Advance scout Jim Smoyer, an ‘invaluable’ part of Thomas Jefferson’s football program

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Sunday, September 24, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Thomas Jefferson football aficionado Jim Smoyer is like most high school fans.

He rarely misses a game on Friday nights.

But Smoyer, a 1988 TJ grad and a former football player for the Jaguars, doesn’t attend a myriad of games involving his alma mater.

Instead, Smoyer checks out the team the Jaguars will be playing the following week as an “advance scout.”

The 53-year-old Smoyer has been scouting TJ football opponents for more than two decades, or almost since the turn of the century.

It is his way of giving back to the Jaguars’ highly regarded football program.

“I started at TJ in the fall of 2002,” Smoyer said. “In 2000, I had just moved back to Pennsylvania after living in Dallas for a few years, and I was looking to get a teaching job. As a middle school coach in Texas, one of my responsibilities was to scout the upcoming opponent for the varsity team each week, so I had learned a lot of football that way, and I was already putting together a weekly scouting report packet for the varsity players to read prior to moving back home. I had never seen anything like that on the high school level so I wanted to see if I could bring it north with me.”

Smoyer’s scouting tenure in western Pennsylvania actually began at South Allegheny where he provided reports for one year.

“But I really wanted to come back to TJ. So that’s what I ultimately did the following season,” Smoyer said. “I had some familiarity with the coaching staff at that time because my brother had played for Jack Garrity, and Bill Cherpak was on that staff. To this day, I’m so grateful that coach Cherpak welcomed me into his program. It has been a fantastic ride.”

Cherpak is the fourth winningest coach in WPIAL football history. He began this season with a 300-54 career record; Smoyer was a collaborator in most of the wins.

“Jimmy is an invaluable part of our staff,” Cherpak said. “He has been with me and the program for over 20 years and we would not have the success we have had without him. He is just a great person who loves TJ. He is a great friend, and we are so fortunate to have him.

“He’s had many different duties in scouting opponents. Many years ago, before we exchanged films over the internet, he used to travel to scout an upcoming opponent and film the game. Things are much different now, but he continues to scout opponents and he does the weekly scouting reports that are given to the players and coaches.”

Smoyer now lives in Maryland so his scouting method has changed. He has adjusted with the times and modernized his approach.

“I still help Cherp by watching the other teams online and writing the reports each week,” Smoyer said. “I watch the game film and give an honest opinion on the upcoming opponent. Bill is so thorough so if I can find the smallest detail that can give TJ even a slight advantage, I do my best to provide that.

“I could tell you some stories though — especially from when I first started — when I had to actually drive to the game and do all the filming myself. There were always crazy weather nights the later you got into a season. DuBois is easily one of the coldest places I’ve ever been to.”

Some of Smoyer’s best memories include the nights when TJ would win a big conference or playoff game.

“I’d come racing back to Jaguar Stadium to see the coaches and the kids after their game and talk about what I saw with the team we were going to be playing the following week. Cherp has always welcomed my input.

“The years we went to Hershey were fantastic. They are some of my absolute favorite experiences from this whole journey. Once we were in the PIAA playoffs, I would drive out to the middle of the state to go to stadiums I had never been to, to see teams I knew very little about. There was always rain and snow at that point because we were playing into December, but I loved it.”

Semifinal-round playoff victories were significant to Smoyer.

“The most memorable games are always the wins that send the kids on to Heinz Field, or on to Hershey Park,” he said. “There have also been some huge wins over teams that became our bitter rivals.”

When in scouting mode, Smoyer asks many questions and provides ample answers.

“I make sure the TJ players know who they will be seeing across the line of scrimmage from them,” he said. “Do they rotate players in different situations, or are they a team that mostly sticks with their starting 11?

“Did they just lose a tough game, or are they playing with confidence? What type of offensive or defensive schemes do they rely on? Have they had any big injuries to overcome?”

Two decades of scouting has given rise to a new generation of TJ players for the tireless-working Smoyer.

“I’ve now been doing this long enough to see some of the kids of my old classmates come through the program,” Smoyer said. “I’ve been able to see my cousin’s sons, Joe and Justin Lekse, play for Cherp. It’s crazy to think this was just something I brought with me from Texas that I never thought I’d use again, but here I am 20 years later still at it. I truly enjoy doing this; that is why I’ve been doing it for so long.”

Smoyer was a wide receiver/free safety for the Jaguars from 1984-87 when he played for coaches George Wilson and Bill Englert.

“We didn’t win many games, but I still have a lot of fond memories,” Smoyer said. “My favorite was probably returning a kickoff 85 yards for a TD against West Mifflin.

“Another involves current Ringgold coach Marcus McCullough. He by far hit me the hardest I’d ever been hit in a game when we played Ringgold during my senior year. He caught me under my chin on a deflected pass that I actually caught, but it was absolutely a highlight reel hit by him.”

Football and skiing injuries began to take their toll on the TJ product after he graduated from high school. He played football for one season at Cal (Pa.) before hanging up his spikes for good.

“There are so many things that come to mind when I look back at my time scouting,” Smoyer said. “Getting to know Cherp outside of what people get to see has been great. He truly wants the kids to succeed beyond football, but he’s also an intense competitor. It’s impossible to convey just how good he is at molding a group of kids into a competitive team each year. I have no doubt he would have been a successful coach on any level. I’ve learned so much football from him.

“I got to see up close some of the best high school football programs in the history of the WPIAL and the PIAA. I was also able to watch in person some of the best players in WPIAL history.”

Smoyer relished meeting the TJ players, as well.

“I’ve also been able to watch and get to know some of the very best to ever play at TJ — the Nix brothers, the Dragers, the DeCiccos, the Winovich brothers,” he said. “There have been so many, I’m not doing it justice here. And all of them have welcomed me and for that I will be forever grateful.”

Smoyer and his brother Doug, a 1994 TJ graduate, actually are second-generation Jaguars. Their father James Sr. graduated from TJ in 1966 after playing under coaches Jerry Urda and Bap Manzini.

Smoyer was an elementary school teacher in the North Allegheny School District for 18 years, and prior to that was a teacher in the state of Texas for four years.

He is married to Bella and is retired from teaching but works for his brother-in-law’s business in Maryland.

“I split time between Rockville, Md., and the home I own in the Pittsburgh area,” said Smoyer, who hasn’t entertained any thoughts of coaching fulltime. “Being able to at least be a small part of Bill’s program has kept me close to something I sincerely enjoy.

“Plus, I’m a Jaguar for life so I’m always a fan, too.”

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