The marble stone building has stood at the corner of Grace Street and Malvern Avenue in Richmond since 1930. And since 1930, Thomas Jefferson High School has fielded a football team. But it likely has never hosted a playoff game on its campus.
That’ll change Saturday at 2 p.m. when T.J. plays Armstrong in the first round of the Class 3 playoffs.
“It’s big for the kids,” first-year coach P.J. Adams said. “It’s part of what we set out to accomplish this year.”
For nearly 40 years, high school football in Virginia existed without playoffs. Teams would play their regular season, and at the end of the year, one was chosen as state champion.
Thomas Jefferson received the honor in 1943 and again in 1952.
The 1952 team went 9-1, beating John Marshall 19-0 in Week 10 to clinch the title.
Not until 1965 did the Virginia High School League introduce a state championship game. Annandale won it, 20-0 over Granby. It was played only in the event that two teams finished with the same record and needed a tiebreaker. In 1967, the Central Region held its first playoff game, and Freeman beat Petersburg 7-0.
Thomas Jefferson made the playoffs in 1976 by going 6-4 and winning its district. But that year, the Central Region playoff game was held at City Stadium, which had lights and a larger capacity.
It took more than three decades for T.J. to return to the postseason. When the Vikings won their season opener in 2012, they snapped a 41-game losing streak. The next year, they won three games and reached the playoffs. Because of VHSL realignment, requirements for making the postseason were loosened.
The coach at the time, Chad Hornik, helped raise $175,000 to replace outdated locker rooms, weight rooms and uniforms. He also made the team’s schedule more manageable, removing Hermitage, a team T.J. had played for 63 years but with whom it could no longer compete.
Smaller schools, such as Essex and William Campbell, were added to the schedule. Last year, T.J. went 4-6 and reached the postseason again, losing in the first round.
Earlier this year, T.J. hired P.J. Adams, an assistant under Hornik, to coach the team. Before the year began, it was clear Thomas Jefferson had perhaps its most talented team in a while. Running back Jalen Jackson has rushed for 1,435 this year and has been instrumental in the team’s success. So has quarterback Anwar Wilson-Bradley, who has 1,633 yards rushing and passing combined.
“Now we expect to win games,” Adams said.
Of course, none of this accounts for the years 1979-1985. During that stretch, the athletics departments of Thomas Jefferson, Huguenot and George Wythe were merged. The result was a strong team that made the playoffs three times in six years. But most people associated with Richmond Public Schools don’t consider the “complexes” part of their schools’ histories.
Still, both Thomas Jefferson and Armstrong have a chance to write another line in their history books Saturday. The team that wins the game will have its first playoff victory in school history.