The name Apke has significance on both sides of the Penn State-Pitt football rivalry.
There is Troy Apke, the senior safety for the Nittany Lions that earned praise throughout the preseason for his consistent play, eventually winning him the starting job.
Then there is Steve Apke, Troy’s father, who was a standout linebacker for the Panthers in the 80s that has deeper ties to the city as a replacement player for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1987 NFL players’ strike.
Much like last year, when the two schools renewed the rivalry for the first time in 16 years, the Apke family will all be on the same side.
“You know, it’s the same every week with me and my dad. He supports me with everything I do. He just supports me, and I’m at Penn State, so he’s a Penn State fan,” Troy Apke said.
It will be a big moment for the younger Apke, making just his fourth start in his career.
He has appeared in pretty much every game since his sophomore year, but finally landed at the top of the depth chart this season as the replacement for recent Steelers signee Malik Golden.
As a senior with quite a few reps under his belt, this is nothing Apke isn’t ready for.
“I started my first game as a sophomore, so it really wasn’t anything new,” Apke said. “I’ve played a lot of snaps here. I was just excited to get back out there.”
In the run-up to winning the starting job last week, the Mt. Lebanon, PA, native earned some recognition from different coaches and players.
James Franklin noted that his size, coming in as a 6-foot-1, 201-pound defensive back, and athleticism played a huge role in the amount of time he saw during his first few seasons with the Nittany Lions.
But now, it’s his “tremendous maturity” that is winning him confidence from his teammates.
“He’s obviously a guy who played as a freshman for us because we felt so highly of him,” Franklin said. “He’s kind of been what you want; a guy that’s going to continue to work hard and embrace the role he has, but has continued to strive for more.”
The maturity of Apke, as well as the secondary as a whole, is one of the much-hyped team’s strong suits, which could come in handy facing graduate transfer quarterback Max Browne and the Panthers’ six returning wideouts.
“You look at [Apke] and Marcus [Allen] and Christian [Campbell] and Grant [Haley]; that gives us a lot of guys that have played a lot of football,” Franklin said. “I think they are going to have a really, really good year for us.”
But specifically for this weekend, the focus for Apke and the Nittany Lions is claiming their first win over Pitt this century.
“I think [last season’s game]left kind of a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth,” Apke said. “But you know, last year is last year, so we’re just focused on what’s going to happen this year, and we’re just focused on ourselves right now.”