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Thomas Jefferson’s Maxwell maintains linemen’s recent tradition of success | TribLIVE.com
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Thomas Jefferson’s Maxwell maintains linemen’s recent tradition of success

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ken eber photography | for the tribune-review
Thomas Jefferson senior Jake Maxwell, center, poses with his parents after winning the Breisinger Award.

He wasn’t one of the headliners on the WPIAL Class AAA champion Thomas Jefferson football team.

Most linemen toil in anonymity, especially on offense.

But he nonetheless earned the highest respect from teammates and coaches alike.

Senior lineman Jake Maxwell — all 6 feet, 200 pounds of him — was the recipient of the prestigious Breisinger Award at the Jaguars’ postseason banquet held recently at The Willow Room in Belle Vernon.

“Jake is a great young man. He is an excellent role model for our younger players,” said Bill Cherpak, TJ’s head coach and a former lineman at Steel Valley and Pitt. “He’s an excellent student, fine person and a great teammate. He was an excellent contributor on our special teams and as a backup lineman.”

Named after former Pleasant Hills police officer Albert Breisinger, the award is presented annually to a TJ senior football player for his hard work, community involvement and academics. Each member of the team has one vote.

“Jake has always been a player who has put his best effort into every practice and workout,” said TJ assistant Pat Oster, who coaches the offensive and defensive linemen. “He is definitely a great representative of the Breisinger Award with all of his achievements on the field, and more importantly the ones off of it.”

Breisinger died in 1979 while attempting to save two children from a sinkhole.

His partner on the Pleasant Hills Police force was retired sergeant Joe Kenny, who received a special tribute at the banquet.

“The Breisinger Award is not the MVP, and it it is not picked by the coaches,” Kenny said. “It’s about team spirit, friendliness, togetherness and work ethic.”

Maxwell, who is 18 and carries a 3.0 grade-point average, plans to attend college to pursue a degree in exercise science.

“It is a huge honor to win this award, and it feels even greater to be as highly regarded as Officer Breisinger was to his friends, teammates and community,” said Maxwell, who participates with the outdoors club at Thomas Jefferson.

“Being a TJ football player to me means being a hard worker on and off the field, and means setting a good example for future generations and players.”

Maxwell is the fifth Thomas Jefferson lineman in the past four years to land the Breisinger Award.

“Jake has always been well respected by his teammates,” Oster said, “and has always led by example on the field and in the community.”

Zack Reynolds and Pat Hall won the award in 2014 and 2012, while Anthony Rash and Garrett Pahanish shared the honor in 2013.

Thomas Jefferson defeated Central Valley, 20-7, in the 2015 WPIAL Class AAA championship game at Heinz Field.

The Jaguars lost to Erie Cathedral Prep, 28-21, in the PIAA quarterfinal round to end up with an 11-3 overall record,

“For me and the coaches, it was one of the most enjoyable years we have ever had,” Cherpak said. “It was tough losing that last game up in Erie, but winning the WPIAL was what it was all about.

“The atmosphere down at Heinz Field was amazing. To see everyone down there and to see that crowd, it was an incredible experience.”

Maxwell was one of 16 seniors lauded by Cherpak at the banquet, along with Cam Dallessandro, Dylan Dietrich, Dillon Finley, Julian Metro, Peter Metro, Andrew Murdy, Jake Myers, Braden Pahanish, Lance Reaghard, Ryan Scanlon, Adam Staudt, Brayden Stoffel, Dylan Vissari, Geoffrey Wagner and Trevor Whitecap.

Cherpak interjected personal highlights about some of the players, including:

• Finley — “He did a great job in that championship game.”

• Julian Metro — “He probably was the sole reason why our defense stepped up by what he did in practice.”

• Reaghard — “He’s one of the toughest kids I think we’ve ever had.”

• Staudt — “A tough, hard-nosed fullback and linebacker.”

• Stoffel — “He probably was the key to us turning around our defense.”

Beset by early injuries and illnesses, Thomas Jefferson lost its first two games of the season before reeling off 11 consecutive victories in impressive fashion, including four in the WPIAL playoffs.

“We kind of took a reverse turn as coaches. We stepped back and let the seniors (take charge ),” Cherpak said. “The seniors stepped up and made it their team. The senior class got us back on track.”

The Jaguars compiled a 33-5 record in the three years the seniors competed at the varsity level.

Many of the juniors on the team played integral roles in TJ’s 2015 success story, and will be looking to continue the Jaguars’ winning ways next season.

The junior team members consisted of Tommy Campbell, Nick Freiwald, Jake Giegerich, Quinton Hill, Bobby Kelley, Dustin Lanning, Jon Muehlbauer, Jimbo Nassica, A.J. Putignano, Scott Ruffing, Nick Territ and Zane Zandier.

“We will be expecting a lot from the juniors as they move on to become seniors,” Cherpak said. “For the most part, they have all played and most of them have started. We should have great leadership again next year.”

The sophomore and junior classes also were recognized at the banquet for their contributions to the championship season.

There were 19 sophomores on the team, consisting of Sean Bell, Logan Burnsworth, E.J. Brueggman, Jared Collington, Matt Dadig, Devin Danielson, Spencer Everley, Garrett Fairman, Jimmy McCoy, Colton Mitchell, Jason Murin, Noah Palmer, Nathan Pearson, Shawn Radovic, Alex Ruffing, Nico Stoicoby, Nick Urbanowicz, Justin Vigna and Nathan Weir.

“These guys played an important role in our success,” Cherpak said. “They simulated opposing teams in practice.

“We’re expecting a lot from this group, to step up and play next season.”

Rounding out the squad were the freshmen, including John Adams, Sean Barrett, Jackson Conway, Justin Covelli, Joe Dolata, Gabe Dominick, Mark Fedor, Brendan Fitz, Isaiah Hansen, Mike Janosko, Andy Kalup, Jack Mich, Josh Radokovich, Dom Serapiglia, Max Shaw, Erick Singyangwe, Alex Snyder, Austin Sobeck, Alex Territ, Ridge Vlha, Zach Wagner and Alex Weber.

“Generally, we see the most growth in players from their freshman to sophomore years,” Cherpak said. “You gotta work, and be ready for the things you can control.”

The banquet was puncuated by the showing of the team’s Hollywood-style highlight film, “Back to the TJ Future,” designed and produced by football boosters Scott Breisinger and Steve Colditz.

The film reflected on the previous football titles won at Thomas Jefferson, then jumped forward to the 2015 WPIAL championship season.

The Jaguars had 11 players named all-conference in 2015. They were Danielson (C/DL), Giegerich (TE/DL), Zandier (WR/DB), Muehlbauer (WR/DB), Pahanish (RB/LB), Reaghard (OL), Dietrich (OL), Scanlon (DB), Hill (RB), Vissari (OL) and Staudt (LB).

Hill and Pahanish proved to be one of the more dynamic running back combinations in Western Pennsylvania, rushing for 2,836 yards and accounting for 39 touchdowns between them.

In four WPIAL Class AAA playoff games, Hill ran for 768 yards and six scores on 125 carries. In seven regular-season contests, he rambled for 824 yards and 18 touchdowns on 63 carries.

Pahanish averaged 12.7 yards per carry; Hill finished with an 8.1 ypc average.

Ray Fisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or rfisher@tribweb.com.

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