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Pitt's prize recruit to get an early jump on college

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 10:14 p.m.
Roosevelt High School quarterback Tra'von Chapman stands in the Rough Riders' locker room Dec. 4, 2012, in Kent, Ohio.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Roosevelt High School quarterback Tra'von Chapman stands in the Rough Riders' locker room Dec. 4, 2012, in Kent, Ohio.
For print only, not for web. Video promo photo for Kent Roosevelt quarterback Tra'Von Chapman story by Jerry DiPaola 12/9/12.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
For print only, not for web. Video promo photo for Kent Roosevelt quarterback Tra'Von Chapman story by Jerry DiPaola 12/9/12. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

KENT, Ohio — At first, his friends didn't understand.

To Tra'von Chapman, the decision always made sense.

Chapman, Pitt's prize recruit in its Class of 2013, is graduating from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ohio, at the end of this month to begin chasing his dream of playing quarterback in college. He will attend his first college class Jan. 7, less than two months after his last high school game.

“I just figured this is something I really wanted,” he said. “This is something I really dedicated myself to. Why should I sit around and wait? I should go get it.”

Chapman, who will be eligible for Pitt's spring drills, may have to watch and learn behind quarterbacks Tom Savage, Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson, but he does make one promise about his freshman season:

“No one is going to outwork me,” he said. “I'll be patient, but I'll still grind hard. If I am third string or fourth string, I'm still going to work the hardest.”

How hard?

Most days this summer, Chapman awoke before sunrise to start his morning workouts at Roosevelt, but he refused to drive to school.

“I thought that was cheating,” he said.

Instead, he ran or rode his bicycle two miles. Then, after arriving, he went to work.

“We would run hills, we would run through the sand, do squats,” he said. “It got to the point where two workouts a day weren't enough, and we started doing three sometimes. Every day, except Sunday, and even Saturday I would go to Kent State with my dad (Thad Jemison, that school's wide receivers coach) and work out.”

“He is fanatical,” Roosevelt coach John Nemec said.

Chapman didn't arrive at Roosevelt until 2011, when he transferred from Pinkerton High School in Columbus, Ohio, before his junior year. Immediately, he set goals.

“I wanted to earn my stripes, so the first day in the weight room I worked my butt off,” he said. “and those guys said, ‘OK, he might be something.'”

Chapman helped lift Roosevelt to back-to-back 10-2 seasons while throwing for 5,736 yards and 62 touchdowns, running for 1,506 and 19 touchdowns and playing nickel back on defense.

Roosevelt advanced into the second round of the state playoffs in the second-largest classification before losing. Chapman threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-21 victory against Warren Howland in the first round.

Numbers don't show how Chapman put the team on his back.

Asked what he believes to be his best gift, he said, “My leadership qualities.”

“I am going to push guys to be successful, and I want the same guys to push me,” he said.

When he spoke the words, “I guided this team to great things,” he said it as a fact, without bragging. “I wasn't alone.” ranks Chapman as a four-star recruit and the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in Ohio behind Notre Dame commit Malik Zaire of Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering. Chapman smiled at the mention of Zaire's name.

“I'll never say anybody is better than me, but he is a great quarterback,” he said.

Nemec, who played at Gateway under WPIAL Hall of Fame coach Pete Antimarino, has been coaching high school football in Ohio for 33 years, 29 at Roosevelt. He won 222 of 336 games and sent four players, including offensive lineman Tony Mandarich, to the NFL.

He can't stop talking about Chapman, but he won't call him the best quarterback he has coached. “It's like picking your favorite child,” he said.

Chapman, though, is in the top 1 percent. “He's the most gifted all-around athlete I've ever had at quarterback,” he said.

This play from the 2012 opener illustrates the strength of Chapman's throwing arm: Backed into Roosevelt's end zone, with his toes inches from the back line, Chapman saw the pocket break down.

“Instead of taking off running and getting five or six yards, I run back behind my offensive line, and I am toe-to-toe with the end line,” he said. “It could have been a safety. I see my big receiver Brennan Beyner on a backside post and threw it as far I could.”

Said Nemec: “Sixty-five yards in the air.”

“I took a nice little hit on it, too, and got a late hit call,” Chapman said. “It ended up being almost an 80-yard play.”

Pitt coach Paul Chryst probably has seen similar plays on video many times from many players, but what he really wanted to see was how Chapman reacted with other students. So Chryst and quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger decided to spend a day at Roosevelt.

“He wanted to get a feel for the school, what kind of academic culture he was coming from,” Nemec said. “And then he wanted to watch him with his peers in action.”

“He wants student-athletes; he just doesn't want athletes,” said Chapman, who carries a 3.3 grade-point average.

Some of his peers were confused when Chapman told them he won't be returning for the second half of the school year.

He said he has outgrown high school.

“High school showed a lot of drama and a lot of rumors,” he said. “I didn't feel like being a part of that.”

He could have gone to college in his hometown of Cincinnati, where his mother, Vicki Chapman, lives. Illinois, Arizona, Wisconsin and Northwestern also made scholarship offers, but Pitt's coaches made the best impression, he said.

“I just thought it was time for me to get away,” he said, noting that Pittsburgh is close enough for his mother to come to games. “I felt Pittsburgh gave me a better chance to grow as a man.

“Even though Cincinnati was basically home, I felt like Pittsburgh was more of a home. That's a place I can build my legacy and leave something there.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at or 412-320-7997.

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