Culver-Stockton College junior offensive tackle Andrew Rupcich received the news he was hoping for Thursday.
Rupcich, a 6-foot-7, 305 pound McHenry West graduate, was named to the American Football Coaches Association-NAIA All-America first team after helping the 6-5 Wildcats to their first winning record since 2014.
There is another possible honor awaiting Rupcich, albeit one a little less serious. Rupcich was one of 13 finalists for the website Banner Society’s Piesman Trophy, an honor bestowed upon a college lineman for doing an unlineman-like thing at any level of college football.
On Saturday, Banner Society tweeted that Rupcich was one of the top three Piesman votegetters. The winner will be announced on Friday.
Rupcich’s video is unique because none of the other dozen finalists throws a pass like the Wildcats’ left tackle did Sept. 28 in a 27-7 loss to Benedictine. Rupcich backpedaled several steps and took a lateral from quarterback Korbin Marcum, then fired a pass to wide receiver Brody Hassel for a 44-yard gain to Benedictine’s 1-yard line. The Wildcats scored their only touchdown one play later.
“I hope it helps me stand out because you never see that in college football,” Rupcich said. “I feel like a lot of people will look at it and be, ‘Oh, my God, this actually happened, and it’s not just a scoop and run.’ I’m doing something I literally should not do at my position.”
Rupcich became something of an Internet sensation after the throw, which was a beautiful, tight spiral that hit Hassel right in stride. A week later, it was featured at halftime of NBC’s Sunday night NFL game between Indianapolis and Kansas City.
“We had it in at the end of my sophomore year, and we didn’t run it,” Rupcich said. “We put it back in. Coach [Tom Sallay] wanted something that would spark us. The hardest part was deciding if I wanted to throw the ball because there was a run/pass option for it. I was told if he’s not completely open to run the ball. I did not want to throw a pick. I would not have heard the end of it from my coaches and my friends. I didn’t want to let the team down.”
Wildcats coaches designed the play so Marcum, a right-hander, could roll right and toss the ball back across the field to Rupcich, who plays left tackle. Rupcich took a couple of steps to the right, then backpedaled before catching the lateral.
C-SC coach Tom Sallay thought the toughest part of the play was the catch.
“He does a good job, but sometimes in the middle of the game, if you have to catch it and throw it, it gets a little nerve-racking, and there’s more pressure,” Sallay said. “I knew once he caught it, it was going to be a big play for us because then I saw the receiver breaking open. He could have thrown it or run it, but I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re not running for 50 yards. Catch that thing and throw it.’ ”
Sallay thought the Wildcats’ execution on that play should make Rupcich a strong Piesman candidate.
“There’s not many times you see an offensive lineman drop back 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage and throw a 50-yard dime down the field,” Sallay said. “It was just as perfect as you can draw it up. We talk, in our program, about not being scared to make a play, and he wasn’t scared.”
Rupcich said the Wildcats ran the play a couple of times a day in practice the week leading up to the Benedictine game.
“It always ended up getting there, but it wasn’t the prettiest spiral that it was when I threw it in the game,” he said.
C-SC had the play in the rest of the season, but Rupcich said teams were on to him. He would hear opposing defenders saying, “Watch it, he might throw it.” And when the Wildcats sprinted out to the right, someone often stayed with him. They ran the play one other time, and Rupcich rushed for 3 yards.
“I knew it wasn’t going to work anymore this season,” Rupcich said. “Maybe everybody will forget about it for next season.”
The pass was a highlight in another strong season for Rupcich. He earned his second consecutive All-Heart of America Athletic Conference North Division first-team honor and has been an integral part of the Wildcats’ improvement.
“He’s done a great job,” Sallay said. “He’s a great kid, a 3.4 [GPA] student. He does everything right in the classroom and in the weight room. He really cares about his teammates. He hangs out with them all the time. He’s really worried about taking care of everybody else.”
Rupcich is happy to be part of what the Wildcats are building.
“Freshman year, we won one game playing 18 freshmen,” Rupcich said. “Last year, we played 17 sophomores, and this year we had the majority juniors. We went from one win to four to six. It’s a great thing to be a part of. Everyone’s taking notice and enjoying our team.”
Now Rupcich, a physical education major who would like to eventually coach college football, has one more award he would like to win. Sallay and his staff sent videos to the site, and Rupcich’s play logically was picked as a Piesman nominee.
Voters then put the play in the top three. After all, catching a lateral on an RPO and firing a tight spiral is about as unlineman-like as it gets.