TJ boys hoops getting lift from football team
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Dom DeCicco knows Thomas Jefferson always has been looked at as a football school first, and the eighth-year coach is OK with that.
That's because that's the way he views it, too.
And if playing second fiddle to the school's 22 conference championships, five WPIAL and three PIAA Class AAA titles means reaping the rewards that come along with it, then so be it.
And those rewards have been quite evident this season during Thomas Jefferson's meteoric, albeit under-the-radar, rise in Triple-A.
Joe Carroll, Chase Winovich and Zach Schademan — all main contributors to Thomas Jefferson's 11-1 football team this past fall — have propelled the Jaguars (11-5, 7-0) to the top of the Section 4-AAA standings and a No. 5 ranking heading into the final weeks of the season.
“We always say that we are a football team in tank tops out there,” DeCicco said. “I guess there is nothing wrong with that.”
Especially when those football players are as athletic as the ones who play basketball during their free time.
“These kids are so dedicated that all spring and summer they will go to (football coach Bill Cherpak's) torture workouts, then come here for open gym,” said DeCicco, who has a 141-73 career record. “The impressive thing is that those kids' future is in football, not basketball.”
The stats suggest just that.
• Carroll threw for 38 touchdowns and more than 2,400 yards for the Big 9 Conference champion and WPIAL semifinalist. He leads the basketball team at 17.1 points per game.
• Winovich led the football team in tackles and sacks. He is the basketball team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer (12.5 ppg).
• Schademan caught 52 passes for more than 1,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. He is the point guard and shut-down defender on the basketball team.
Throw in receiver Zach Talley and two-sport star Eric Fairman (baseball), and it is safe to say basketball isn't the main focus for the majority of DeCicco's team.
Thomas Jefferson, which also has basketball-only players such as Jason Horan and Adam Miller, plays about 30-35 games in two summer leagues. It is a balancing act for some of the two-sport athletes.
“I'll go lift for football, then go right to basketball to shoot,” Winovich said. “It is pretty taxing but when you are walking off the court after beating West Mifflin, it is quite rewarding. We just love the competition. That's why we play.”
Thomas Jefferson has won 11 of the past 13 games, including a come-from-behind victory at Steel Valley and a win over rival West Mifflin. TJ started the season 0-2 with blowout losses to Bethel Park and Butler.
“It took about three games into the season before we started to click,” Carroll said. “It takes that long to get that speed coming over from football to basketball season.”
The Jaguars clinched a playoff spot with a win over East Allegheny on Tuesday, but they have yet to make many believe that TJ can compete with big boys of Class AAA.
“Our motto is ‘Beware of the dog that doesn't bark,' ” Winovich said. “We just go out there and do what we have to do. We can't control what other teams think about us, but if the team that I know we can be shows up, we can't be stopped.”
DeCicco knows it is going to take more than just the football players to be successful in the playoffs.
“The key for us is our bench,” he said. “That's the key. If we can get contributions from the others, we are a tough team to beat.”
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