Georgia high school QB Robbie Roper was ready to embark on college career when he mysteriously died – USA TODAY

Seated among the mourners at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia on Tuesday, members of the Roswell High School football team stood out in their green jerseys.
Another one lay draped across the closed casket.
That jersey, No. 5, had belonged to Robbie Roper, a high school quarterback whose rise as a college prospect was almost as sudden as his death.
On Dec. 22, with Billy Napier of Florida and coaches from other top-flight programs reaching out to the long-overlooked quarterback, Roper died at the age of 18.
A week before his death, Roper wrote on Twitter, “Phone rang … had a Great call with Head Coach @Lane_Kiffin. Things are heating up.” 
He had so much going for him.
At 6-3 and 205 pounds, Roper bedeviled opponents with his powerful right arm, deceptive speed and ability to read defenses. He also had a 3.9 GPA.
This past season, following up on a strong junior year, he passed for more than 3,000 yards along with 37 touchdowns despite playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
He led Roswell to a 10-3 record and an shocking victory over North Cobb, a heavy favorite heading into their second-round playoff matchup. With Roswell trailing by 43-35, Roper ran for two touchdowns in the final minute and scored the game winner as the game clock expired, setting off bedlam after the 46-43 victory.
A couple of weeks later, longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming wrote on Twitter, “Do you know who might just be the most underrated QB in the country? Robbie Roper.”  
Do you know who might just be the most underrated QB in the country? Robbie Roper 6‘4“ 215 Roswell HS, GA. This season passed for over 3800 yards and 42 tds. The 4.0 student has a very strong arm, excellent foot speed and smarts.@robbieroper2022 well deserving of his 4* rating.
At the end of his senior season, Roper had scholarship offers from four Division I schools, none from the Power 5 conferences. But as word and video of his on-field performances circulated, Roper’s recruitment gained momentum before his life came to a mysterious end.
How did a seemingly healthy, 18-year-old athlete die unexpectedly?
During the funeral service, which was attended by approximately 1,000 people, the Roper family for the first time publicly addressed the cause of death.
Several published reports cited complications from shoulder surgery Dec. 14 as the cause of death, which took place eight days later. But Roper’s father, James, said that’s not true. 
“And he didn’t kill himself,” James Roper said. “I want to make sure that’s clear. But even at the hospital they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.”
Roper died at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida after falling ill while visiting nearby St. Augustine for a family reunion, according to Patrick Carlisle, the offensive coordinator at Roswell High.
The Medical Examiner’s Office in Gainesville did not conduct an autopsy of Roper, according to Paula Greer, an administrative specialist in the office who referred questions to the hospital where Roper died.
As news of his death spread, some of Roper’s teammates, friends and family members replaced their Twitter profile photos with the image of his jersey No. 5. 
LIVE LIKE 5💚 Robbie was able to touch so many hearts. I am beyond proud of the man he has become, and can only wish to be half as good of a teammate, leader, and person that Robbie was. #NewProfilePic
Some added words of tribute: “Live Like 5.”
During the funeral, after his father briefly addressed Roper’s death, the focus quickly shifted to the memorable way Roper lived.
Chris Prewet, head football coach at Roswell High, talked about the six touchdowns Roper threw in the season opener, his late-game heroics against North Cobb and his leadership skills.
But Prewet also shared memories of Roper reading to first graders when the football players and cheerleaders visited elementary schools on game day.
Rather than sit in a chair, Prewet said, Roper lowered himself onto the floor.
“He would dive right in and be down there with the kids,’’ Prewet told USA TODAY Sports.
In the locker room, Roper’s wide chin was a target.
“Yeah, we would make fun of his face,’’ Ethan Nation, the team’s top wide receiver, told USA TODAY Sports. Nation said he called Roper “Crimson Chin,’’ in reference to a cartoon character with a massive chin.
And so how would Roper fire back?
“He would just laugh and kind of take it,’’ Nation said. “He didn’t take anything to heart. Just always happy. Bright personality.’’
Carlisle called Roper “genuine” and “good-hearted” and said he recently found photos of Roper interacting with Jake Jeffries, a special-education student who served as manager of the football team.
Not that Roper was a choir boy in football cleats.
“They would egg Jake on knowing that I would be upset and they’d be smiling,’’ said Carlisle, who with a chuckle noted that Roper would beat him to the fieldhouse before practice. “He’d be the first guy I saw every day, either sitting in my chair playing (video games) or doing something that was going to get me upset.’’
It was a different story for Roper just two years earlier.
His sister, Breanna, played three seasons of softball at Georgia Tech before transferring to Ole Miss this year. But Roper thought his hopes of playing major college football were in peril after his sophomore season at Woodstock High School.
The team’s starting quarterback was a year older. Deciding he needed to start to get recruited, Roper transferred to nearby Roswell High, north of Atlanta, midway through his sophomore year.
He found himself competing against four other quarterbacks. Three days before the season opener, the coaches told him he’d won the starting job – and kept it.
Helping lead Roswell to an 8-3 record and the first round of the playoffs, Roper passed for 2,197 yards with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
But there were no college offers by the next June when Roper was invited to a two-day football camp and got personal instruction from Kevin Sumlin, the former head coach at Houston, Texas A&M and Arizona.
“I knew that he could play at the Division I level, at a high level,” Sumlin told USA TODAY Sports. 
From grade school and through high school, Roper had worked with private quarterback coaches — three in all, and one, Ron Veal, who mentored Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields years before they reached the NFL this year.
But Sumlin said he was most impressed with something other than Roper’s physical ability.
“Let’s just be honest, I can say it, he’s the goofy white kid from outside Atlanta,’’ Sumlin said with a chuckle. “And these (other) guys, didn’t matter what race, didn’t matter where they were from, he’s communicating and these guys are having a ball.
“To be able to fit in and to lead, that’s a whole other skill set and that’s something you cannot take for granted, particularly at that position.”
Sumlin said Roper’s recruitment likely suffered from the reduced opportunity for college coaches to scout  during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased reliance on college transfers at quarterback.
Then, during the fifth game of Roper’s senior season, there was a new issue.
He suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Though Roper is right-handed, his shoulder separated twice in that game before he headed to the sidelines for good. Roper considered undergoing surgery that would have ended his season before deciding to play with his left arm in a harness.
Over the final seven games of the season, he completed 67.9% of his passes for 1,527 yards and 18 touchdowns with four interceptions.
“To play at the level he played says a lot about his toughness,’’ Sumlin said.
Roswell’s season ended in the quarterfinals of the playoffs with a 20-10 loss to Grayson, the defending 7A state champion. But people in Roswell have talked far more of the previous game and Roper’s memorable performance against North Cobb, when he passed for 275 yards and two touchdowns before running for two more touchdowns in the final minute..
‘He played nearly a perfect game that night,’’ said Prewet, the the head coach at Roswell. “He basically willed us to victory.”
During the on-field celebration Roper embraced his girlfriend, Annie Bowers, a Roswell High cheerleader he started dating three months ago.
He also got a hug from his sister, who said she was the first fan to run onto the field and that she chased down her brother to congratulate him.
“That’s a memory I’ll cherish forever,’’ Breanna said. “He’s always been an amazing football player, and it’s amazing that everyone finally got to see that.
“This year he really got to shine.’’


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