Troy Apke's parents were both athletes at Pitt. He plays for Penn State.
Any question about their rooting interests this week?
“They’ll be rooting for me,” the Nittany Lions’ junior safety said in a conference call with reporters earlier this week. “I’m sure.”
Certainly he has a unique appreciation of the rivalry between the Nittany Lions and Panthers, which will be renewed for the first time since 2000 on Saturday, when the schools square off at noon in Heinz Field.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. I know a lot of people there. A lot of people are going to be at the game that know me. Hopefully I can just play the best I can, and hopefully they’re proud of me, what I did. But I’m still going to prepare the same way I always do and not think too much about that.”
His mom, Sue, ran track at Pitt, and his dad, Steve, was an undersized linebacker for the Panthers from 1983 to ’86, weighing 185 pounds as a freshman and just over 200 later in his career. The Panthers tied the Lions his freshman year, beat them the next season, then lost his last two seasons, 31-0 and 34-14.
“Growing up he told me stories about when they played — how it’s a big tradition, and how it’s just a big game,” Troy said of his dad.
Stories? Anything in particular?
“I can’t really remember, to be honest,” the younger Apke said. “I think Penn State was really good when they played, and I think they beat the crap out of them.”
Accounts of the 1986 game note that Steve got into a “scuffle” with Penn State quarterback John Shaffer, once his teammate at Cincinnati’s Moeller High. That was one of many brawls in a game that saw each team tagged with three personal fouls. And afterward, some harsh words went back and forth between the programs.
Ancient history, where the younger Apke is concerned. Ditto for the schools’ last meeting, a 12-0 Pitt victory. He was 5 at the time.
He said he used to go to Pitt games, though never with his dad.
“I know it’s going to be a good atmosphere this week,” Troy said, “just because of the tradition of this game.”
He also said his parents left his college decision up to him as his career unfolded at Mount Lebanon High, where he played wide receiver and safety. And in April 2013 he settled on Penn State.
“It was the right fit for him,” Steve Apke told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at the time. “Would I have liked to see him go to Pitt? Sure. But you can only go to one school, and he picked Penn State. I'm excited for him.”
On Tuesday, Troy said, “My dad just stayed out of stuff. He would make jokes about it and everything, but he said it was my decision.”
Apke developed into a valuable reserve last year, and remains so this season. On Saturday he will share the field at times with Pitt right guard Alex Bookser, a friend and former high school teammate.
“Off the field that’s one of my best friends, so we’ll be buds off the field,” Apke said. “But on the field we’re both competitors.”
He has a much more immediate concern, as do the six other Lions from western Pennsylvania.
“I think the main thing is just getting tickets,” he said, adding that he needs “a little more than a dozen.” “All of us are trying to get our tickets.”
He punched his a few years ago. It has made for an interesting family dynamic, to be sure.