Allan Rappleyea has always been a college football fan. Growing up in Millbrook, many of his Saturday afternoons were spent gawking at the TV, watching games and highlights of the big-name programs.
He often fantasized about taking the field with a power conference team before a roaring crowd and, perhaps, having his games televised.
But all the while the pervading thought was, “Must be nice…”
“I’d watch and wish I could be like those guys,” the former Our Lady of Lourdes High School standout said. “But reality sets in and you’re like, ‘Those guys are special. It’s different. That won’t happen for me.’”
Until it did.
Scholarship offers poured in last February, with a bevy of college football programs showing interest in the big left tackle at Milton Academy, a prep school in Massachusetts south of Boston. A verbal commitment was made last year, and it became official on Wednesday. Rappleyea signed a national letter of intent to play football at Wake Forest University this fall.
He will join a short list of locals who have made it onto the rosters of prominent Division I football programs in recent years.
Rappleyea was pursued by a number of schools, including some in the Ivy League and Big Ten conference, but Wake Forest appealed to him in ways that most couldn’t.
He enjoyed the recruiting trips to North Carolina. His family appreciated the academic merits of the university. The small-school structure was alluring. And a chance to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Well, that was almost enchanting.
“It’s like some of the goals and dreams are starting to come true,” the 19-year-old said. “I’m definitely proud of this and it’s a really exciting time.”
During a press conference to announce the incoming recruiting class, Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson described Rappleyea as “really athletic” and said he was “possibly our top tackle prospect.”
Bobby Henderson, a John Jay High School graduate, recently completed his career as a four-year walk-on fullback at the University of Michigan. Arlington grad Alex Starzyk is a punter at Temple. Other area athletes, including Beacon’s Taurus Phillips at Villanova and several others who signed national letters of intent Wednesday, compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, the second tier of Division I football.
It doesn’t happen that often, though, and never has the mid-Hudson Valley been considered a hotbed for major college football talent. Those factors are among the reasons Rappleyea’s inner pragmatist believed it was unlikely to be his future.
“The Hudson Valley does have some talent,” he said, “but the area gets overlooked.”
But an early growth spurt and an eventual transfer to Milton helped unlock those doors. Oh, and remarkable talent. Rappleyea left Lourdes after his junior year and enrolled at Milton Academy, a boarding school known for its strict academics and a reputation for producing collegiate athletes.
He always had been a big kid, his father Allan Rappleyea said, laughing as he recalled his son requiring an extra-long robe when he served as an altar boy. The skills soon came.
“He started working out with us during the spring of his eighth-grade year,” said Brian Walsh, the Lourdes football coach. “He had great work ethic and did well in the weight room. What was obvious right away is how well he moved and how fast he ran. He kept getting bigger and stronger, but his speed didn’t decline.”
Rappleyea starred as a left tackle and defensive end, helping lead the Warriors to a Section 1 Class B championship in 2014. By the following summer, he was 6-foot-5, 230 pounds.
The plan, his parents said, always was to have him enter a prep school after graduation. But Milton doesn’t allow transfers beyond the 11th grade, so the move was made then. Allan reclassified and purposely repeated his junior year at the boarding school. His Millbrook neighbor and Lourdes teammate, Daniel Cox, also enrolled at Milton and did the same. The linebacker on Wednesday signed on to play football at Union College.
Rappleyea remains close friends with several Lourdes players, and he watched from afar as the 2015 team reached the state Class A final. He doesn’t regret the decision to leave, but he admits he wished he “could’ve been there with them.” His younger siblings, Grace and Andrew, also are athletes.
“It was very difficult having him leave home for the first time,” Allan Rappleyea, Sr. said of having his son move 200 miles from home. “But ships weren’t meant to stay in the harbor.”
With a regimented structure — hours designated each day for study and weight training — Rappleyea’s grades improved, and he gained 50 pounds in two years. He now benches 340 pounds but also has maintained his athleticism. The 4.85 seconds he clocked in a 40-yard dash at a combine helped make him a three-star recruit and the top lineman in Massachusetts according to Scout.com, which ranks college prospects. Those attributes are complimented by his lateral quickness, long arms and blocking technique.
Milton went 6-2 last season, powered by a dominant running game. Tailback Michael Silva, headed to Harvard, broke a number of long runs off left tackle, with Rappleyea sealing the edge. Rappleyea’s roommate at Milton is Ethan Domokos, a Canadian hockey star considered by some a future NHL prospect.
It was difficult being away from his family and friends, Rappleyea said, but that environment helped him flourish as an athlete and the school’s reputation offered him a spotlight.
Still, Rappleyea said, “it’s the people in my life back home and what I learned at Lourdes that helped lay the foundation.”
Walsh said it was difficult to watch Rappleyea leave, but he understood the decision.
“He wanted it, worked for it and got it,” Walsh said. “Even though he didn’t finish here, we’re all glad to say we played a small part in helping. He’s making the area proud.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
Among the notable local football signings…
Alex Benson: Beacon defensive back/wide receiver/tailback signed to Pace University
Alex Maier: Arlington placekicker signed to the University of Rhode Island.
Corey Mullaly: Our Lady of Lourdes linebacker and wide receiver signed to Marist College.
Darryl Sullivan Jr.: Roy C. Ketcham lineman and kicker signed to Marist College.
Neil Tompkins: Frank D. Roosevelt lineman signed to Central Connecticut State University
If you signed, email PJSports@poughkeepsiejournal.com with a photo and details, and it will be published in a future edition of the Journal.