Cherpak’s record at TJ speaks for itself

Friday, August 23, 2019 | 8:28 PM

He is considered by many to be the Michaelangelo of high school football in Western Pennsylvania, if not the state.

Much like the Italian artist’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, Bill Cherpak’s exemplary performance as coach of the Thomas Jefferson football program for two-and-a-half decades has been masterful.

The Jaguars have been relentless in imposing their will on opponents, particularly at TJ Stadium.

Case in point, the Jaguars strung together 57 consecutive wins at home from Oct. 22, 2004, to Oct. 31, 2014.

TJ has won 79 of 80 home games on home turf since 2004, which includes 32 shutouts.

TJ was 5-0 at home in 2016. All five wins were whitewashes as the Jaguars averaged 50 points and racked up a 252-0 scoring margin. They were 6-0 with five shutouts at home in 2007, outscoring the opposition 239-3.

The Jaguars are riding a 22-game winning streak at TJ Stadium.

“Football is such a team sport,” Cherpak said. “It takes everyone from coaches and players working together to be successful.”

Cherpak begins his 25th season as TJ’s all-time winningest football coach with a 258-46 career record and an .849 winning percentage.

His coaching style?

“It’s probably to put the kids in the best position to succeed. You gotta work with what you have,” said Chepak, a former offensive lineman at Pitt and Steel Valley. “I think our defense has been pretty good over the years.”

He added, “I always pay special attention to the offensive line. That is what makes your team. If you can control the line of scrimmage, you have a great chance of being successful.”

Cherpak won four WPIAL titles (2004, 2006-08) in five years, along with three state crowns (2004, 2007-08), and added three more WPIAL championships from 2015-17.

The Jaguars have been conference champion 20 times, including 16 this millennium, since Cherpak’s first sesason in 1995.

“I couldn’t imagine playing for another coach,” said TJ quarterback Shane Stump, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior, three-year starter and four-year letterman. “You come in your freshman year expecting the worst with all the rumors and stuff you hear. You finish your first year realizing you could never have imagined something as bad as Cherp’s summer workouts.

“Aside from all of that, he does everything in his power to make every person the best they can be, not only on the field but as a person. He pushes you past your limits and expects everything you have every day, but it’s all worth it. The winning tradition started with him, and it’s not going anywhere while he has a say.”

Cherpak, 52, compiled a 96-25 record in his first 10 years at TJ, then went 117-14 in the next decade. The past four seasons, the Jaguars were 11-3, 12-1, 11-2 and 11-1.

TJ has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs 24 consecutive years, or every season that Cherpak has coached. They have advanced to the WPIAL semifinals 20 times in the past 21 years.

The Jaguars also have:

• Won 96 of 100 conference games since 2005 and 118 of 123 conference games since ’01.

• Won or shared 11 conference titles since 2006.

• Had five undefeated regular seasons in seven years.

• Posted a 217-31 overall record since 2000.

None of the players on the past few teams at TJ was born when Cherpak took over in 1995, including seniors Mac Duda and James Martinis.

Duda, a 6-4, 275-pound lineman and three-year starter, will continue his career at Princeton. In fact, he landed offers from all eight Ivy League schools, among others, thanks to his sparkling 4.2 GPA.

“I wouldn’t want to play for anyone other than coach Cherpak,” said Duda, one of several honor-roll students on the team. “He pushes us harder than we could ever push ourselves, and he always demands our best.

“Coach Cherpak’s expectation for us never changes. He expects us to win and be the best.”

Martinis, a 6-2, 215-pound tight end/linebacker, is another three-year starter for the Jaguars.

“Playing for Cherp and being part of a winning program has been a great experience,” Martinis said. “He’s also taught me so many valuable life lessons.”

Cherpak was inducted into the Robert “Tick” Cloherty/Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.


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