Gorman: Semi-tough loss for TJ's Winovich
Chase Winovich has idolized his older brother, Peter, since he read stories to Chase's first-grade class while wearing his Thomas Jefferson game jersey.
Peter was the star quarterback and linebacker for the Jaguars in 2003, when they snapped their five-year streak of losing in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals.
TJ lost to Neil Walker and Pine-Richland in the WPIAL final, but it was the first of six straight trips to Heinz Field for the Jaguars, who won four WPIAL and three PIAA titles.
“He was my hero, my inspiration for playing football,” Chase said of Peter, who is 10 years older. “I can finish what he started. They broke the jinx where they couldn't make it to Heinz Field for so many years. He got them past that jinx. The following year they won the state championship, and the rest is history. I'm looking to add to that history.”
History had repeated itself at TJ the past five years as the Jaguars haven't been to a WPIAL final since '08. Their string of 13 consecutive semifinal trips was stopped by Knoch in 2011, and they lost to eventual champion West Allegheny in the semifinals last year.
Ten years to the day that Peter's team broke the jinx, TJ placed its championship hopes on the broad shoulders of Chase, who understood the stakes of the WPIAL semifinals.
“Chase grew up seeing the expectations, knowing what Peter had to live up to, so for him that was just second nature,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “He knew that he had to step in and not fill Peter's shoes but work to be successful — and he's done that. He's made a name for himself.”
The last thing Peter Winovich wanted was for his brother to continue to try to live up to the comparisons.
“It's Chase's own destiny,” said Peter, who played at Bowling Green and now works as a financial advisor for a sports management firm in Toledo, Ohio. “I'm just fortunate enough to be his brother. I drive back four hours every weekend to see him play. It's exciting to see him grow up from our waterboy into a man.
“He always talks about how he wants to prove it for himself and leave his stamp on TJ history.”
Chase, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound Michigan recruit, has done that by playing quarterback, tailback and linebacker for the Jaguars. He has been one of the most dominant players in Western Pennsylvania this season and will go down as one of TJ's all-time greats.
Given the school has produced NFL players like Tyler Reed, Dom DeCicco and Lucas Nix, as well as a handful of Division I players since 2000, that's good company.
Winovich came into his own last season after Cherpak switched him from safety to linebacker to take advantage of his aggressive nature.
Thanks to the tutoring of DeCicco, a former Pitt star who played middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears, and defensive coordinator Jack Giran, Winovich turned into a terror.
“Chase Winovich is one of your throwback guys, without question,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “I can't recall, since I've been here, where we've had one guy we've really, really had to (prepare for). Maybe (Rushel) Shell, but he was just an offensive guy.”
Winovich was involved in tackles on three of Central Valley's first five plays, setting the tone by driving Jordan Whitehead back 13 yards on a toss sweep for what was ruled a 4-yard loss.
“If you watch him play, you don't realize he's only been playing linebacker for a little over a year by how good he is, how fast he is — his closing speed is as good as I've seen in high school football — and he just has great instincts,” Cherpak said. “To move him up made all the difference in the world for us as a defense.”
Winovich also played a starring role on offense. In the season finale at West Mifflin, he took direct snaps at quarterback and rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns. Against Highlands last week, he played tailback and ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns.
“Wherever they put me, whether it's defensive end, waterboy, safety or linebacker, I've just got to find a way where I can contribute for the team,” said Winovich, who carried the ball on 17 of TJ's 24 first-half plays for 91 yards.
“All Chase wants to do is win,” Cherpak said. “People may think he's out for the accolades but the only thing that's important to Chase is winning — and he'll do whatever we ask of him.
“If he doesn't make plays, we can't win. That's just the way it is. He's our best weapon on offense and our best defender on defense. Can he do it by himself? No, but we need him to have a big game to have a chance to win.”
Perhaps TJ was asking too much.
Despite battling the flu, Winovich ran for 139 yards and a touchdown and completed a 19-yard pass. But the Jaguars had no answer for Whitehead or quarterback John George in a 23-13 loss to Central Valley on Friday night.
Chase certainly left his stamp at Thomas Jefferson. Sadly, it just won't include a game at Heinz Field.