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Wells: Jake was best Raspo

Pirates quarterback Jake Raspopovich senior is photographed Merrillville (Ind.) High School  Wednesday November 21 2012.  Raspopovich is Post-Tribune

Pirates quarterback Jake Raspopovich, a senior, is photographed at Merrillville (Ind.) High School Wednesday November 21, 2012. Raspopovich is the Post-Tribune Football Offensive Player of the Year. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 6, 2013 6:48PM



The heartfelt sigh and ultimate compliment from Merrillville coach Zach Wells about the end of the Jake Raspopovich era — actually the Raspopovich era for the Pirates overall — is that college football is really missing out on the kid with the surprisingly strong arm, killer instincts, quick feet, the innate ability to make the right reads and uncanny leadership skills.

Let’s just say there was never really any competition for the Post-Tribune Offensive Player of the Year award. It was Raspopovich by a mile — and then everybody else.

Raspopovich won’t play college football next year. The big time recruiters say at 6-0, 160 pounds, he’s too small and frail for Division I.

“Raspo,” as they call him, just shrugged his shoulders at the snub and opted to play basketball instead at Texas Pan-American. He’ll suit up there as a point guard. He could’ve fought the type-casting. Why bother when basketball is waiting? The unfortunate part about moving strictly to basketball is that he loves football.

And it showed.

“I’m going to miss football,” he said. “It’s an amazing sport. It’s just a different game compared to other sports. Quarterback is an awesome position to play and I’m going to miss it a lot — there is no doubt about that.”

Dial all the way back to Andrean’s Tommy Finn, who led his team to the 2004 state title, to find a quarterback that measured up to what Raspopovich did this year. The Pirates were an offensive juggernaut — the best the state of Indiana has ever produced in terms of total yardage. They broke the old record of 6,560 total offensive yards set by Griffith in 1997 in one less game than it took the Panthers to get there. They finished with 6,620. The offensive fun started with Raspopovich, who admittedly had options that other teams would love to have. Both Aaron Dye and Brian Jenkins, his wide receivers, made first team all-area. Dylon Collins was perhaps the best running back in the area before he was sidelined with an ACL injury.

For Wells, the third of three Raspopovich brothers to play quarterback for him was the best. Zack and Josh were both starters for the Pirates and both were very good. Josh was bigger with a strong arm, but not nearly as mobile, and Zack was an intense competitor who didn’t have the arm strength of Jake or Josh. Jake had it all.

“He is about as ideal of a quarterback you could want in our system,” Wells said. “He really flourished in it. He really understands our system and he’s really smart. He did a great job of developing our young guys, too.”

The numbers are indisputable: Raspopovich completed 66 percent of his passes, he threw 32 touchdown passes with eight interceptions and he ran for 68 yards per game. He accounted for just under 300 yards of offense per game for Merrillville.

And he finished with an quarterback rating of 184.7, according to the NCAA formula. In comparison, Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy candidate from Texas A&M, has a rating of 155.9.

About the only thing that Raspopovich didn’t do was get Merrillville to the state title game. However, he was close. A furious rally by the Pirates against Fort Wayne Snider fell a field goal short in a 42-39 loss in the Class 5A semistate.

Raspopovich made it look easy — the jump passes, the quick slants and the seamless ability to run the no-huddle offense that Wells likes to use. The truth is, the success of the offense was the product of hard work in the offseason by Raspopovich, particularly this year.

He was good last year. He was off the charts good this year.

That evolution occurred because Raspopovich, splitting his time between basketball and football, worked all summer at shooting jumpers and throwing passes to his wide receivers. There really never was any down time for him.

His release was better. His footwork was better and his arm strength was improved.

It all added up to an unbelievable season for Merrillville and Raspo.

Portage coach Wally McCormack has been around for a while. He called Raspopovich “unbelievable. He reminds me of the guy from Texas A&M. He’s as good as anyone I’ve seen here since Tommy Finn.”



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