Stars are everywhere in Big Nine Conference
There is never a shortage of WPIAL football star power.
This is particularly true for local teams in the Big Nine Conference, where three stars could determine the fate of their respective teams.
When Thomas Jefferson, West Mifflin and Elizabeth Forward collide this season — as always, the Titans and Jaguars will meet in the season finale — many eyes will be on three players.
TJ's Chase Winovich, EF's JaQuan Davidson and West Mifflin's Jimmy Wheeler give the conference stars worth watching.
“This conference is always terrific,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “And coaches win because of great players, and we've got all kinds of great players.”
Winovich is the latest in the long line of Division I players from Thomas Jefferson.
He will take over the quarterback duties for coach Bill Cherpak's team this season. Winovich's future, however, is rooted on the defensive side of the ball.
The senior will play linebacker for Michigan next season.
According to Cherpak, Winovich is worthy of the hype he has received.
“There is absolutely no doubt about that,” he said. “You could compare him with the best players that we've had here. And the thing about Chase is that he just works so hard to be the player that he is. He works harder than anyone in practice every day. That's what separates him.”
Cherpak believes this could be the best Jaguars team in a few years, and Winovich is a big reason for his confidence.
“He's one of those kids who can help you win so many different ways,” Cherpak said. “He's like (Tampa Bay Bucs linebacker and former TJ star Dom) DeCicco a little bit. You could literally put him at any position and you know that he's going to go out there and play well. There's only so many people who can do that.”
TJ probably would prefer if Davidson would play a position other than quarterback, because the EF senior hurt the Jaguars last season.
EF has a long history of stumbling against the Jaguars, often by laughable margins. Everything changed last season, though, when Davidson played a marvelous game against TJ.
The Jaguars held on for a 21-19 advantage, but the dynamic of the rivalry had changed because of the new quarterback on the block.
“He's really good,” Cherpak said. “He makes them a much better team, obviously. He can hurt you in a lot of ways.”
Wheeler can hurt you only one way, but he is often unstoppable.
The senior running back is one of the WPIAL's fastest players and is a classic example of a home run hitter. Wheeler, who exceeded 2,000 yards rushing during his breakout junior season, puts fear into every defense he faces.
“I might be a little worried about some areas of our team,” Braszo said. “But I know one thing. I know I don't have to worry about Jimmy. He's just a really good football player who we hope is going to have another great year. I think he can do it again.”
Elizabeth Forward is a rising program under coach Mike LeDonne, West Mifflin is always a contender under Braszo, and TJ is the standard in Class AAA football.
Although all three programs are blessed with many talented players, the stars figure to have plenty to say by season's end.
Cherpak is especially excited about the way Winovich could lead the Jaguars.
“I like that he already made his college decision,” Cherpak said. “That's the kind of thing that can really distract a football team. So that's out of the way. Now, he can just go out and play football. And that's something he does really well.”