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Slippery Rock High athletes cross street to SRU
Many Slippery Rock High School athletes have done the latter.

Since 2000, 39 student-athletes have graduated from the red and white of the Rockets, crossed the road, and donned the green and white of The Rock.

“It makes a lot of sense when you think about it,” longtime SRU cross country/ track and field coach John Papa said. “You can graduate with no loans. There’s something to be said for that.”

SRU football coach Shawn Lutz agreed.

“You can save a lot of money when you only have to pay tuition and fees. It can be thousands of dollars,” Lutz said.

Former SRU football coach George Mihalik said staying home benefits an athlete’s family and friends as well.

“It’s a good situation all the way around,” Mihalik said. “The kid’s family can watch him play for the next four years, and the local athlete attracts that many more fans to the event.”

Papa has picked up 18 athletes — nine men and nine women — from Slippery Rock High School since 2000 and many more before then.

“The high school team has used our track through the years and I saw a lot of those kids every day,” he said. “We got to know each other well, and I developed good relationships with Mike Kish and Tom Meling, their high school track coaches.

“Many of those kids came over here and impacted our program.”

Melissa Sopher is a Slippery Rock High graduate who wound up winning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference indoor and outdoor championships as part of The Rock’s 4x400 meter relay team.

Ryan Thompson, a current senior in the program, recently shattered SRU’s record in the mile with a time of four minutes, 5.72 seconds. That snapped the PSAC record as well.

“My sister, Sarah, came to SRU and ran track here, too,” Thompson said. “I had a chance to go away to other schools, but we have a top-flight track program right here. The coach (Papa) is well known nationally, and they had the major I was looking for.

“Why go anywhere else?”

A number of other former Slippery Rock High School graduates have experienced collegiate success while staying at home.

----Jason Curry — Hit .331 and .311 as starting SRU outfielder and became the first player ever signed by the Slippery Rock Sliders minor league team.

---- Billy Messer — SRU second baseman who went on to join his father Jeff Messer’s baseball coaching staff with the university program.

---- Ethan Geisler — Went on to become an All-American hurdler through the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

---- Josh Kniess — Set SRU football’s all-time all-purpose yardage record of 5,188 yards. His 39 touchdowns rank third in the program’s history.

---- Tony Papley — Became a first team All-PSAC defensive lineman and helped lead football team to PSAC championship.

---- Michael Ramirez — Scored 13 goals for men’s soccer team and was team’s third-leading scorer his senior year.

“Josh Kniess came across the street as a walk-on and wound up gaining more yards here than anybody,” Mihalik marveled. “Tony Papley was originally a walk-on as an offensive lineman and developed into a fiery leader on defense for two PSAC championship teams.

“Some of these guys laid the foundation for successful careers without ever leaving Slippery Rock.”

Papley was one. He is now a full-time assistant football coach at Duquesne University.

Former SRU running back and special teams standout Travis Sarver was a stellar running back on a district championship team at Slippery Rock High School. He eventually became head football coach at his alma mater and remains on staff as a teacher there.

Andrew Maxwell is a Slippery Rock High graduate and a teammate of Thompson’s with SRU track. Their families are neighbors in Slippery Rock.

Maxwell is a sophomore at The Rock.

“Ryan is one of the guys I know who went there, and I saw the success he was having,” Maxwell said. “There’s a fantastic physical therapy program there, too, that really appealed to me.

“I’m saving a lot of money by living at home while going to school, probably $10,000 a year or so. It’s been great all the way around,” said Maxwell.

Maxwell is carrying a 3.75 grade point average as an exercise science major and made the conference’s all-academic team in cross country last fall. He runs the 3,000, 5.000 and 10,000 meters in track.

“Before I graduate, I want to make the NCAA Championships, finish among the top 15 in conference, maybe win a regional championship,” he said. “It’s cool I can do all that at home.

“Coach Papa is a fantastic coach. Other schools I talked to ... They all know who John Papa is.”

Colten Raabe graduated from SRHS and has three years of football eligibility remaining as an offensive lineman at SRU. He is a marketing major.

Raabe had been living on campus, “but my roommate (Joe LoSchiavo) is graduating, so I’m going to live at home for a while.

“Not being on the meal plan, not having to pay rent will save me about $4,000 a semester for sure,” Raabe said.

Also recruited by Edinboro and Indiana (Pa.) universities, Raabe has the opportunity to experience college life away from home. He chose to stay home.

“I had a good feeling about it,” he said. “I like the coaching staff at SRU, and the players are like a brotherhood, similar to what I had in high school.

“You always ask yourself that question as you graduate high school ... Is it time for me to experience life away from home? It didn’t bother me not going away. It’s nice to have SRU right here.

“I have no regrets with my decision to stay. I’ve loved every minute of it,” Raabe added.

Mihalik said SRU football has always had a flavor of Slippery Rock High School.

“We’ve had two former Slippery Rock head coaches — Joe Walton and Clyde Conti — on our staff here,” he pointed out.

While Kniess and Papley were walk-ons who achieved gridiron success at The Rock, Mihalik described Raabe as “a high-profile recruit. A lot of people were after him.

“Slippery Rock University isn’t just a local option sitting across the road. It’s a quality school with quality athletic programs.”

And it can provide quality memories.

Larry Raisley was a Slippery Rock High graduate who played football at SRU from 1998 through 2001. He had a solid career without much fanfare.

“But he scored a touchdown against Florida Atlantic on a blocked punt in Dolphins Stadium in Miami,” Mihalik recalled. “He scored a touchdown in an NFL stadium. He will never forget that.”

Not bad for a high school football player who moved next door for college.

“You look at our recruiting classes and we’re bringing in kids from Florida and other states,” Lutz said. “But we don’t forget about our backyard.

“I watch these guys as they’re growing up. To see them mature into student-athletes, to set up their lives here ... It’s a special thing.”

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201 Kiester Road, Slippery Rock PA 16057
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