Star receiver back to provide spark to Thomas Jefferson offense

By:
Sunday, August 13, 2023 | 11:11 PM


Veteran coach Bill Cherpak has seen his share of talented wide receivers at Thomas Jefferson.

He’s expecting a banner season from senior wideout Sean Sullivan.

“Sean should absolutely dominate every game he plays,” Cherpak said, “He has great explosion and speed down the field as well as incredible ball skills and hands. He catches nearly anything he can get his hands on.

“He definitely possesses all the skills to be one of the top wide receivers we’ve ever had at TJ.”

Sullivan, a 6-foot, 175-pound speedster, finished with 48 receptions for 922 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, averaging 19.2 yards per catch.

He also was the Jaguars’ top return specialist and was named first-team all-conference at wide receiver.

The ultra-talented wideout is a long-ball threat. Sullivan had 31 catches for 547 yards in his sophomore season, averaging 17.6 ypc. He’s averaged almost 20 yards a catch every time he’s reeled in a pass the past two years.

Sullivan also is a three-year starter in the backcourt on the TJ boys basketball team.

A question surrounding the Jaguars’ preseason camp centers on who will be throwing the passes to the wide receiving corps this year.

Brody Evans, a staunch 6-foot-4, 195-pound quarterback, passed for 1,986 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2022, connecting on 146 of 251 attempts. He was intercepted nine times.

Evans led the Jaguars into the WPIAL semifinals, where they lost a 19-0 decision to Central Valley. Leading up to the game, about half the TJ squad was in and out of practice because of sickness.

A week earlier, Cherpak became the fourth coach in WPIAL history to achieve 300 career wins when the Jaguars sloshed past Latrobe, 21-6, on Nov. 11 while playing in the remnants of Hurricane Nicole in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Cherpak is in his 29th season as TJ’s field boss and has compiled a 300-54 career record.

He ranks behind only Jim Render (406 wins), Joe Hamilton (342) and George Novak (306) in wins among WPIAL football coaches.

“I think as I get older and reflect on things, the 300 wins will mean more to me than it does now,” Cherpak said after achieving the milestone. “We have always strived to be a program that was consistent year in and year out and the 300 wins is a byproduct of that consistency.”

Evans is back for his senior season, as is strong-armed junior Luke Kosko, who transferred from Seton LaSalle following his freshman year. The rifle-armed Kosko sat out last season due to WPIAL transfer rules.

“We should have some good camp battles for starting positions and playing time,” Chepak said. “We have an interesting quarterback situation that will play itself out.”

The Jaguars had a solid one-two punch on the ground last year behind then-junior RBs Elias Lippincott and Aidan Whalen, who combined for 1,470 yards and 19 touchdowns on 312 carries.

Lippincott (6-2, 220) ran for 909 yards and 12 scores on 186 attempts. He also caught 12 passes for 102 yards, giving him 1,011 yards of total offense. Whalen (6-0, 170) tacked on 561 yards and seven TDs on 126 carries.

Lippincott also rushed for 854 yards and scored 13 times as a sophomore.

Another player to watch on offense is senior WR Jason Salmon, a leading pass-catcher on last year’s playoff squad.

It appears the Jaguars have a plethora of talent of the skill positions, and the offense should be fortified by senior guard Michael Hutchison and junior guard Shephard Turk. Both are returning starters.

But TJ has to replace the likes of TE/DE Jordan Mayer, a Wisconsin recruit, Peyton Kreuger (LT), Nathan Everley (RT) and Nick Florian (C).

The Jaguars’ running game accounted for 3,695 yards and 42 touchdowns in 2022 and appears to be in safe hands again in 2023.

Defense looks to be another team strength with six returning starters. Lippincott (DE), junior Matt Martinis (LB), seniors Kam Eggerton (LB) and Michael Banda (LB), Whalen (DB) and Sullivan (DB) all are back.

“We need to have some defensive linemen step up and be ready to play,” Cherpak said. “I expect all the players who are on the field to perform and make plays to help the team win.”

And the standard remains the standard at TJ.

“As always,” Cherpak said, “we expect to compete for the conference, WPIAL and PIAA championships.”

Statistically, Martinis led the defensive unit last year with 61 tackles including 49 unassisted, along with one blocked kick and one fumble recovery.

Senior Jason Salman also saw playing time in the secondary last season.

The Jaguars finished 8-4 in 2022, allowing 14.8 ppg while posting three shutouts.

Editor’s note: Due to production scheduling conflicts, previews for Class 4A Big Seven Conference schools Connellsville, Laurel Highlands, McKeesport and Ringgold will appear later this month.

Thomas Jefferson

Coach: Bill Cherpak

2022 record: 8-4, 5-1 in Class 4A Big Seven Conference

All-time record: 497-210-7

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 at Franklin Regional, 7

9.1 Baldwin, 7

9.8 West Mifflin, 7

9.15 at Latrobe*, 7

9.22 at Belle Vernon, 7

9.29 Laurel Highlands*, 7

10.6 at Trinity*, 7

10.13 Ringgold*, 7

10.20 at Connellsville*, 7

10.27 McKeesport*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Brody Evans

146-251, 1986 yards, 19 TDs

Rushing: Elias Lippincott

186-909, 12 TDs

Receiving: Sean Sullivan

48-922, 11 TDs

FAST FACTS

• Cherpak has won five state championships, nine WPIAL titles and 22 conference crowns. He has been named conference coach of the year eight times, AP Pennsylvania Class AAA Coach of the Year in 2004, ESPN RISE Eastern Division Coach of the Year in 2008, and twice (2016, 2019) was a Pittsburgh Steelers’ nominee for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award.

• TJ finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Class 4A Big Seven Conference last season with McKeesport and Laurel Highlands. The Jaguars received a first-round bye in the playoffs.

• Defensive starters who graduated in the spring were Mayer (DE), Florian (DT), Kreuger (DT), John Janusek (LB) and Ryan Lawry (DB).

• The Jaguars have reached the WPIAL semifinal round 24 times in 25 years.

Tags:

More High School Football

Central Catholic QB Payton Wehner wins Willie Thrower Award
What to watch for in WPIAL sports on April 6, 2024: Top WPIAL QB to be honored with Willie Thrower Award
Aliquippa sues PIAA to prevent football team’s promotion to Class 5A
Vinnie Heller earns Thomas Jefferson’s prestigious Breisinger Award
Springdale hires Chad Walsh as football coach hoping he can change team’s fortunes