Thomas Jefferson focused on regaining title

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Saturday, August 17, 2019 | 11:10 AM


New high school. New year. New rivalry.

The grand opening was Aug. 18 for the newly built $95 million, 300-square-foot Thomas Jefferson High School.

TJ’s first football game will take place Aug. 23 against Canon-McMillan at home.

Classes begin Aug. 26.

After breezing through the 2018 regular season and plowing past New Castle and Blackhawk in the WPIAL playoffs, the TJ gridders, looking to secure a fourth consecutive title, were upset by South Fayette, 31-24, in the finals at Heinz Field.

“With many returning starters, we feel we should be one of the top teams in 4A,” longtime TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “I feel the kids are more motivated than ever to get back and win the WPIAL once again.

“Obviously, the (2018) season didn’t end the way we had hoped in the WPIAL championship game. We need to stay healthy and maintain our focus, and we will be an excellent team.”

Thomas Jefferson ended up 11-1, won the Big 8 Conference title and finished as the WPIAL Class 4A runner-up last year.

The Jaguars haven’t taken much time off since February in preparing for the 2019 season, working out diligently four times per week. This summer, they participated in seven-on-seven tournaments at Michigan State, Bowling Green and Akron.

“After ending last season with the loss to South Fayette,” said senior James Martinis, a sturdy 6-foot-2, 215-pound tight end/linebacker, “we have been working harder than ever and will be playing this season with a new mentality.”

Most of the juniors on last year’s squad saw time in the starting lineup. Several will be third-year starters in 2019.

There were eight juniors in the offensive lineup in last year’s championship game.

Seven have returned for their senior season — Martinis, quarterback Shane Stump, wide receivers Dan Deabner and Bowen Dame, fullback Nathan Werderber, guard Logan Danielson and tackle Mac Duda, a Princeton recruit.

Stump passed for 1,833 yards with 24 touchdowns in 2018. The past two years, he has thrown for 3,441 yards and 48 scores, hitting on 173 of 333 attempts.

“We have high expectations this year and expect nothing less than a WPIAL and state championship,” Stump said. “We have a lot of experienced guys returning ready to lead. We have a lot of potential to be great this year but, as anyone will tell you, that means nothing until we show up dominating on Friday nights.”

Stump and Deabner formed one of the most prolific passing-receiving combinations in the WPIAL last season.

Deaber finished with 59 catches and set a new team record for receiving yards in a season with 1,365 yards, and also scored 19 times. He averaged 23.1 yards per reception.

“Our coaches come and push us each day to be our best, which has been the reason for our success in the past,” Deabner said. ”Our expectation each year is to be at the top, but we can’t think about the end of the year already. We go in each week focusing on who is ahead and no one else.

“We expect to be good in all aspects of the game, but passing should be at the top. We have four wide receivers with a year or more of varsity experience.”

Other leading receivers from 2018 include Martinis, Dame, Werderber, senior Dylan Mallozzi, and juniors Ian Hansen, Preston Zandier and Jack Konick.

The Jaguars’ returning players on defense include Danielson on the line; Martinis, Dame, Werderber and junior Trevor Barrett at linebacker; with Deabner, Stump, Mallozzi and junior DeRon VanBibber in the secondary.

Werderber and Martinis led the team in tackles a year ago.

“Our defense has a lot of experience coming back, and I believe we’ve grown a lot on that side of the ball,” Stump said. “Overall, we have a lot of strengths going into this season, but a lot of work needs to be done to get to where we want to be.”

There were 17 sophomores and 22 freshmen on last year’s squad, providing depth at many positions.

“Our team lost a couple key players, but we have filled the spots nicely,” Martinis said. “Every season, we come in having the same expectations: win the section, win the WPIAL, win the state.

“And this season, we have every tool to do that. We always have a strong defense and a strong run game, but this season our passing game will definitely be another strength.”

Schedule

Coach: Bill Cherpak

2018 record: 11-1, 7-0

All-time record: 455-202-7

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, Canon-McMillan, 7:30

8.30, at Ringgold*, 7

9.6, Belle Vernon*, 7:30

9.13, at Indiana*, 7

9.20, at Trinity*, 7

9.27, Connellsville, 7:30

10.4, at Central Valley, 7

10.11, Laurel Highlands*, 7:30

10.18, at Greensburg Salem*, 7

10.25, West Mifflin*, 7:30

*Class 4A Big 8 Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Shane Stump

89-154, 1,833 yards, 24 TDs

Receiving: Dan Deabner

59-1,365 yards, 19 TDs

Rushing: Max Shaw*

214-1971 yards, 35 TDs

*Graduated

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