Under the direction of Bill Cherpak, Thomas Jefferson High School has become a powerhouse program that has produced two of the best offensive linemen in recent WPIAL history in Tyler Reed and, now, Lucas Nix.
Although both ranked among the most heavily recruited players in the country entering their senior seasons, there is little comparison between them otherwise.
Reed was a 6-foot-4, 315-pound man-child, thick and powerfully built, who bench-pressed 415 pounds; Nix has a 6-6 1/2, 298-pound frame that could easily carry 30 or more pounds, and bench-presses 315. Reed projected as an interior lineman; Nix is a prototypical left tackle. Reed chose Penn State, while Nix is picking Pitt.
“They’re different kind of players. Tyler was massive, a steamroller type; Lucas is more the agile type,” Cherpak said. “Tyler was a guard, Lucas is a tackle. Tyler’s just so good right now. I think Luke can get to that point, if he keeps getting better.”
A former Pitt offensive lineman, Cherpak made no secret of his desire for Reed to play for the Panthers, yet didn’t interfere (even though he was personally stung) when his prized protégé instead chose to play for Penn State.
TJ has since sent linebacker Nate Nix (Lucas’ brother) and safety Dom DeCicco to Pitt, as well as former walk-on Keith Malley. Nix said Cherpak played a role in his decision to pick Pitt, but not in a way you might expect.
“Cherp, I wouldn’t say he influences you a lot,” Nix said, “but I see that he graduated from Pitt and all the connections he has and it got me thinking a little bit.”
Although it might appear that Cherpak hand-delivered one more of his stars to his alma mater, there were several other factors in Nix’s decision to pick Pitt.
One is that Nate Nix is a redshirt freshman linebacker for the Panthers who can come home when he pleases. Lucas looks up to his older brother and saw first-hand the convenience of staying close to home, but said Nate never pressured him to pick Pitt.
“It was always weighing on my mind, but it wasn’t like I solely made my decision on that,” Nix said. “The bond me and my brother have, it’s a lot closer since he went to Pitt. He never told me where to go in my life. He left it up to me until he knew that’s where I wanted to go.”
Perhaps a greater influence was that Lucas developed a relationship with Bob Junko, the former defensive line coach and ace recruiter who has since moved to an administrative role for health reasons.
“It started when I was in ninth grade, when coach Junko was recruiting my brother,” Nix said. “He’s one of those guys who’s too nice to you. He really was the one who caught my attention.”
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, offensive line coach Paul Dunn and receivers coach Aubrey Hill – who lives in the West Jefferson Hills School District – teamed up to recruit Nix and made a strong impression. The coach who had perhaps the most influence and best sales pitch said very little in the process, but his work spoke volumes.
“Actually, I was still up in the air a little bit until I found out who Buddy Morris was and what he brought to the program,” Nix said of Pitt’s strength and conditioning coach, who has helped turn Nate Nix develop from 198 pounds into a 230-pounder. “Ever since Buddy got there, my brother has blown up like a balloon. He’s humungous.”
Nix is Pitt’s most celebrated offensive line recruit in maybe two decades, since the arrival of Cherpak and his line mates, which included Mark Stepnoski. With 50-plus scholarship offers and a top-30 national ranking by recruiting services, Nix had his choice of colleges.
You might be surprised at his second favorite.
“The hardest one for me to say no to was Alabama,” said Nix, noting that TJ annually attends a 7-on-7 camp in Hoover, Ala.. “Ever since we started going to that passing camp, there’s something about Southern football that’s crazy. Those people live, eat and sleep Alabama football.”
What impresses Cherpak about Nix is his tremendous potential. Many saw Reed as a once-in-a-lifetime player, but Cherpak has produced two of those types in a decade. Cherpak noted that Nix is 17, and won’t turn 18 until after his senior season, and still has plenty of room to develop.
“He’s maturing so much. He knows he has to be one of the leaders of our team and you can see him growing up physically and mentally,” Cherpak said. “I’m excited, obviously because he’s an o-lineman and I can see the potential he has. That’s the best thing he has going for him – his best football is way ahead of him. He has all the tools. Coach Wannstedt and coach Dunn know what it takes to make someone a great player.”
Cherpak should know, as he’s produced his share at TJ.