HS FOOTBALL: Hamburg's Menapace signs with Columbia

Feb. 1—HAMBURG — Xander Menapace kept grinding, even when no one was watching.

He kept getting faster, stronger, filling out his 6-foot-4 frame.

He refined his throwing technique, kept learning, kept making plays in the hopes that his dream of playing Division I college football would be realized.

Wednesday, that hard work paid off when the Hamburg senior quarterback signed an NCAA Division I letter of intent to continue his academic and football careers under a full scholarship at Columbia University.

Menapace is the Hawks' first Division I football player since lineman Derek Stoudt signed with Richmond University in 2003 and the program's first-ever player to sign with an Ivy League school.

"Columbia is a great school," Menapace said Wednesday. "It was a tough decision.

"Not until last year did I realize that I had a shot at getting into a Patriot or Ivy League school. It's definitely going to be a challenge. It's not going to be easy. But I'm excited."

Menapace was a three-year starter at quarterback for the Hawks, guiding Hamburg to trips to the District 3 Class 3A semifinals the past two seasons.

As a senior, Menapace completed 151-of-238 passes for 1,838 yards and 16 touchdowns against just four interceptions, while rushing 109 times for 597 yards and 14 TDs in Hamburg's spread offense attack. He directed a unit that scored 507 points in 12 games (42.3 ppg) and accumulated 4,721 total yards (393.4 per game).

Menapace set seven single-season school records in 2022 and owns the Hamburg career marks for pass completions (245), touchdown passes (32) and completion percentage (62.03). His 3,061 career passing yards ranks second in school history behind Matt Deibler's 3,855 gained from 1997-2000.

A second-team PAFootballNews Coaches' Select Class 3A All-State pick and a first-team Republican Herald All-Area, All-Berks County and Lancaster-Lebanon Conference Section 5 selection, Menapace finished his career with a 19-10 record as a starter after the Hawks went 7-4 his junior campaign and 9-3 this past fall.

Menapace's senior class finished 25-15, the most successful class in school history and the only one that didn't have a losing season, despite having three head coaches in Chuck Kutz, Jeff Chillot and Matt Hoffert.

The Hawks won an Eastern Conference title during Menapace's freshman season, then earned the school's first-ever District 3 playoff victory in 2021. They made it two straight trips to the semis with a win over Upper Dauphin this season before falling to Wyomissing.

"Our senior class is satisfied. We would have liked to have gone further," Menapace said. "We did something our school has never done. We're the only class ever to not have a losing season. That's a testament to the hard work we put in and all of our coaches."

Despite all of the lofty numbers, Menapace didn't draw much attention from college recruiters. He sent film out after his junior season, made several "Junior Day" visits and went to several passing camps, but entered his senior season without any offers.

Columbia became interested late in the season, and Division I Albany and Division II Kutztown joined the mix. Menapace made an official visit to Albany over the holidays, then officially visited Columbia last weekend. He committed to the Lions on Sunday.

"I sent my film out to a lot of schools, as many schools as I possibly could from all different types of levels," Menapace said. "Then they wanted to see me throw at camp. Then they wanted to see my first three games. Then they wanted to see my whole season.

"Columbia reached out toward the end of the season. I went up to see the Cornell-Columbia game. I narrowed my choices down to Columbia, Albany and Kutztown."

The son of Hamburg athletic director and assistant football coach Aaron and Stephanie Menapace, the 18-year-old Mohrsville resident also excels in the classroom.

A Maxwell Football Club Mini-Max Award recipient, Menapace is a four-time selection to the Berks County Football Coaches Association, PA Football News and EasternPAFootball.com All-Academic first teams. He's a member of the National Honor Society and is a leader in the Hamburg Student Athletes Club. He has a 103% weighted GPA.

Going to a prestigious Ivy League school like Columbia, which is located in New York City, was a life-long dream.

"Ever since I was a kid, my parents always stressed academics," said Menapace, who will enter Columbia undeclared. "I never knew what that would lead to, I just thought that's what you had to do, get good grades. That mentality I kept throughout high school.

"Football only lasts 4-5 years after high school. The degree lasts a lifetime."

Columbia isn't known as a traditional Ivy League football power, but the Lions produced their second straight winning season after going 6-4 in 2022 under Al Bagnoli. The quarterbacks coach is Sky Mornhinweg, whose father Marty was a longtime NFL coach and a coordinator at one time with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Columbia runs a spread offense similar to the one he ran at Hamburg, and Menapace thought the Lions were a good fit for his talents.

"Columbia is a program on the rise," Menapace said. "I talked with a couple of players, and the culture is shifting up there, no doubt. That's a testament to the coaches that they're doing a good job. The players have bought in.

"That's the kind of environment that I want to be in, where everybody is bought in."

Contact the writer: Lboyer@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6026; @pubsportsboss on Twitter