Thomas Jefferson aiming to regain championship mojo

By:
Monday, August 15, 2022 | 12:01 PM


The 2021 season was not a customary prize-winner for the Thomas Jefferson football team.

The Jaguars fell short on all three of their annual goals of winning conference, WPIAL and PIAA titles, and the TJ coaching staff hopes that fact doesn’t bode well for opponents this fall.

“Now is when all the work is done to prepare for the season,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “The team bonding that takes place over the course of the summer as they work together is a huge part of the success of a team. There is no way around it and there is no easy way. Football is a demanding sport and you must be physically and mentally tough to play it.”

Last year, TJ fell from its perch as a WPIAL favorite after losing twice in the regular season. The two-time defending WPIAL and state champion Jaguars placed third in the Big Eight Conference and lost to rival Belle Vernon, 21-7, in the WPIAL semifinal round.

TJ had won the past two and five of the last six WPIAL Class 4A crowns and had advanced to the finals for six consecutive seasons.

The Jaguars finished 8-3 overall and were 4-2 in league play in 2021, lagging behind BVA and McKeesport.

“(That) was obviously not the outcome we had hoped for,” Cherpak said. “We had so many injuries, but overall the kids worked hard.”

The headliner on this year’s team is senior Jordan Mayer, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end/defensive end and Wisconsin recruit. An all-state player for the Jaguars, Mayer decommitted from an offer from Boston College in opting for the Badgers.

Mayer chose Wisconsin over West Virginia, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech. He also had FBS offers from Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Charlotte, Central Michigan, Duke, Eastern Michigan, James Madison, Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Navy, Ohio and Toledo.

Mayer leads a group of talented returning starters at TJ that includes senior Peyton Krueger at offensive guard and defensive tackle, Sean Sullivan, a junior wide receiver/defensive back, senior center Nick Florian, junior defensive back Aidan Whalen and Kam Eggerton, a junior linebacker.

Mayer, Krueger (6-2, 275) and Sullivan were first team all-conference selections in 2021.

“My expectation is the same as it was last year and that is to win a state championship,” Krueger said. “Our strength is the offensive and defensive line, as it has been for years.”

Others who were termed part-time starters a year ago and are looking to expand their roles this fall include seniors Nathan Everley (OT), John Janusek (DE), Dom Donatelli (LB) and Ryan Lawry (DB) and junior Elias Lippincott (RB).

Look for Lawry, Mayer, Lippincott, senior WR/DB Danny Carroll and junior WR/DB Joe Mendyk to possibly complement Sullivan in the receiving department.

Mayer, Krueger, Lawry and Bryce Heller, a senior running back, are expected to step up into leadership roles on this year’s team.

TJ’s dual-threat quarterback Joe Lekse graduated last spring, leaving the Jaguars with an open position on offense.

Lekse was backed up by Brody Evans, Kooper Kamberis and Bode Marlow in 2021. Evans is a junior; Kamberis and Marlow are sophomores.

Another quarterback prospect is sophomore Luke Kosko, a Seton LaSalle transfer. Kosko passed for almost 1,000 yards for the Rebels last year and has been offered a D1 scholarship from Marshall.

Kosko was ruled ineligible for the 2022 football season after a hearing Aug. 1 with the WPIAL board. PIAA rules prohibit transfers for athletic purposes.

If he remains ineligible, Kosko could continue to practice with the Jaguars but wouldn’t be allowed to compete for the football team until the 2023 season.

“We will not have a starting quarterback until probably after the season starts,” Cherpak said. “All positions are open until we finish camp.”

Some of the Jaguars’ top returning players on defense include Mayer, Donatelli, Janusek, Eggerton, Krueger and Lawry, who ranked among the team leaders in tackles last season.

TJ is a member of the Class 4A Big Seven Conference along with Connellsville, Latrobe, Laurel Highlands, McKeesport, Ringgold and Trinity. There are 22 teams in 4A this year.

Thomas Jefferson

Coach: Bill Cherpak

2021 record: 8-3, 4-2 in Class 4A Big Eight Conference

All-time record: 489-206-7

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.28 Millville (NJ)#, 11 a.m.

9.2 at Baldwin, 7

9.9 at West Mifflin, 7

9.16 Latrobe*, 7

9.23 Belle Vernon, 7

9.30 at Laurel Highlands*, 7

10.7 Trinity*, 7

10.14 at Ringgold*, 7

10.21 Connellsville*, 7

10.28 at McKeesport*, 7

*Conference game

#at Ocean City, NJ

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Joe Lekse*

59-105, 982 yards, 12 TDs

Rushing: Elias Lippincott

151-854, 13 TDs

Receiving: Sean Sullivan

31-547, 6 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• TJ opens the season at 11 a.m. Aug. 28 against Millvale (N.J.) in the “Battle at the Beach” in Ocean City. The three-day event is sponsored by the West Jersey Football Coaches Association.

• Bill Cherpak leads all area football coaches with nine WPIAL titles and five state crowns. He has a career record of 292-50 at TJ. Since Cherpak’s first year as field boss in 1995, the Jaguars have had two undefeated seasons, 11 with one loss and five with two losses.

• Nick Bryan was an all-state selection as a 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior lineman last year. The Kent State recruit also was named to the Trib 25 HSSN All-Star team and was a first-team all-conference selection.

• Over the past four years, TJ has won 45 of 50 games and three conference titles. The Jaguars were 30-3 in the regular season and 15-2 in the playoffs, winning two WPIAL and two PIAA championships, and finished as a WPIAL runner-up once.

• TJ has won 10 WPIAL football titles in school history. The first was in 1980 under coach Bap Manzini. The Jaguars are 70-23 in WPIAL playoff games and 66-17 under Cherpak.

Note: Due to publishing scheduling conflicts, previews for Big Seven Conference teams Connellsville, Laurel Highlands and Ringgold will appear on Trib HSSN next week.

Tags:

More High School Football

Trib HSSN Football Team of the Week 2022: Week 5
This week on Trib HSSN for week of Oct. 3, 2022
Ryan Palmieri boosts Pine-Richland with whatever-it-takes attitude
5 things we learned in Week 5: Rodney Gallagher makes history again
High school roundup for Oct. 1, 2022: Western Beaver runs past Freedom