In just a few days, Thomas Jefferson will fire up what it hopes to be yet another season that includes a long playoff run.
In preparation for that fire, though, the Jaguars have been eagerly in search of something.
“We’re just looking to see who gives us that spark,” longtime coach Bill Cherpak said.
Cherpak has had an old-fashioned quarterback battle on his hands during preseason camp. It’s an intriguing competition in that senior Brody Evans is the incumbent after throwing for nearly 2,000 yards last season, and his counterpart, junior Luke Kosko, hasn’t played since his freshman season at Seton LaSalle. Kosko, who has a pair of FBS offers, was ineligible to play last season due to PIAA transfer rules.
“They’re definitely both very good quarterbacks,” senior wide receiver-defensive back Sean Sullivan said. “It helps Brody with the experience he had last year with the team and throwing to the same receivers because we have a lot of receivers that came back this year, but it’s a good battle. Who knows who’s going to start.”
The two quarterbacks have been rotating with the first team during camp, and while the starting spot appears to still be up in the air, Cherpak said both have been doing good things and that chances are both will see action in at least the first three games of the season.
Evans (6 feet 3, 190 pounds) completed 148 of 251 passes for 1,986 yards, 19 touchdowns and 9 interceptions last season while leading Thomas Jefferson to a share of the Big Seven Conference championship and the WPIAL semifinals. Meanwhile, Cherpak said Kosko (6-4, 210) has one of the strongest arms he has coached in his 29 seasons. Kosko has scholarship offers from Marshall and Charlotte.
“They’re kind of similar but different,” said Cherpak, who has guided Thomas Jefferson to nine WPIAL and five PIAA titles. “Luke is more of a strong arm, athletic type of quarterback. He can run. He can pass. Brody is more of a guy back there dissecting the defense. Both of them have strong arms, can put the ball in tight locations and make every throw. Brody’s not as much of a runner as Luke is, but Brody knows the offense inside and out and he recognizes everything really quickly. He has a little bit of an edge mentally, but they’re both really, really good.”
Not only does Thomas Jefferson return its top passer, but the Jaguars also bring back their leading receiver and rusher. Each is a three-year starter, too. Sullivan collected 48 receptions for 922 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He averaged 19.2 yards a catch. Senior Elias Lippincott rushed for 909 yards and 10 touchdowns after rushing for 854 his sophomore season.
This season, running behind a line that features senior Michael Hutchinson and junior Shepard Turk, Lippincott said he hopes to go well beyond 1,000 yards, while Sullivan is aiming for 1,000 yards and “15 to 20 touchdowns.”
But just after the two voiced their individual goals, they quickly shifted their focus back to team goals.
“It’s all about the team,” Lippincott said.
Chimed in Sullivan, “We always want to win the WPIAL and win the state.”
Like Thomas Jefferson, McKeesport reached the WPIAL semifinals last season. The Tigers fell to Aliquippa that round, while Thomas Jefferson lost to Central Valley. All-everything running back Bobbie Boyd is now at California (Pa.), and quarterback Jahmil Perryman (Saint Francis) also graduated, so McKeesport is looking for playmakers. There is some returning talent along the lines. Senior two-way lineman Brady Boyle was named all-conference last season. Also back are senior defensive end Courtney Dunn and senior tight end-defensive end Keith Spell.
It’s a new day at Laurel Highlands, as the Mustangs no longer have star Rodney Gallagher, who is now a freshman at West Virginia. Gallagher led the Mustangs to new heights in recent seasons. And while he and Keondre DeShields (Saint Francis) are gone, coach Rich Kolesar still has some talent on his side. Senior lineman Billy Barton was an all-conference pick on defense, and the Mustangs also return junior running back-defensive back Antwan Black, who had 24 catches for 363 yards and has offers from Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia.
Latrobe is coming off a tremendous season in which it won a playoff game for the first time in 54 years. Getting another this season might not be easy considering the Wildcats graduated terrific running back Robert Fulton (1,567 yards, 20 touchdowns). However, junior quarterback-defensive back John Wetzel returns, as do junior running back-linebacker Alex Tatsch and junior running back-defensive back Brady Prohovic. Tatsch was an all-conference pick on defense last season and has offers from Connecticut and Marshall.
Trinity went 4-6 and fell just short of reaching the playoffs last season, but the Hillers bring back the majority of their starters and could push their way into the postseason this fall. Senior running back-defensive back Andrew Durig and sophomore quarterback Jonah Williamson are two of the top skill players back, and the Hillers also return senior lineman Jase Banco, an all-conference choice on offense. The Hillers have also added junior defensive lineman Semaj Fuse, a transfer from Washington with offers from Rutgers, Akron and Miami (Ohio).
Connellsville hopes to ascend in the standings following last year’s 2-8 finish. A few of the top players back for the Falcons are senior running back-linebacker Bruce Giles, senior wide receiver-defensive back Jayden McBride and senior tight end-defensive end Matthew Miller.
At 0-10, Ringgold was the only winless team in Class 4A a season ago. Expected back for the Rams are junior running back-linebacker Keyshawn Goggins and senior tackle-linebacker Zach Cheplic.
Ho-hum. Aliquippa is once again built for a WPIAL championship run. The Quips, winners of a record 19 WPIAL titles, are looking to reach the district final for a ridiculous 16th consecutive season. Coach Mike Warfield’s bunch beat rival Central Valley in last year’s final before falling to Bishop McDevitt in the PIAA title game. This season, the Quips will be led by senior linebacker Cameron Lindsey, junior running back Tikey Hayes (1,981 yards, 33 touchdowns) and senior quarterback Quentin Goode (1,935 yards, 23 touchdowns). Lindsey is a Pitt recruit, Hayes is considered one of the top junior running backs in the country, and Goode is a three-year starter. Also back is senior wide receiver-defensive back Brandon Banks, who has committed to Yale.
Of course, you can count on Central Valley being in the thick of things, as well. About a half-dozen starters return on both sides of the ball, but the Warriors must replace their top passer, rusher and receiver. Junior running back-linebacker Brandon Singleton figures to be heavily involved in the running game after rushing for 420 yards last season. Several starters return along the offensive line, among them senior Nick McCreary and junior Tyler Ondrusek. Central Valley hosts Aliquippa in the final regular-season game on Oct. 27.
Montour will be a decided underdog against both Aliquippa and Central Valley — as will every other team in the conference — but maybe a Wolfe will help spring the Spartans to a huge upset or two. Senior quarterback and three-year starter Jake Wolfe returns for the Spartans after passing for 1,473 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Both of his top targets are also back. Senior Keino Fitzpatrick had 33 catches for 358 yards and junior Daniel Batch had 26 catches for 653 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior linebacker Kaleb Platz is the top returning tackler.
West Allegheny features one of the top players in the conference in junior running back-defensive back Brock Cornell, an all-conference selection on both sides of the ball last season when the Indians finished 7-4. Cornell, son of longtime West Allegheny defensive coordinator Bryan Cornell, rushed for team highs of 772 yards and 17 touchdowns, while also collecting a team-best 96 tackles. Senior A.J. Hughes is an all-conference honoree who is back to anchor the lines along with junior Brock Stickley.
Don’t be surprised if Ambridge pushes for a playoff berth despite finishing 2-8 last season and having not qualified for the postseason since 2005. Third-year coach Sherman McBride has an experienced group that returns nine starters on both offense and defense after starting eight freshmen a season ago. Senior running back-defensive back Grant Uvodich was one of the top tacklers last season and is expected to be one of the primary ball carriers this season.
Blackhawk has been forced to adjust on the fly after hiring a new coach just a few weeks ago. Pat Feeley takes over for Zack Hayward, who resigned to become athletic director at Chartiers Valley. Feeley, a longtime assistant for the Cougars, welcomes back senior wide receiver-defensive back Dontae Campagna and senior running back-defensive back Maurice Watson-Trent. Campagna is a four-year starter and Watson-Trent led the Cougars in rushing last season.
Aaron Fitzpatrick is back for his second season as coach at Chartiers Valley. The Colts went 2-8 in his first season. Their top returnees include senior tight end-linebacker Tyler Glover, senior running back-linebacker Austin Efthimiades and senior wide receiver-defensive back Rudy Morris. Efthimiades led the Colts with 621 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
New Castle went 1-9 and didn’t win a conference game last season, so the Red Hurricanes will look for improvement under second-year coach Stacy Robinson. Senior running back-linebacker Malik Jefferson is the team’s most experienced player, as he is a four-year starter. His backfield mate, junior quarterback Kyrell Harris, also returns.
Greater Allegheny Conference
There’s a new man in charge at North Catholic. Chris Rizzo replaces Pat O’Shea, who retired after six seasons as head coach. Rizzo is a Bethel Park graduate who also hails from the Grand Canyon State. Rizzo was most recently the head coach at Ironwood High School in Glendale, Ariz., and guided the school to the state title game in 2020. O’Shea didn’t leave the cupboard of talent bare. The Trojans have one of the top juniors in the WPIAL in Brady O’Hara, a 6-foot-6 tight end-defensive end with offers from Pitt, Penn State and others. Senior running back-defensive back Jack Fennell, the team’s leading rusher, also returns.
It’s Year No. 2 at Mars for coach Eric Kasperowicz, who won four WPIAL titles and two PIAA titles at Pine-Richland. Leading the way will be a player by the same name. Kasperowicz’s son, Eric, is a junior quarterback-defensive back who threw for 1,353 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Planets also bring back senior running back-defensive Evan Wright, the team’s leading rusher with 1,333 yards and 18 touchdowns. Last year’s leading receiver, sophomore wide receiver-defensive back Gabe Hein (36 catches, 551 yards, seven touchdowns), also returns. Senior linebacker Jacob Maple led the Planets with 106 tackles.
Highlands, the conference runner-up a season ago, will be led by talented skill players Luke Bombalski and Aaran Randolph. Bombalski is a senior running back-linebacker who led the team in rushing and was an all-conference pick at linebacker. Randolph is a senior quarterback-defensive back who did most of his damage with his legs last season as he rushed for 699 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 9.9 yards per carry. Junior defensive back Montrell Johnson is another returning all-conference honoree.
Armstrong is the defending conference champion, but the River Hawks have a major void to fill due to the graduation of record-setting quarterback Cadin Olsen, who led the WPIAL in passing yardage (3,210 yards) and touchdowns (43) in 2022. The front-runner for the job appears to be sophomore Colt Sprankle. But whoever it is, they will have some terrific wide receivers at their disposal. Senior Isaiah Brown (50 catches, 890 yards), junior Ian Olsen (44 catches, 1,074 yards) and junior Kyan Kline (37 catches, 558 yards) all return.
Like Mars and Highlands, Hampton returns a player who rushed for 1,000 yards last season. Senior running back Brock Borgo ran for 1,015 yards after running for 1,090 as a sophomore. Senior lineman Gabe Gannelli is also back after earning an all-conference nod on defense.
Kiski Area aims for improvement following last year’s last-place finish in which the Cavaliers went just 1-9. Veteran coach Sam Albert returns junior quarterback Carson Heinle, a 1,000-yard passer last season, and senior wide receiver-defensive back and all-conference pick Isaiah Gonzalez.
Indiana welcomes back senior quarterback-defensive back Trevor Smith, the team leader in passing and rushing last season. Sophomore running back Levi Porter returns, as does senior wide receiver-defensive back Jimmy Mill and senior linebacker Isaac Nygren.
Players to watch
Brock Cornell, West Allegheny, 5-11, 180, RB-DB, Jr. — An all-conference choice on offense and defense, Cornell led the Indians in rushing and was also their top tackler last season.
Tikey Hayes, Aliquippa, 6-1, 200, RB, Jr. — This should be another big season for Hayes, who averaged 7.9 yards a carry on his way to 1,981 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Cameron Lindsey, Aliquippa, 6-2, 205, LB, Sr. — The Pitt recruit headlines a defense that should once again be very strong. He ranked among the team’s top tacklers a season ago.
Brady O’Hara, North Catholic, 6-6, 245, TE-DE, Jr. — In WPIAL football, they don’t come much bigger than O’Hara, a talented junior with major college offers.
Sean Sullivan, Thomas Jefferson, 6-0, 175, WR-DB, Sr. — Has led the Jaguars in receiving each of the past two seasons, totaling 79 catches and 1,469 yards in that time.