Thomas Jefferson ready to rebound after unexpected 'bad' year
It's not like Thomas Jefferson didn't win its sixth conference title or 11th since the turn of the century.
And it's not like Jaguars didn't qualify for the postseason for the 17th consecutive season under Bill Cherpak.
But expectations are different if you play for Thomas Jefferson.
A gut-wrenching loss to rival West Mifflin that snapped a 37-game conference winning streak followed by their earliest exit from the playoffs since 1997 two weeks later culminated Thomas Jefferson's first four-loss season in 12 years.
“I don't think there is any way to sugarcoat it, especially the way we view ourselves: We had a down year and there is no way of hiding that,” said Cherpak, who has a 181-35 career record. “We expect more from ourselves than what we showed last year. It was really unacceptable.”
More than the losses and the 37-game conference winning streak being snapped, Cherpak was most upset with how his team dealt with the big-time games.
“You are the top game on every team's schedule,” Cherpak said. “They have to realize that's the way it's going to be if you want to be one of the top teams. You have to be able to play with that. We couldn't play with that last year.”
While Thomas Jefferson won't come near touching the talent level of their glory years of four WPIAL titles and three state titles in five years from 2004-08, Cherpak feels that he has a nice mix of good football players and role players to be highly successful in Class AAA.
“We don't have any Division I players,” Cherpak said. “We didn't have any last year. We need to find ways to be successful with the kids who are more of role players in terms of them being really good in what they do. The big-time players aren't the one who win you championships.”
Senior Joe Carroll will take over at quarterback for the graduated Dom Presto. While Carroll doesn't have the elusiveness of Presto, he makes up for it with his arm strength.
“He is more of a drop-back, strong-arm passer,” Cherpak said. “He has cannon for an arm and has good size. He looks like your prototypical quarterback.”
Carroll will have a stable of receivers to throw to, led by Zach Schademan, who caught 49 passes and eight touchdowns last year. Jacob Mascaro and Colton Booher also return.
“We have a lot of good, young players who could do well for us,” Cherpak said. “We are going to have really quality receivers and will be able to throw. I feel that we will have a pretty balanced team.”
Cherpak plans to replace 1,300-yard rusher Ryan Ruffing with Byron Minous, who rushed for 117 yards for 19 carries last year.
But what Cherpak is most excited for is the offensive line, led by three-year starting center Pat Hall and bookend tackles Matt Nagy and Cole Costy.
“I really expect a lot of good things from our line,” Cherpak said. “I think that really hurt us last year. We were so depleted and all our good linemen were so young, but now they are ready to play. We are going to have good players, good size and our line should be really good.”
On defense, Cherpak will center his unit around a pair of young inside linebackers in junior Austin Boyd and sophomore Austin Kemp, both of whom lettered last year.
“Those two are very good players,” Cherpak said. “I think we have a chance to be good this year.”