Thomas Jefferson’s Cherpak named Daily News Coach of Year
In 20 seasons as football coach at Thomas Jefferson, his teams had never lost consecutive games. The Jaguars, in September, were beaten at home for the first time in 12 years.
It was during that modest two-game losing streak in his 21st season on the TJ sideline that Bill Cherpak didn’t panic.
And neither did anyone else associated with the program, one that had won four WPIAL titles and three PIAA crowns under his reign.
Make that five WPIAL championships, with TJ finishing the year with an 11-3 record, earning Cherpak the 2015 Daily News High School Football Coach of the Year Award.
“It was one of the most enjoyable seasons for me,” he said. “Just seeing the kids grow, when it started out 0-2 there. I’ve got to give the kids and the assistant coaches all the credit for working through it to do the things we needed to do to get better.”
Cherpak, who in 1995 took over at TJ and established it as consistently one of the most respected programs in Class AAA, watched his latest team rally from an 0-2 start and race to the PIAA quarterfinals.
Along the way, Thomas Jefferson knocked off defending Class AAA champion Central Valley, 20-7, at Heinz Field to win another WPIAL crown.
“The biggest thing was everybody took it upon themselves to do something better to help the team,” Cherpak said. “It just became everybody’s mission. The seniors were the leaders. I kind of backed off and let them take ownership. We had great team chemistry.”
A season with so much success didn’t start out that way. Thomas Jefferson dropped its first two games by a touchdown — at Ringgold, 27-20, and at home against Belle Vernon, 31-24.
Then the lights came on.
“It was weird how things progressed the way they did,” Cherpak said. “We didn’t have any vocal screaming matches. Our veterans — guys like Braden Pahanish and Adam Staudt — showed great leadership. Brayden Stoval stepped in at defensive tackle and played great. He’d never played there before in his life. We had subs everywhere, and they played awesome.”
The Jaguars, who were hit with a number of key injuries early — quarterback Bobby Kelley and tight end Jake Giegerich among them — began to roll, starting with a 40-14 rout at Laurel Highlands.
“When we were 0-2, we gathered as a team and had a good team meeting,” Cherpak said. “Each kid stood up and talked, and each coach stood up, too. Everyone talked about what we need to do. We said, ‘We’re starting over. We need to go on a seven-game run.’ We went into Laurel Highlands and didn’t play particularly well until the fourth quarter, and we ended up blowing them out.”
From there, Thomas Jefferson registered four shutouts and outscored its opponents during the final six regular-season games 259-27. The Jaguars added a 14-0 shutout of West Allegheny in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Their season ended with a 28-21 loss to Erie Cathedral Prep in the PIAA quarterfinals.
“We knew coming into the season that we could be a pretty good team,” Cherpak said. “We only had two starters returning on both sides of the ball, so we needed to gel. Our coaching staff was really awesome. It just made it so much easier for me to oversee. I just kind of managed things. It was fun. The practices were fun. The kids had fun.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.