Thomas Jefferson football players prepare for collegiate future

Friday, February 23, 2018 | 11:48 PM

Two senior football players at Thomas Jefferson are crossing the border to Ohio to continue their careers in college.

Justin Vigna has committed to Walsh, located in Canton, and Nick Urbanowicz has signed with John Carroll, which is in University Heights, a suburb of Cleveland.

Vigna, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound running back, said Walsh was an early favorite for him.

“Out of all the schools that gave me offers, Walsh was definitely on top of the list from the beginning,” Vigna said. “They made me feel like part of the family as soon as I went up on my first visit. They have a great athletics program, and they're really gonna work (with) me to get me on the field and I love that kind of competition.

“Also, after I received my offer, Logan Pfrogner from Belle Vernon, another recruit that committed to Walsh, reached out to me. He gave me a handful of information about Walsh, and with him playing on the team really got me thinking about the things we could bring to the league.”

John Fankhauser was hired recently as head coach at Walsh, which added 35 recruits to the program, including four from Pennsylvania.

“Our staff filled our needs with a very talented group of student-athletes,” Fankhauser said. “We also believe that these young men have great character. We feel these recruits will ultimately do well in the classroom. I welcome them into the Cavalier football family, and look forward to getting them on campus.”

Vigna, who plans to major in business with a concentration in sport business, is looking forward to growing into a starting role with the Cavaliers.

“I'm gonna have to gain a pretty good bit of weight before camp,” he said, “but I'm hoping to be on special teams and see where I can go from there. The coaches know I am determined to have playing time and how much I (will) work to make sure it happens; that's one reason why they recruited me. They're aware of my talents and what I can bring to the table.”

Vigna also considered attending other out-of-state schools such as Tiffin (Ohio), Wheeling Jesuit (W.Va.), West Virginia Wesleyan. Charleston (S.C.), Culver-Stockton (Mo.), Mayville (N.D.) and Cumberlands (Ky.).

Urbanowicz, a 6-3, 205-pound wide receiver/defensive back, had 14 receptions for 199 yards and two touchdowns in 2017, and defensively led the team in interceptions with four. He was recruited to play safety.

“I chose John Carroll because every one on the team treated me like I was a part of their family,” Urbanowicz said. “When I first visited the campus, I just had this feeling that I could see myself here for the next four years.”

Urbanowicz, who also plays volleyball at TJ, narrowed his college options down to John Carroll, Marietta and Mount Union before choosing the Blue Streaks. He plans to major in accounting.

“I expect my freshman year to be a developing year,” he said, “then I think from there on I will be working in the with starters, or even be a starter.”

Urbanowicz and Vigna were all-conference selections on defense and offense, respectively, last season.

Fellow TJ seniors Garret Fairman and Logan Burnsworth committed to Robert Morris and Cal (Pa.), while Devin Danielson and Noah Palmer previously signed letters of intent with Pitt.

Fairman, a 6-2, 185-pound wide receiver/defensive back and a three-sport standout, was recruited to play safety by the Colonials.

“I thought (RMU) was the best fit for me,” Fairman said. “The new coaching staff is changing the culture of that program in the right direction, and I really wanted to be part of it.”

RMU's first-year coach Bernard Clark added eight players to his first recruiting class on national signing day.

“We feel good about this class as a whole. We got some positions we thought we needed to fill based on conversations with guys that we kept here,” Clark said. “We were able to fill in some of our needs. Still have a few things that we need to look at, but we're not rushing in to sign guys. We want to make sure to sign the right guys and not just signing players.”

Fairman, an all-conference selection on offense and defense, recently was named to play in the PSFCA East-West all-star game to be held in May at Altoona's Mansion Park Stadium.

He plans to major in accounting in college.

“Mostly because of Mrs. (Sherry) Meucci, who is my accounting teacher,” he said.

Vigna and Fairman were two of TJ's headliners on offense in 2017, helping spark the Jaguars to their third consecutive WPIAL championship.

A first-team Class 4A all-state selection at the “athlete” position, Vigna accounted for more than 2,000 yards in total offense, rushing for 1,912 yards and 23 touchdowns, and tacking on four catches for 119 yards and one score.

He led the team in scoring with 144 points. Next in line was Fairman, with 14 touchdowns including two via punt returns, good for 84 points.

“Walsh recruited me to play running back,” Vigna said. “They think my speed and quickness can really run well with their offense, but that's gonna have to take a lot more work to actually meet the requirements for the position. I know I'm small in my size, but I'm 100 percent positive I will gain all the weight I can for the spot and make it happen.”

Fairman, who also considered going to Mercyhurst, led TJ in receiving last season with 51 receptions for 948 yards and 11 scores. He averaged 18.6 yards per catch, with his longest reception covering 78 yards.

He currently is preparing for the Jaguars baseball season. TJ's baseball team advanced to the WPIAL playoffs last year and finished 11-9 overall.

“Our baseball team has a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Fairman said. “We lost a ton of starters (from last year), so we need people to step up. I believe we have the right players that will come in and become leaders.”

Burnsworth was presented with the coveted Breisinger Award at the Jaguars' annual football banquet held recently at the Georgetown Centre in Pleasant Hills.

Burnsworth, a 6-3, 215-pound offensive guard/defensive end, was an all-conference selection on defense last season.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.


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