Thomas Jefferson football notebook: Dynamic seniors lead receiving corps

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Sunday, September 27, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Seniors Preston Zandier, a Youngstown State commit, and Ian Hansen, along with Rex Miller and Shultz Reinhart and junior McClain Flinn, lead the Thomas Jefferson receiving corps this season.

The 5-foot-7, 163-pound Hansen reeled in eight receptions for 195 yards and two scores against Trinity in Week 2 in a 51-14 conference victory. Through two games, he led the team in scoring with four touchdowns.

“We can never be satisfied at any point,” Hansen said. “No matter how good we are looked at, there is always room for improvement. Everyone works hard at practice and that’s all you can ask for. This season should result in something special again and I’m very excited for these next few weeks.”

Zander, meanwhile, had three touchdowns, including a 48-yard punt return, against the Hillers.

Here are some other notes on Thomas Jefferson’s thriving football program:

• Senior QB Jake Pugh basked in the spotlight in his varsity debut under center for TJ, tossing five touchdown passes in a 52-0 conference win at West Mifflin. Pugh (5-9, 160) has inherited the signal-calling job from former three-year starter and four-year letterman Shane Stump.

Through two games, Pugh had nine TD passes to rank among the top quarterbacks in the WPIAL.

• Stump is a freshman defensive back at Duquesne, where he has joined TJ graduate Jon Muehlbauer, a senior DB, in the football program.

Last year, Stump shattered team records for yards passing in a season (2,664), career passing yards (6,105) and career touchdown passes (84). Based on available records, he is believed to have broken three others: career pass completions (303), career pass attempts (556) and fewest interceptions in a season (1).

Stump broke the career passing record set by Pete Winovich (4,421 yards) and the mark for career touchdown passes shared by Winovich and Tyler Wehner (44). Stump’s uncle, Dave Roberts, played football at Youngstown State and for the Philadelphia Eagles.

• Zandier’s older brother Zane is an all-conference senior inside linebacker at Virginia.

• The quarterback position on this year’s team is represented neatly by all four classes with Pugh, junior Joey Lekse, sophomore Cody Karcher and freshman Brody Evans.

• Despite the covid-19 pandemic, there are 71 players on the football team this season.

“Covid obviously has had its ways of making practice different,” Hansen said, “such as always having your mask on if you don’t have your helmet on or limiting the amount of kids in one area. But that doesn’t change the way we work at practice. Everything we do at practice is pretty much the same as in previous years, but we always have to be aware of the things we have to do.”

• There must be something in the water at TJ, as the Jaguars annually churn out huge players in the trenches. This year is no different.

The starters on the offensive line are senior center Nick Trainor (6-0, 200), senior guards Jake Krawczyk (6-4, 255) and Alby Breisinger (6-2, 250) and junior tackles Nick Bryan (6-3, 250) and Owen Myer (6-0, 250).

Other strapping linemen include seniors Seth Lieberum (6-3, 228) and Ethan Dunsey (6-6, 268), who was injured in preseason camp; junior Luke Regna (5-10, 237); and sophomores Peyton Krueger (6-2, 305), Josh Hynes (6-5, 290), Brenden Fulmer (6-0, 258) and Nick Florian (6-0, 247). Freshman Aiden Dunsey (6-2, 242) also is in the mix.

“I always pay special attention to the offensive line,” said Bill Cherpak, TJ’s hall-of-fame coach and a former lineman at Steel Valley and Pitt. “If you can control the line of scrimmage, you have a great chance of being successful. We have a lot of new starters (this year) and need to get better at all positions.”

TJ’s defensive line is anchored by Krawczyk and Lieberum at tackle, with senior Jack Konick (6-0, 190) and sophomore Jordan Mayer (6-4, 227) at end.

• Cherpak, 53, began his 26th season in 2020 as TJ’s all-time winningest football coach with a 274-46 career record. The Jaguars have been conference champion 21 times, including 17 this millennium, since Cherpak’s first season in 1995.

TJ has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs 25 consecutive years, or every season that Cherpak has coached. The TJ gridders have advanced at least to the WPIAL semifinals 21 times in the past 22 years.

The Jaguars are 61-7 over the past five seasons.

• Over the past 15 seasons, the Jaguars are 15-0 versus Trinity in conference action and have outscored the Hillers by a 595-83 margin.

• Thomas Jefferson won 85 of 86 decisions — with 34 shutouts — on its home turf from 2004-19. TJ was 5-0 at home in 2016 and racked up a 252-0 scoring margin. They were 6-0 with five shutouts at TJ Stadium in 2007, outscoring the opposition 239-3.

Last season, TJ was 6-0 at home and logged a 311-31 scoring difference.

TJ posted 57 consecutive home wins from Oct. 22, 2004, to Oct. 31, 2014.

• The Jaguars brought a 28-game winning streak at TJ Stadium into the current season.

Prior to 2020, the Jaguars also had won 103 of 107 conference games since 2005 and 125 of 130 since ’01, won or shared 12 conference titles since 2006, had six undefeated regular seasons in eight years and crafted a 233-31 overall record since 2000.

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