Quarterback TJ Salopek leading Gators with arm

Salopek, ’10, has found wide receiver Terry Hartford, ’11, three times for touchdowns this season. Photo by Ed Malliard/alleghenysports.com

Saturday’s 34–27 win against Carnegie Mellon solidified what everyone predicted out of the Gator Football offense: it is going to go as far as senior TJ Salopek’s arm can take it. Salopek threw for four more touchdowns and his 280 passing yards put him past Bubba Smith for the all-time record at Allegheny with 6,093. He now holds the record for completions (551), attempts (885) and passing yards, and needs 15 touchdowns to become the leader. If he continues to be an accurate passer, he is also in the running for completion percentage and passer rating.

Regardless of how many records he breaks, he will surely be getting a plaque in the Allegheny Athletic Hall of Fame. We sat down with TJ to talk about the record, his new receiving core, and next week’s showdown with Wittenberg.

The Campus: When did breaking school records become a goal for you?

TJ: Coming into Allegheny, it’s always been a personal goal to be the best that I could possibly be, and if that meant to be the best at Allegheny, then that’s what I was shooting for. But I’d say at the end of last season when I saw that my numbers were getting close and then I knew that I had a pretty good shot and that it was definitely going to be possible.

C: Did that add an extra kick to your offseason workouts and practices?

TJ: Going into last season I really worked hard to improve my game as much as I possibly could and that was reflected in my play last season, which was much improved from my sophomore year, and that has carried over into this season, too.

C: What’s it like knowing that when you’re done here you will be at the top of the record books for passing?

TJ: To tell you the truth, I think it’s pretty cool. Some day I’ll bring my kids back, open up the program, and see my name in there. I have an uncle who played here so it means a lot to my family. He knows what the tradition and everything is all about so it’s pretty cool to be in good company with all the great players that have been here in the past.

C: Now that you hold the records for career yardage, has anything changed in practice? Do you feel more motivation or pressure?

TJ: It really hasn’t sunk in too much yet. I’m just worried about Wittenberg coming in next week. We have a lot to get ready for. Most importantly we need to keep winning games.

C: What’s it like to have the passing game be the foundation of the offense this year?

TJ: The style of offense that we run is what I’ve always wanted to play in. We have a spread offense and I’m given a lot of freedom on the field to do as much as I can. I call a lot of plays on my own, so the coaches give me that chance to audible at the line of scrimmage and it’s great. It’s a lot fun. There’s a lot of pressure on me but I put the time in and work as much as I possibly can to be prepared.

C: Going into the season, there were questions about the receiving core. What do you think about their performance after the first two games?

TJ: The guys have done great so far. Terry Hartford, ’11, David Strawser, ’11, Sean Griffin, ’12, and Matt Griffith, ’12, have all done a great job. We lost two key receivers, Jake Vite and Mark Sutton last year, and they [the current receivers] have all stepped up to the plate tremendously all through camp and then the first two games of the season. It’s nice to have good receivers to get the ball to.

C: Specifically with Strawser, what’s it like having basically another quarterback on the field?

TJ: It helps out a lot having Dave on the field. He understands our offense as much as I do and he knows where to find the holes. Coming from a quarterback, he knows what I’m seeing so we can communicate pretty well out there on the field.

C: What kinds of things are you doing to prepare for Wittenberg in two weeks?

TJ: In the past, we have not prepared for two straight weeks for a team. The first week, we would just continue practicing and refining our skills and then the following week before the game is when we would really prepare. But this week since we have Wittenberg coming into town, we’re spending a full two weeks on them getting ready. The number six team in the country is coming in so we need as much time as we can to prepare for that game, because it’s going to be a tough one.

C: What’s it going to take to win against them?

TJ: Offensively, we have to control the ball. We can’t turn the ball over because their offense is high-powered. So we have to keep the ball as long as we can and score and take advantage of any opportunities that we have with the football. Defensively, they have a pretty good run game, so we have a tough test with that coming in. Overall, we have to control the football, and on defense take it away and hope for the best. We have a chance to win every single game we play in.

C: Coach Matlak said a few weeks ago that the key is to keep it close going into the fourth quarter to give yourselves a chance, do you agree with that?

TJ: I definitely think we have a chance. We have a chance to win every single game that we play in with the talent that we have. We’re not going to face a tougher opponent than Wittenberg and I think we need to get the guys as confident and as ready to go as we can by two weeks from now.