleyea’s tight end coach, Scott Prince, said, “you could tell he wasn’t always 100 percent. He liked Michigan. But  I think from the beginning of the process, his relationship with (Penn State tight ends coach Ty) Howle was really what drove him to Penn State, and then his relationship with coach (James) Franklin and all the (other coaches.) Even when he was committed to Michigan, his heart was always at Penn State.”

So what type of player is Penn State getting? For Macdonald, Rappleyea has the tools to be a quality all-around tight end.

 “He’s a very good blocker,” Macdonald said. “He’s very athletic, very explosive. He knows how to get open because he runs well. He runs like a 4.62, which for a 6’4″ kid is pretty good. He tends to create a little space, runs pretty good patterns and he has great hands. He’s just a super athletic kid.”

This past season, Rappleyea caught 21 passes for 475 yards and four touchdowns, which speaks well for his hands. He also has a 39-inch vertical leap and can play outside linebacker and safety, which speaks to his athleticism.

Prince agreed with Macdonald, and said Rappleyea “has it all.”

“We’ve had a lot of kids come through Milton,” Prince, who has been on Macdonald’s staff for more than a decade, said. “We’ve had a kid at Michigan, kids at Wake Forest. He might be the most athletic kid that we’ve ever had.” 

Rappleyea’s athleticism also serves him well on the basketball court, where’s he’s become a star player for Milton. 

Pat Freiermuth, a Merrimack, Massachatuses, native, also played basketball in high school, which is one similarity that brings about a comparison to Penn State’s last great tight end.

“Pat was probably a bigger kid,” Macdonald said. “Not height-wise, but, you know, girth. But Freiermuth was clearly a lot more athletic than a typical high school football player.”

Prince also sees the similarities. 

“There are subtle differences,” Prince said. “I think they can be in the same category, especially at our level. We played against (Freiermuth) when he was a senior, and he’s such an unbelievable player. Drew has that same impact on a game. I think Drew’s a little more athletic. I think Pat was a little more thick. But just on impact on the game at our level, they definitely (are similar), and I think, going forward, as he puts on weight, I can definitely see that comparison.”

At roughly 220 pounds, getting bigger is one thing that Rappleyea’s coaches feel he needs to do to succeed at Penn State. Prince said that he could see Rappleyea having to gain between 20 and 30 pounds in college, and Macdonald attributes Rappleyea’s relatively tiny frame for a tight end to his time playing basketball.

“He’s always running around, working out, so he hasn’t really had a chance to put weight on,” Macdonald said. “He’s only about 217, 218. He’s definitely going to have to put a lot of weight on and get stronger.”

Even at his current weight, Rappleyea’s physicality is something that impresses Prince. 

“For a kid that’s 220 pounds, he just drives kids off the field,” Prince said. “So, as he puts on more weight, I think at that part of his game at the next level, he’ll really be a dominant force.”

Rappleyea’s comes from a football family. His older brother, Allan, was an offensive lineman at Wake Forest. 

The siblings are both DI recruits, but Macdonald, who coached both, said that Andrew is much more outgoing. 

“He’s a class clown,” Macdonald said. “Everybody likes him. He’s funny, irreverent. His brother was a real straight shooter, didn’t say too much, and Andrew’s always talking. So he’s a totally different kid. He’s the type of kid that everybody loves.”

But on the football field, the time for clowning around is over. 

“Drew, off the field, is just a happy-go-lucky kid,” Prince said. “Infectious personality. Everyone likes Drew. But when Drew gets on the field, a switch flips. He is a competitor. (Penn State will) get a kid that’s going to give 110 percent. You’re going to get a kid that is nasty in a good way.”

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