One of the toughest challenges in sports is to step up and improve oneself when the team needs it.
Football and baseball star Jim Raptis is on example of a player that has made an indelible mark on the record books without necessarily having the natural tools associated with athletic excellence. It's hard to imagine that a player who owns six school records in football and two in baseball wasn't always considered a sure bet, but Raptis, with his insatiable attitude for winning, came a long way to merit a mention as one of the Maroons' best of all time.
With the football team in need of a wide receiving corps in 2000, Raptis was immediately thrust into a starting role by head coach Dick Maloney. Although he had "average speed, average height, and average strength," Maloney recognized him as a "tenacious competitor" that would be willing to take the challenge head on. During his rookie year, when he led the team with 37 receptions, Raptis proved that he would be the team's number-one receiver in the years to come.
Teammates and coaches always admired his desire to be the go-to guy in the toughest situations. "Jim was always the most confident one on the field," said fourth-year Joe Polaneczky, who started all four of his years as the number-two receiver beside Raptis. "He called for the ball in the most crucial situations and made some unbelievable plays to keep us in a lot games."
Although he lacked the natural strength of the position, Raptis was known for his great hands, well run routes, ability to read defenses, and confidence. "Jim was a huge influence on the field. He made clutch plays, and we could always count on him," fourth-year running back Aaron Carlock said. "The team had a great deal of confidence in him."
His teammates had good reason to be confident in Raptis. By the end of his career, he had reset six school records: most receptions in a season (77), most career receptions (209), most receptions in a game (17), most career yards (2,712), most yards in a season (983), and most yards in a game (270). Those career numbers earned him four All-UAA selections, all while playing with another excellent receiverPolaneczkywho ranks second or third in a number of the categories Raptis leads.
Raptis would have been considered one of the school's football greats had he limited himself to football. Yet he also proved himself on the baseball diamond, possibly coming a longer way to become one of the team's most productive hitters.
"Jim always exhibited strengths, but he developed into the run producer he was by making some key adjustments," head coach Brian Baldea said." Like his teammates, Raptis adopted the no-stride hitting style that allowed him to get his swing through the zone more quickly and consistently.
While he proved that he could hit by the end of his second year, Baldea knew that Raptis would need to step up his defensive play in order to be an everyday contributor. After being challenged to improve his skills as a leftfielder, he immediately responded.
"He took major strides in preparing for his junior year," Baldea said. "We asked him to develop into a dependable outfielder because he didn't necessarily have the defensive tools that our other outfielders had. To Jim's credit, he did it, and it meant a lot to be able to have him in the lineup everyday. He has a determination to develop and improve."
Along with improving his outfield play, Raptis had a breakout season in 2003, hitting .423 with 13 doubles and six home runs. With his characteristic crouch, his legs spread to both ends of the batters box, Raptis brought explosive gap power to the number three spot, usually reserved for the team's most productive hitter. This year, Raptis hit .412 with 16 doubles and six homers en route to 41 RBI. That line helped him earn All-Region honors for the second straight season.
Although he was an immediate contributor to both of his teams, Raptis solidified his place in Maroon history largely because he improved his approach to his sports.
"I've grown as a player and as a teammate because I have learned to be more patient. I learned that it's really more mental than anything," said Raptis, who cites his family as his biggest influence. "As a teammate you also have to be patient because you can't press or get down in games. You just have to relax and let everyone play their game and everything will take care of itself."
Never unwilling to kick somebody into gear, Raptis will always be known as a winner. "He wanted to win more than anything and that spread the rest of the team," Polaneczky said. His career record was 19-17 in football and 89-41 in baseball.
As he continues to pursue the field of medicine, Raptis will live in Chicago next year. A great and funny guy, he'll be an asset to any team he happens to move on to.