Thomas Jefferson anticipating a balanced running, passing attack
Thomas Jefferson has qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs for 17 consecutive seasons.
But for the first time in six years, the Jaguars entered the 2011 postseason as co-conference champions, sharing the title with rival West Mifflin.
Also, for the first time since 1999, the Jaguars went into the playoffs with three regular-season losses - to Quad-A opponents Woodland Hills and Baldwin, and to the then-unheralded West Mifflin Titans.
Prior to last year, the Jaguars had advanced to the WPIAL semifinals for 13 consecutive seasons, and had won four WPIAL and three state championships in recent years.
The local squad is hoping to jump back on that fast track again in 2012.
"That is never going to be different," Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. "We've got some work to do. We are inexperienced in terms of (returning) starters, but all of them have played before this year."
Eight members of last year's team earned all-conference laurels. Four are back in 2012.
Zach Schademan, a 5-foot-11 senior wide receiver/defensive back, was a first-team all-conference selection on both offense and defense.
Schademan, who shattered a receiving record with 14 catches for 183 yards versus Knoch in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs, was the Jaguars' leading receiver in 2011 with 49 catches for 807 yards and eight touchdowns.
He broke the team record for receptions in one game held by former assistant coach Tom McCafferty, who had 11 receptions for 162 yards against Chartiers Valley back in 2003.
Schademan, the second-leading scorer (seven touchdowns) behind then-senior running back Ryan Ruffing on last year's squad, also grabbed three interceptions on defense a year ago.
Pat Hall, a 6-foot-, 230-pound senior, was a first-team all-conference pick for the Jaguars at the center position. He is a third-year varsity starter.
Two TJ players were second-team all-conference picks - Matt Nagy, a 6-2, 235-pound junior lineman; and Austin Boyd, a 5-10, 220-pound junior linebacker.
Schademan will be complemented in the receiving corps by senior Jake Mascaro, the Jaguars' second-leading receiver last year with 15 receptions for 294 yards; and senior Colton Booher, who had seven catches for 78 yards.
Mascaro became a legitimate receiving threat for the Jaguars in the second half of last season.
"All three are back at wide receiver," said Cherpak, the winningest coach in Thomas Jefferson football history.
Last season, the Jaguars' offense emerged as a two-pronged attack, led by then-senior quarterback Dom Presto and Ruffing.
Presto, a second-year starter, threw for 1,156 yards and 14 touchdowns, hitting on 65 of 134 tosses with only two interceptions.
Ruffing, a third-year starter, ran for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns on 148 carries. He averaged 7.7 yards per carry, and 126 yards per game.
The quarterback job will be manned this year by strong-armed Joe Carroll, a 6-2, 180-pound senior.
"He has a cannon for an arm," Cherpak said of Carroll. "He's a drop-back passer. We're expecting a lot from him."
Carroll has a "big-picture" focus for the Jaguars this season.
"We want to win the conference, the WPIAL and states," he said. "We have good skill players; I just want to lead the team."
Along with Carroll, new faces in the starting offensive backfield include Byron Minous, a 5-11, 180-pound junior running back, and Austin Kemp, a 5-11, 215-pound sophomore fullback.
"I think we do have some size," Cherpak said. "I think we'll be balanced on offense, running and throwning the ball."
Hall, at center, Nagy, at tackle, and Boyd, at guard, cement the offensive line, and will be joined in the trenches by junior Cole Costy (6-2, 260), at tackle, and junior Garrett Pahanish (5-10, 230), at guard.
"I've been pleased with how the line is coming along," Cherpak said. "I expect it to be much improved from last year.
"Hall is the only returning starter on the line. Boyd was hurt last year."
Costy earned a starting berth during his freshman season, but did not play football last year.
"We expect a lot out of him," Cherpak said.
Derek Toboz, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior, will man the tight end position and will be backed up by junior Luke Deanavich and sophomore Russell Siess.
Other players looking to contribute offensively in 2012 include senior Shane Lotis and junior Dalton Dietrich, at wide receiver; plus sophomore prospects Jamison Opfar and Kyle Senich, out of the backfield.
Turning to the defense, Nagy, Costy, Seiss, a 6-2, 200-pound sophomore, and Jason Inks, a 6-4, 280-pound junior, will anchor the line.
Booher, Minous, Kemp, Toboz and Boyd will rotate at the linebacking positions.
Chase Winovich, a 6-4, 200-pound junior, Schademan and Dietrich are the starters in the secondary, and will be supported by Mascaro and Lotis.
Winovich, from his safety post, was one of the leading tacklers in the team's secondary last season.
Thomas Jefferson lost 17 players to graduation from last year's squad, which shared the Big Eight Conference championship with rival West Mifflin, and ended up with a 7-4 overall record.
The Jaguars' loss at West Mifflin in the regular-season finale snapped the team's 37-game conference winning streak.
The Jaguars are competing in the Big Nine Conference in Class AAA this season, along with Albert Gallatin, Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Laurel Highlands, Ringgold, Trinity, Uniontown and West Mifflin.
The local squad will open its season Aug. 31 at home against Ringgold, followed by an away game versus Elizabeth Forward on Sept. 7.
Carroll believes Ringgold, West Mifflin, Trinty and Belle Vernon should present the biggest challenges for Thomas Jefferson in the conference.
The team's only nonconference test this year will take place in Week 3 against Hollidaysburg at home.
The Jaguars have won 40 games in a row at TJ Stadium dating back to the 2004 season, which includes eight opening-round victories in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.