Pine-Richland’s Phil Jurkovec named Trib HSSN Boys Athlete of the Year
Pine-Richland basketball coach Jeff Ackermann said this about Phil Jurkovec: “He gave us everything he had and his goal was to always win championships.”
Jurkovec has concluded an outstanding high school career at Pine-Richland, and he has plenty of gold and silver to go with the many gridiron and hardwood memories.
The capper is he has been named the 2017-18 TribLive High School Sports Network Boys Athlete of the Year after leading Pine-Richland to two district and one state championship game in his senior year.
In his four years playing football and basketball at Pine-Richland, Jurkovec was a key part of Rams teams that won four WPIAL championships, one PIAA championship, two PIAA runners-up and one WPIAL runner-up.
The Notre Dame football recruit capped his brilliant high school football career by leading the Rams to both a WPIAL and a PIAA championship, along with a perfect 16-0 record.
The district crown was earned when he connected on 16 of 23 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 93 yards, including a 25-yard scoring jaunt as the Rams cruised past Central Catholic, 42-7, in the cold and rain at Heinz Field.
Three weeks later in the snow in Hershey, Jurkovec was 15 of 27 for 200 yards and a touchdown while gaining 88 yards and scoring four times on the ground in the Rams’ stunning 41-21 win over District 12 power St. Joe’s.
For the season, Jurkovec completed 243 of his 334 passes for 3,969 yards and 39 touchdown tosses. He was the Rams’ second-leading rusher with 1,211 yards on 132 carries and 21 touchdowns. He set a new WPIAL record for 5,180 total yards from scrimmage and joined Terrell Pryor as the only WPIAL players to throw for more than 3,000 and rush for over 1,000 yards in the same season.
In basketball, after helping Pine-Richland win back-to-back WPIAL championships in his sophomore and junior years, he once again helped the Rams into the playoffs and another trip to the WPIAL title game. However, they fell short of a three-peat in a 60-56 loss to Penn Hills.
The Rams reached the state semifinals before falling to Roman Catholic out of Philadelphia, 81-73, to finish with a record of 23-7.
He will go down as one of the best athletes in WPIAL history.
“Phil was the most competitive player that I ever coached,” Ackermann said. “He wanted to win as much or more than anyone.”
Jurkovec took some time for a Q&A:
Going back to the start of your high school career, was it tough waiting your turn behind Ben DiNucci or was it a good year to learn as the Rams won a WPIAL championship your freshman campaign?
Initially, I was disappointed in not being moved up to play varsity as a freshman. I wanted to compete at the highest possible level, and I felt like I could get on the field somewhere for the team that everyone knew was going to be good. As the season got started, though, I became glad that I was not moved up. DiNucci was clearly better than me at that point, and playing with my class in freshman football was some of the most fun I have had in the sport.
How did playing under a former championship winning quarterback in Eric Kasperowicz help in your development?
Coach Kasperowicz really helped me in football. He knows what it takes to win and excel, as he is an all-time WPIAL great and went on to play in college at Pitt. He won a state championship his senior year, so we all looked to him as he already did it and knew the way to get there. He’s a great leader also in the fact that he surrounded himself with a great staff who all contributed so much to our team.
Growing up, did you prefer football or basketball as your favorite to play?
I loved both football and basketball. I played a lot more basketball than football leading up to high school, but I always said that they were equal to me. If football and basketball were not sports, though, I would try to take up any other sport. My family all either played football or basketball, and so they were sports that I was always around.
Especially after your thumb injury in your junior year, was there ever any serious thought about not playing basketball in your junior or senior year?
No, some people asked me about focusing on football and dropping basketball, but I couldn’t do that. As well as loving basketball and knowing we were going to have good teams, I also did not want to drop it because it has really helped me athletically in becoming a better football player. I would recommend playing as many sports as possible to any athlete. Even if you are specializing in one sport, playing other sports recreationally will help you with your sport.
Is there anything about playing basketball that you think helps your football game?
Yes, basketball is just a lot of different movement that really helps when paired with football. The development of footwork, jumping and conditioning helped me with football. Also, seeing lanes and being a good passer in basketball coincides with being a good passer in football, as it is all in recognizing time and space and using angles.
Bookend football district titles, along with state gold last year and a pair of basketball WPIAL championships in the middle. Was there one that was more special or was the special feeling of winning similar in each of them?
The state championship in football was the best one, as I would have to value winning states over winning the WPIAL. Losing in the state game in basketball was really tough, but it taught me lessons that carried on to football and helped in winning there. The lessons learned through the wins, losses and all of the intricacies of the teams in both sports is what I am most grateful for and what I will take with me.
Besides success on the field for the Fighting Irish, do you have any individual goals as you prepare to begin your college career at South Bend?
I want to be seen as a leader in the weight room, classroom and wherever else I will be. I want to challenge myself in all aspects of life, and that’s why I’m excited for Notre Dame.
What’s your favorite type of ice cream on a hot day?
Chocolate and vanilla twist soft serve with chocolate sprinkles in a cone, preferably from Kool Cones.
Are you a Steelers, Penguins and Pirates fan? If so, will you switch allegiances these next four years to the Bears, Blackhawks and Cubs?
Always been a Steelers, Penguins and Pirates fan and will never switch up on that.
Don Rebel is a TribLIVE High School Sports Network broadcaster and staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com.