No surprise: TJ picked to win Big 7
By Mike Kovak, Staff writer
BELLE VERNON - There's only one way for the football teams at Ringgold and Trinity to win a Big Seven Conference championship.
Unfortunately for the Rams and Hillers, beating Thomas Jefferson is more easily said than accomplished.
Since the 2000 season, Thomas Jefferson is a healthy 97-13, a hard-to-believe .882 winning percentage. Plus, the Jaguars have won three WPIAL championship and two state titles during the past five years.
Within the confines of the Class AAA Big Seven, beating Thomas Jefferson has proven more difficult. The Jaguars have lost one conference game - the 2005 regular season finale against West Mifflin - since 2002. Starting at the beginning of this decade, Thomas Jefferson is 45-3 in conference play.
"In my opinion, the best team in the state is on our conference," Elizabeth Forward coach Garry Cathell said Thursday during the first Big Seven Football Conference Media Day at Cedarbrook Golf Club. "That's a big bull's eye but that also brings a lot of credibility to our conference."
As part of media day, conference coaches voted on a preseaon poll in addition to naming players to watch.
Not surprisingly, Thomas Jefferson topped the list.
"If they lose a game a federal investigation should be conducted," Trinity coach Ed Dalton joked.
Trinity and Dalton hopes the 2008 season is the one in which the Hillers finally challenge Thomas Jefferson for conference supremacy.
Coaches voted Trinity second, but Dalton is replacing the majority of his offensive starters including Division I talents Andrew Sweat (Ohio State), Mike Yancich (Penn State) and Brandon Weaver (Ohio).
Thomas Jefferson beat Trinity, 35-14, a year ago en route to a 16-0 record and the state championship. The score may look a little lopsided, but at yesterday's gathering there was growing sentiment that Trinity and Chartiers Valley were among Class AAA's best in 2007.
"I don't think the team (Garnet Valley) we played in the state championship game would have finished in the top four in our conference," Jaguars coach Bill Cherpak said.
Cathell went as far as to call Chartiers Valley and Trinity the second and third best teams in Pennsylvania.
The emergence of Trinity and Chartiers Valley has added depth to the tradition-rich conference, which was bolstered this year with the additions of Belle Vernon and Ringgold. The Leopards and Rams were WPIAL playoff teams a year ago.
Thomas Jefferson's success, the emergence of others and the addition of tradition rivals - which makes the Big Seven geographically convenient for all involved - were reasons Ringgold athletic director Lloyd Price organized the event.
Similar to college conference media days in structure and format, the Big Seven Media Day not only eliminated some of those harassing preseason phone calls from sports writers, it gave coaches and opportunity to talk about their teams and players.
"We hope to expand this next year, maybe brings players here for headshots and interviews," Price said. "We plan on doing an entire media guide and making this an annual event."
The possibility exists other WPIAL conference may follow.
"We'll learn from this one and we'll learn if it was a success if we see eight or nine different conferences doing it next year," Dalton said.
One thing other conference don't have to deal with is devising a plan to derail Thomas Jefferson.
"I've been fortunate in my coaching career to play the No. 1 team. It's always an honor to play the No. 1 team," Ringgold coach Jeff Petrucci said. "If you want your kids to be competitive, you've got to play the best. ... It's great for our conference. We want the No. 1 team in our conference."
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