Thomas Jefferson senior starring in football, soccer
There was one reason, and one reason alone, why Thomas Jefferson football coach Bill Cherpak was willing to play Peters Township this past Friday on only three days’ rest:
Evan Browne had a soccer game on Saturday.
The 6-foot, 170-pound senior is playing for the Jaguars’ football and soccer teams, which both have WPIAL championship aspirations.
Browne’s not just another soccer player who serves as the football team’s place kicker. He is the leading scorer in football, a deep threat at wide receiver and a dead-eye kicker and punter. In soccer, the center-midfielder is tied for the team lead in goals.
“A lot of people are surprised a soccer player can go out and play football,” Browne said. “I guess all those years of playing in the backyard paid off.”
Cherpak points to TJ’s lone loss – to Blackhawk on Sept. 3, when Browne was too dehydrated to play after a soccer game – as an example of Browne’s value to the Jaguars. After practicing all week to punt away from Jeremy Bruce, the Blackhawk star returned the first one for a touchdown in the 21-14 loss.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Cherpak said. “He’s a big part of our team. It’s amazing what he brings. Our kids know how good he is. They respect him and they know how much better he makes our team.”
Cherpak and TJ soccer coach Michael “Doc” Kulish have an amicable agreement to share Browne, who splits practices and games between the teams. This isn’t the first time a TJ player has done both. Browne’s brother, Jon, starred in soccer and as a kicker in 2002.
“Cherp and Doc have been great about it,” Browne said. “The coaches are what make this possible.”
Browne kicked and punted for TJ last season, but decided to play receiver this year after fooling around with the Jaguars during conditioning drills. A legitimate deep-ball threat, he has 11 receptions for 361 yards – 32.8 per catch – and five touchdowns from an average of 47.4 yards in four games.
Browne is as dangerous kicking the ball as he is catching it, booting eight of 28 kickoffs for touchbacks, averaging 41.1 yards per punt, making 20-of-20 point-after attempts and 4-of-4 field goals, with a long of 32 yards.
“Any time we’re down there,” Cherpak said of the red zone, “I know we can get at least three points.”
The past two weeks – when Browne played in 10 games – have tested both his will and his endurance. Last week, because of Hurricane Ivan, he sandwiched football games on Monday and Friday around soccer games on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“It definitely beats the body down,” Browne said. “I’m in the ice bath all the time, trying to get my legs under me because they do get beat down.”
Kulish said his only concern was whether Browne could keep up his grades – Browne has a 3.8 grade-point average and has scored 1,040 on the SAT.
Cherpak said Browne “plays soccer like a football player now,” and believes Browne is a Division I prospect in both sports. Browne is already receiving soccer interest from Dayton, Duquesne and Lafayette.
“I’ll probably just concentrate on one for college,” Browne said, “but if I get an offer for football, I’ll definitely take that into consideration.”
Now, Cherpak and Kulish are working together to keep Browne fresh, knowing he could play a large role in their respective teams’ success.
The WPIAL Class AAA runner-up football team is 4-1 (3-0 in the Big Seven Conference) and ranked No. 3 by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The defending WPIAL Class AA champion and PIAA runner-up soccer team is 7-4-1 and ranked No. 3 entering tonight’s game at No. 1 Moon.
“He’s truly an amazing athlete,” Kulish said. “He’s so strong in his upper body and lower extremities that he’s avoided a lot of injuries. A lot of kids could never keep up that schedule because it’s so demanding.”
Making his point
Thomas Jefferson’s Evan Browne is one of the WPIAL’s top scorers in football and soccer. Here is a look at his statistics in both sports: