Class AAA: Senior thrives in every role for Thomas Jefferson


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Thomas Jefferson’s official roster lists Chase Winovich at 6 feet 4, 220 pounds. His profile on national recruiting websites explains that the highly touted senior has committed to play linebacker at Michigan next season.

While accurate, it presents a narrow picture of Winovich and his role with the Jaguars. His role? Do nearly everything possible for his team to win.

Already considered one of the top 40 linebackers in the country, Winovich has become a two-way threat this season, helping his team to an 11-0 record and a spot in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals Friday night against Central Valley.

“The thing about Chase is he wants the ball in his hands,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “He wants to be the one you rely on, he wants the game in his hands.

“We expect this from him, and he expects it from himself. He’s a special, special player.”

Some top prospects stick to one position, but Winovich began the season as the starting quarterback before moving to running back. Since that positions switch, he has rushed for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns.

As the season progressed, he got better, rushing for 507 yards in the past three games, including two in the WPIAL playoffs.

The prized linebacking recruit also has made a considerable impact on the Jaguars defense, which has allowed 6.4 points per game this season and only once yielded 20 or more points.

Such production has paved the way for a team that has been dominant nearly all season. Thomas Jefferson has won by an average of 34.5 points and only one team has come within 10 points of the Jaguars — Highlands, a 23-14 final in the WPIAL quarterfinals last week.

That likely will change against the Warriors, a 10-1 team that also has a stout defense (6.7 points per game) and its own two-way star in running back/defensive back Jordan Whitehead. But as long as Cherpak — who is often hailed as a brilliant offensive mind — has Winovich, he feels fine about his team’s chances.

“I’m not a genius because Chase is carrying the ball,” Cherpak said. “Anyone with common sense knows he can make plays.”

Teams similar

Last season, West Allegheny, parlayed its deep roster with a wildcat-based rushing offense and a stingy defense to win a WPIAL championship. This season, Franklin Regional has done the same thing, a strategy that has brought it a game away from Heinz Field.

Both Indians coach Bob Palko and Panthers coach Greg Botta have noticed the similarities that bond these teams..

Each team is among the Class AAA leaders in scoring defense, holding opponents to fewer than 10 points per game, and both feature a balanced running attack. Both have four players that have rushed for at least 200 yards this season.

After Friday night, though, only one team will remain standing.

“They’re a team that plays almost flawless football,” Botta said of West Allegheny.


Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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