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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Penn State's Troy Apke is a white guy who can 'run, run!'

| Wednesday, March 7, 2018, 9:27 p.m.
Penn State defensive back Troy Apke performs a drill at the NFL Scouting Combine on Monday, March 5, 2018, in Indianapolis.
Penn State defensive back Troy Apke performs a drill at the NFL Scouting Combine on Monday, March 5, 2018, in Indianapolis.
Penn State safety Troy Apke celebrates after breaking up a pass against Ohio State during the first half Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio.
Penn State safety Troy Apke celebrates after breaking up a pass against Ohio State during the first half Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio.

Thanks to Deion Sanders, the NFL world now knows Troy Apke as that white kid from Penn State who can "run, run!"

Now, Apke wants to convince the NFL world he can "play, play," too.

It's not often a guy who was on the bubble of being drafted can steal the show on his workout day at the combine. But Apke — a Mt. Lebanon product — did just that.

With a little help from "Prime Time."

If you missed the live exchange during the NFL Network broadcast , the Hall of Famer was obviously stunned as Apke was in the midst of his 4.35-second 40-yard dash.

Sanders: "Oh man, he can run!"

Draft analyst Mike Mayock responded with a leading lilt to his voice, "Why are you surprised, Deion?"

Sanders: "Oh, you know why I'm surprised. I can't say it on TV. But he can run, run!"

Host Rich Eisen tried to chime in, "But, you are saying it in a tone…,"

Sanders jumped back in: "You don't see that much. Let's call it what it is."

Well, Prime, you didn't "call it what it is" because "you can't say it on TV." But you basically said it anyway.

The "it" or the "that" he is referring to, is a white player with sub-4.4 speed.

Sanders' comment took off on social media and talk shows. Some simply took it as it was meant to be — a fun, genuine, unscripted exchange. Sanders even went up and hugged Apke on live TV.

But it also spawned a worthy discussion about the double standard that exists when it comes to occasional racial undercurrents of evaluating draft prospects.

Sanders is allowed to say that, and we laugh. Bill Polian suggests Lamar Jackson should maybe work out as a wide receiver, and we ascribe criticisms of racial profiling to his comments .

That's not right.

Opinions swirled. Suddenly, Apke, a perceived Day 3 draft prospect, was trending online as the most discussed name in football.

Until a certain running back turned his nose up at $13 million a year later that day, anyway.

"It was great. It was an honor," said Apke by phone Wednesday. "Deion is one of the greatest to ever do it. For him to acknowledge me, and give me a hug, I was happy about that."

As Mayock pointed out on the broadcast, a look at Apke's background makes his 40-time less surprising, regardless of his skin color. His father played football at Pitt. His mom ran track there.

Before graduating on to Penn State, Apke was a track star at Mt. Lebanon, winning the WPIAL 100-yard dash championship his senior year with a 10.8. He finished fifth in the state.

"He's fast, fast," Penn State safeties coach Tim Banks said.

Was he giving an intentional facsimile of Sanders comments?

"No. I thought of it just as soon as I was saying it though," Banks responded with a self-effacing laugh.

Apke isn't a track guy just giving football a whirl. Quite the opposite. He was a starting safety at Penn State last season and has been playing the game since the second grade.

In fact, Apke didn't even go out for track until football coach Mike Melnyk suggested it after Apke's junior season at Mt. Lebanon.

"We figured he had the ability to become an elite player. And that speed would help him," Melnyk said. "So he went out for track and just blossomed in that sport also."

Apke laughed off the "white guys are too slow" notion as "just a stereotype." His 40-time helped to dispel that. Now his agent, Joe Linta, is telling Apke that he's breaking down another stereotype — that he's "just a straight line speed guy" and not a well-rounded football player.

"Joe called me right after the combine and he said the coaches knew I was fast, but that I stood out in other drills," Apke said. "They said I showed I wasn't just fast. I could change direction. I had ball skills."

That shouldn't be surprising. Melnyk says the Nittany Lions initially recruited Apke as a receiver.

Banks said those tools translate in pads.

"He's athletic enough to cover guys in the slot," Banks said. "But I also think he has a level of physicality to his game that will enable him to drop down in the box."

Last time I checked, the Steelers fan base has let it be known — less than subtly — that it would like to see the Steelers add to the safety position.

Apke grew up a Steelers fan, and talked to new defensive backs coach — and fellow Penn State alum — Tom Bradley at the combine.

A guy named Troy playing safety in Black and Gold? I seem to remember that working out once before.

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