Thomas Jefferson football program in good hands with talented underclassmen

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Saturday, January 4, 2020 | 9:13 AM


The Thomas Jefferson football team has the toughest of acts to follow in 2020.

The Jaguars won the PIAA and WPIAL Class 4A championships en route to a perfect 16-0 record this season.

But, as always, the cupboard won’t be bare next year for TJ.

There were seven non-seniors in the starting lineup in 2019, including 5-foot-7, 155-pound junior Ian Hansen, a two-way starter at wide receiver and cornerback.

“The expectation is the same,” Hansen said. “Although we had a dominant team with some amazing seniors (in 2019), we still have the same expectation. Next year shouldn’t change. We are going to come out with the same attitude and effort to get right back to where we just were — the state championship.

“People are going to have to step up and play bigger roles, but I think our class is capable of being an amazing football team next year.”

Hansen, a two-year starter, made his presence felt as a Johnny-on-the-spot type of player throughout the 2019 postseason.

He caught 14 passes for 200 yards, including a 33-yard TD grab against Lampeter-Strasburg in the PIAA semifinals.

He also returned eight kickoffs and one punt. Among his kickoff returns was a 76-yard gallop versus Montour in the WPIAL first round.

But it was on defense where he made his biggest impact.

Hansen had eight interceptions, returning one for a score. He picked off five passes in the state playoffs alone, including two against Lampeter-Strasburg and another two against Dallas in the championship game.

Hansen played perhaps the best game of his career against Dallas with four receptions for 49 yards, two key interceptions and two unassisted tackles.

“I would either consider Dallas or Lampeter-Strasberg as my best,” Hansen said. “It’s a tough choice, but I would probably say Dallas was my best performance because it was the state championship. All I did was my job along with the rest of our team.

“And all I can really say is how proud I am to be on this team. It’s honestly the best feeling in the world. I never imagined being in this spot right now. It’s amazing how everybody in this community supports us. This is easily the best thing that has happened in my life, and I will never forget this moment.”

Hansen finished with 36 receptions, 738 yards and eight TDs this year, averaging 20.5 yards per catch, and ran five times for 27 yards and a score. He had a team-leading nine interceptions for 87 yards and two TDs, logged 34 tackles, returned 15 punts (with six fair catches), led with 17 kickoff returns covering 459 yards and ranked among the team leaders in scoring with 11 touchdowns.

Hansen undoubtedly will prove to be a go-to guy for the Jaguars next season, both offensively and defensively.

His progression from Week Zero to his recent playoff stardom suggests Hansen could put together a monster senior season.

“All I will say is there is a big difference between me last year and this year,” Hansen said.

Another two-way standout for the Jaguars in 2019 was junior Preston Zandier, a 6-1, 195-pound wide receiver/outside linebacker.

Zandier ranked among the team leaders with 25 receptions for 476 yards and four touchdowns, tackles with 44, including 32 unassisted, and interceptions with four. He averaged 19 yards per reception.

“Our performance as a team this year was close to perfection,” Zandier said. “Having a perfect record shows the time and effort we put in as a team, but our coaches deserve most of the credit. We all had a job to do, and we all executed game in and game out.”

Zandier said the 2019 season and winning the state championship provided a lifetime of memories for himself and his teammates.

“It is easily the best experience of my life so far,” he said, “and I couldn’t be happier with what we accomplished. Seeing the community’s support and raising up the trophy was truly an unforgettable moment.”

The athletic TJ junior is the brother of Zane Zandier, a 6-3, 230-pound starting inside linebacker at Virginia.

Two additional players who will be expected to anchor the offensive line in 2020 are Jake Krawczyk, a 6-4, 260 junior guard, and Nick Trainor, a 6-0, 210-pound junior center.

Juniors Jack Konick (6-0, 200) and Jake Pugh (5-9, 160) started at defensive end and safety, respectively, and sophomore Isaac Eckley (5-11, 180) started at inside linebacker.

Hansen, Krawczyk, Trainor and Konick were all-conference selections.

The Jaguars registered 27 interceptions. Five of the eight players who accounted for the INTs will be back next season: Hansen, Zandier, Pugh, junior Aiden Palmer and sophomore Joe Lekse.

“I’m excited to get back to work for next season,” Zandier said. “I think we will be just fine. A couple of us two-way starters are returning, and we have the leadership capabilities and experience to win a lot of football games.

“Cherp and the coaches always find ways to fill open spots and transform young kids into varsity players each year.”

TJ’s junior class has won 27 of its last 28 games over the past two seasons.

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