Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chase Winovich Leading Thomas Jefferson to Undefeated Season

Position: Linebacker
Ht/Wt: 6'4" / 215 lbs.
Location: Thomas Jefferson High School - Clairton, Pennsylvania
Class: 2014
Offers: Akron, Arkansas, Boston College, Bowling Green, Florida State, Illinois, Miami (Fl.), Michigan (Committed: 6/1/2013), Michigan State, Northwestern, Old Dominion, Ohio State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Toledo, Virginia Tech, West Virginia
Archive: 10/15 Film Study, 6/1 Breakdown, 6/1 Commitment, 5/13 Visit Reaction

After a highly-successful 2012 season ended in the state semi-finals, Michigan commit Chase Winovich knew there would be a lot of pressure on his shoulders to lead Thomas Jefferson to another strong year.  Winovich seems to be doing just that as Thomas Jefferson is currently 10-0 and in the midst of a playoff push that will square the Jaguars with some Pennsylvania's most talented competition.

As is the case with most undefeated teams, Thomas Jefferson looks to threaten opposing teams with both a high-scoring offense and a smothering defense.  To this point, Winovich has helped assure that this squad meets those expectations. "As a team, we have the lowest or second lowest points allowed in our classification," said Winovich.  "As a team, we're playing well defensively. I think we're number one in points per game defensively."

This balance as a challenging offensive and defensive squad has made Thomas Jefferson one of the top contender's to capture Pennsylvania's WPIAL title.  Last week Winovich helped Thomas Jefferson to a 39-0 victory over Hampton High- their second consecutive defensive shutout and fifth of the season.  In the last 4 games, Thomas Jefferson has allowed only 6 points.  Winovich is focused on the task at hand, though, and is already focused on his week 11 matchup with Highlands High School.  "They're pretty talented, but real scrappy," said Winovich. "I'm confident in my team and myself.  I think with how we've been playing, we'll be tough to beat.  I think our line is tough to stop.  They mauled people- there were some times when you just felt bad because we were destroying people.  But I'm confident in myself and with the current team that we've got set up that we can stop their run game, which is what they do the best."

To Winovich, though, most statistics are unimportant, all but one that he holds well above all the rest.  "The only stat that matters is the w at the end of the day," says Chase.  "That's why you play the game.  Why get out of bed if that's not your goal?"

Chase's goal is quite simple: to  improve on his teams playoff run from the year before.  One big change from last season to this season is how Thomas Jefferson is choosing to use their athletically-gifted linebacker.  "Last year I did one offensive play and I scored a touchdown," said Winovich.  "I think coach just wanted to save me for defense.  This year he gave me an opportunity where I could play some offense."  This would allow Thomas Jefferson to give defense two very different looks and also opened up the playbook to provide the Jaguars with an added versatility that was vacant in their performance last season.  "We have another quarterback who is a pocket passer that we can send in if we want to throw more and drive down the field.  They'll put me in if they see an opportunity where [the defense] is more susceptible to my style of play.  Maybe we can beat them off the edge with some speed.  It's an opportunity for me to help the team which is cool."

From his time spent on defense, Chase knows first-hand how difficult it can be to defend against an offense that excels in both the passing and running game.  "It does open things up because I know for defenses it makes it where they don't know what to expect," said Winovich.  "It's a completely different style of play and it almost revolutionizes the offense for high school.  I think its a big reason as to why we have a lot of success."

The transition from playing only on defense to staying on the field for almost all of the game can be a difficult adjustment for any player to make and Winovich was no exception.  "At first it was really tough," says Winovich.  "My brother warned me about how tough the first game would be and it really was.  After I got passed that first game I was a lot more apt to play both sides of the ball and I didn't seem as tired and now I embrace it and its a lot of fun.  I can't imagine not playing both sides."

While Winovich is one of the top prospects in the state of Pennsylvania, the future member of Team 135 earned his playing time from the depths of special teams play.  With a strong showing in that role, Winovich eventually worked himself into more playing time.  "Special teams is how I got a name for myself," says Winovich.  "A player got hurt and they were calling for a player to come in so I just ran onto the field.  Then the next game I started on kickoffs and I made about 4 or 5 tackles.  From that point on I played on all of the special teams snaps.  It's just proof that you never know where your opportunities are going to come from."

Winovich has come far from his days as a special teams contributor.  Presently, Winovich is embracing the territory that comes with being a Michigan Wolverines commit.  "I love it and I love thinking about it," says chase.  "I don't think a day goes by that I don't.  "I'm really excited for that opportunity and I'm so excited and trying to get others to come with me."

One of the players that is getting the brunt of  Winovich's recruiting efforts is fellow Pennsylvania prospect Sterling Jenkins out of Baldwin High School.  Jenkins is a 4-star offensive tackle that is near the top of Michigan's board in 2015.  "I've been talking to him," said Winovich.  "Not so much during the season because I just let him do his thing, but I've been talking to him.  I don't think [the loss to Michigan State] will have any impact on him.  I talked to him and he's all pumped up for the Ohio State game.  He didn't even mention the Ohio State game."  Winovich and Jenkins are both planning on heading to Ann Arbor as Michigan hosts their most hated rivals in front of what is set to be a slew of visiting recruits on November 30.  This will be a best opportunities for Michigan to impressive Jenkins against a team that was once in Jenkins' top group. He has sense condensed his top 2 choices to include Michigan and Penn State.  During Michigan's bye week, coach Funk stopped in to see Winovich and check in on their future linebacker.  After that, Funk traveled across town to visit Jenkins.  Coach Funk also took in one half from each of their games, coming away impressed according to Winovich.

Chase then went on to share his thoughts on how Michigan will close the 2014 class, focusing specifically on defensive line prospects Malik McDowell and DaShawn Hand.  "I have a gut feeling that Malik McDowell will go to Michigan.  I'm not to sold on [DaShawn] Hand yet, but people seem pretty, pretty, really, really confident that they know rtheir stuff and say he's headed to Michigan.  So I'm going to trust them and say, yeah, I hope he's going to Michigan.  But like I said, I definitely have that gut feeling on Malik McDowell."  This would put the finishing touches on a strong class that ranks among the best in the country for 2014.

If McDowell and Hand do commit to Michigan, they will then get to experience first hand some of the key aspects that helped reel in Winovich earlier on in the process.  "There's certain factors like education, being a championship contender and is it close to home," said Winovich.  "For me, Michigan was the best balance of all of those.  Michigan is a top contender in academics, one of the best public universities in the world I believe.  Stanford, for example, is great but they don't have that balance and being so far away, I'd only be able to come back twice a year and never see my family, so what's the cost of that?"

Chase lays out his decision making in a simple fashion and it's easy to see why he chose the Michigan program.  If those factors aren't enough to convince McDowell, and Hand, though, maybe the coaching staff puts them over the top.  Winovich spoke on his relationship with the staff, saying, "Coach Funk was my first relationship with Michigan.  Coach Funk and coach Hoke came to my school and that was the first contact I had with Michigan.  Then after that I went up for a basketball game and coach Funk was there and we got the opportunity to talk and after that it was mostly coach Mattison and coach Manning."  All of these coaches played a vital role in Winovich's commitment and may play a role in Hand's as well, seeing as Manning and Mattison have all visited the nation's top player multiple times.  Hand will be deciding on his 18th birthday, November 14.

If Hand and McDowell do commit, they will be joining one of the closest-knit classes in the country.  Michigan has placed an added importance on creating a family atmosphere in Ann Arbor and the recruits are just as important in the growth of that atmosphere as anyone.  "We all talk almost every day," said Winovich.  "Between Wilton [Speight] and Mike [Ferns], we always play Grand Theft auto at least twice a week."  A lot of their communication occurs in an iPhone group chat as nearly every member of the 2014 class has an iPhone.  "The iPhone chat helps communication and Wilt, Ian [Bunting] and I are pretty close as well, but Ian doesn't have an iPhone though."  Chase jokes that, "I'll bully Ian into it when i get up there."

Winovich looks to keep his bullying directed at his opponents and will bring his best locker- er, run stuffing game versus Highlands this Friday.

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