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How an offensive coordinator reshaped Wise football into a juggernaut

Steve Rapp’s hurry-up offense has helped the Pumas win four state championships. This year he’s trying to get a new QB up to speed.

Wise quarterback Cortney Davis talks to offensive coordinator Steve Rapp during a game at North Point on Sept. 3. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post)

There are three minutes remaining in Cortney Davis’s debut as the quarterback at Wise, and the reality of his new role is setting in. Since moving to Prince George’s County in December, Davis had heard every stat and every story about Wise’s greatness and how he’s in charge of continuing it.

But the Pumas are trailing North Point 18-14 in a game most thought Wise would win by double digits. Their recent history of dominance provides a weight, not solace, to the 6-foot-6 transfer from Poly in Baltimore.

Perched atop the North Point press box, offensive coordinator Steve Rapp can feel Davis’s unease. Like a voice from heaven, he speaks into the player’s headset.

“Look, man, there’s three minutes left and we got no timeouts,” Rapp recalls saying. “We don’t need you to be Superman. All we need you to do is stay within the system and give us a chance. If you stay within the system, we’ll leave here with the win. I promise.”

With four seconds remaining, the Pumas are down to their last opportunity. It’s fourth and goal at the 6-yard line. Rapp calls a sprint-out option. If the Eagles blitz, Davis can run; if they don’t, the running back should be open for a pass. The blitz comes right away; Wise’s running back picks it up. And just as Rapp promised, Davis scampers into the end zone for the game-winning score.

Since becoming Wise’s offensive coordinator in 2013 — and more specifically, since installing his hurry-up offense in 2015, — Rapp has taken the Pumas and their quarterbacks to the next level. The Pumas have an 82-3 record and four Maryland 4A titles since 2015, and three of their quarterbacks in that time have gone on to play in Division I.

Davis hopes to be the next beneficiary, and Rapp’s reputation promises big results.

A natural play caller

Rapp has been calling plays since he was a 7-year-old peewee quarterback performing audibles at the line of scrimmage. And over the years, he honed his play design skills by watching film with his father, Lee, who played cornerback at Maryland and was a high school football coach. The younger Rapp loved dissecting offenses and asking his father questions.

But when the time came for him to choose between basketball and football in eighth grade, Rapp picked hoops, thinking it was more likely to lead to a pro sports career. After playing the sport at Eleanor Roosevelt, Rapp continued at the College of Southern Maryland, Centenary College and Lehman College. After college, Rapp took a job at his father’s construction company but couldn’t escape the draw of sports.

He started coaching football with his father at Northwestern High. Whenever he had downtime in his cubicle, he was dreaming up offensive schemes.

Though the Wildcats weren’t dominating, Rapp’s innovative, up-tempo style drew the attention of other coaches, included Wise’s DaLawn Parrish.

In a midseason game in 2012, Wise dominated Northwestern, 47-8, but the Wildcats’ lone touchdown was a doozy. They used a version of the wildcat offense with wrinkles Parrish had never seen. He wanted it for his program.

“When I evaluate other coaches or players, I never do it in comparison to what we are doing at my program, because over the years we have elevated ourselves to a level where most schools have a tough time lining up with us,” Parrish said. “So even though we were pounding them, the way that he was moving guys around and finding ways to get his playmakers the ball in space intrigued me. I was standing there on the sideline thinking, ‘Man, if he had my guys’ talent and our program’s structure, he’d probably be unstoppable.’ ”

Parrish and Rapp shared a sideline that year during an all-star game between Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland. Their offense hummed. The coaches chatted for hours about schemes and life, and Rapp’s hunger stood out. Parrish offered him a job as Wise’s offensive coordinator.

Changing the Pumas

Since the school’s inception in 2006, Wise had built its program on great defense and a reliable running game. The most athletic players lined up in the backfield, and the wide receivers were essentially extensions of the offensive line.

Rapp had other plans. He wanted to veer away from the ground-based scheme and sling the ball all over the field. Conceiving the plays was easy. Convincing Parrish to let him run them was the hard part.

“It was tough on him at first because I wouldn’t give him 100 percent control,” Parrish said. “He had to put everything in my terminology and get my approval because, if anything ever happened with him, I wanted to be able to slide in and run the show.”

Rapp’s first two years on staff led to mediocre results. The Pumas went 15-8, and change seemed necessary. Rapp told Parrish he needed to take off the training wheels and let him do his job.

“He was like, ‘Yo, P, I know you’ve had success doing it your way,’ ’’ Parrish recalled. “ ‘But from now on we’re going to run a hurry-up offense. There will be mistakes, but just trust me. This is why you brought me here.’ ”

Fully enabled, Rapp has proved to be what was promised. The Pumas’ dominant offense propelled the school to three straight Maryland 4A titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017, then another in 2019.

In the seven seasons before Rapp’s arrival, Wise averaged 25.8 points per game. The Pumas are averaging 37.7 points under Rapp — and 41.4 since they switched to the hurry-up.

Additionally, Wise’s past three quarterbacks — former All-Met Player of the Year Jabari Laws (Army), Quinton Williams (Howard) and Jayden Sauray (Maryland) — have gone on to play for Division I programs.

Now with Davis at the helm, Rapp’s skill set is being put to the test. The previous three quarterbacks were in the system for multiple years. With Davis, the learning curve must be accelerated.

“When he teaches us QBs, he uses real football terminology that I would hear at the next level,” Davis said. “He also has us practice fast and teaches ways to get your team involved on everything that is happening on the field. He mixes all this with jokes and laughs and makes it a great place to play football.”

The Pumas are easing in Davis before truly letting it fly. In three games, he has completed 16 of 27 passes for 220 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Those numbers may not look gaudy, but Wise is 3-0 and averaging 42 points.

“He’s the head coach of our offense and in a sense the face of our program,” Parrish said of Rapp. “His style has made our program way more attractive and given us the confidence that we can score enough points to beat anyone in front of us.”