Lekse by Thomas Jefferson draws inspiration from the past

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Sunday March 27, 2022 | 11:01 a.m


Joe Lekse, this year’s Breisinger Award winner, has had his eye on the award throughout his varsity career.

He explained.

“In my four years as a football player with Thomas Jefferson, I wanted to be like every Breisinger Award winner,” said Leske, a senior quarterback/defensive back. “In my freshman year, Gabe Dominick (TE/DE) won the award. He might not have been a star player, but he excelled at all the things you can’t see from the outside. He did everything to make our team successful, preparing offense and defense for every game in training. He put 100 percent into every exercise, conditioning exercise, and exercise.”

The 5-foot-8, 175-pound leks went on.

“In my second year, Nate Werderber (FB/LB) won the award,” said Lekse. “He was a kid who was thinking about quitting after his sophomore year. Instead, he chose to work his tail off and earned a starting berth on offense and defense during his junior year.

“He was a fearless fullback and linebacker and helped lead us to a state championship in 2019. He never did any reps. He is now serving in the United States Marine Corps.

“My junior year Alby Breisinger (OL/DL) won the prize. He was an offensive lineman and helped lead our team to another state championship in 2020. He was an excellent leader and a great friend.

“Over the summer during the Covid lockdown he ran team practices for the lineman to keep them in shape and on track for the season ahead. He always put the team first and made the players around him better.”

The Breisinger Award was established at TJ in 1979 and named after former Pleasant Hills Police Officer Albert Breisinger. It is presented annually to a senior gridder for their hard work, community involvement and academic achievement.

It’s not the team MVP. It goes to whoever best embodies the “character, courage, leadership, and sacrifice shown in life and in the eternal spirit” of Albert Breisinger, whose high school football uniform number — 62 — is the only one worn by Thomas Jefferson retired.

Logan Burnsworth in 2017 became the seventh lineman since 2012 to win the award, along with Jimbo Nassida (2016), Jake Maxwell (2015), Zack Reynolds (2014), Anthony Rash (2013), Garrett Pahanish (2013), and Pat Hall ( 2012).

Lekse is the first quarterback to receive the coveted honor since Dom Presto in 2011.

“Joe is an amazing young man,” said TJ coach Bill Cherpak. “He is everything the Breisinger Award stands for. He is a great leader and a role model for all of the younger players in our program. He is a High Honor Roll student at the school with a 4.2 GPA. He does several sports. He is well loved and respected by the faculty and staff of the high school. He is a responsible and accountable young man with his priorities in the right order.”

Lekse completed 59 of 105 passes for 982 yards and 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in 2021. The Jaguars averaged 33.5 points while allowing 12.5 ppg while Lekse led the team with 20 touchdowns and 122 points and accounted for 1,644 total offensive yards.

Lekse rushed for 662 yards and 19 TDs on 142 carries with a season-best 48 yards in the season opener against Gateway.

“I ran untouched for a touchdown to the middle,” said Lekse.

Lekse finished the game with 18 tackles and four interceptions at team level (118 yards in returns). He scored two goals on interception returns by running for 30 yards in the first defensive play of the game in Week 3 against Trinity and 85 yards in Week 8 against West Mifflin.

Lekse’s peak performance came in the WPIAL quarterfinals against Hampton when he rushed for 114 yards and scored five goals with 22 carries (5.2 ypc) and recorded one interception on defense.

He also had a great game against Laurel Highlands in Week 5 of the regular season for a total of 307 offensive yards.

Lekse again scored five points (three rushes, two passes) as he hit nine of 13 passes for 205 yards and rushed for 102 yards on 12 carries (8.5 ypc).

“On the field, Joe was our rock,” said Cherpak. “He was consistent and reliable. He never missed a game and always seemed to play when we needed it most. Joe is in the final stages of his admission to the Naval Academy. He will find out in early April. Joe is exactly what anyone would want in their son.”

The athletic Lekse played no fewer than three defensive positions in 2021.

“I’ve been very flexible on defense this year,” he said. “I played free safety half the season and switched to outside linebacker/strong safety the other half. It really all depended on our defensive game plan and who we were facing.”

The Breisinger Award at TJ is given to a senior each year and is chosen solely by the players on the team. The coaches are not involved. It is awarded to a significant player who demonstrates leadership, integrity and mental strength on and off the pitch. This is the player one would choose to represent TJ Football.

“It’s an incredible feeling to win this award, knowing that my teammates voted for me and kind of looked up to me,” said Lekse. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without their constant support. They have had my back throughout the season and always believed in me.”

Lekse started out as a triathlete at TJ, but focused on football and basketball (and gave up baseball) after suffering a calf injury in the final week of basketball practice during his sophomore season. He ended up with four university letters, including three in football.

He has been a member of the National Honor Society and the Big Jag Little Cub Club for the past two years. He is also a member of the Outdoors Club at TJ.

But the biggest news for Lekse is that he is in the final stages of his application process for the US Naval Academy.

“I received a nomination from Congressman Mike Doyle in January and am now awaiting an appointment from USNA,” Lekse said. “My goal is to become a Navy Seal.

“If I’m not accepted into the Naval Academy, I applied to a list of eight universities where I would study economics.”

During Lekse’s four years, the Jaguars won two WPIAL and two PIAA championships, were WPIAL runners-up once, and WPIAL semifinalists once.

TJ won 45 of 50 games and three conference championships. The Jaguars have been 30-3 in their last four regular seasons and 15-2 in the playoffs.

“Coming from a program that expects wins and nothing less, it’s easy to look back on our season and call it a failure,” said Lekse. “Nevertheless, we did a lot of great things. We ended the season at home with 8:3 and 5:0. We started the season strong with big wins against Gateway and South Fayette and ended Hampton’s unbeaten season in the playoffs. Our team was so young and certainly lacking in experience as only a handful of players had varsity experience.

“A lot of the second graders who have moved up have the potential to be special. I have faith in my teammates that they will bounce back next year and come out of it even stronger. Although going out with a loss hurts, especially after winning states two years in a row, I’m happy with the season we’ve had and the way I’ve played in my senior year of football.”

Tags: Thomas Jefferson

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