Fresh off making the playoffs for the first time since 2017, Fort Cherry cannot wait for that first whistle of the season.
For the Rangers, football is more than a game, it’s family and it’s community.
“It is kind of a family affair,” said fourth-year coach Tanner Garry. “[Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Hall of Famer James Garry, Tanner’s father] is an assistant on staff. My uncle Kevin is our o-line coach. My cousin Corey is our linebackers coach. My father-in-law is our defense coordinator. … My brother is a volunteer.”
That connection can be found throughout the team. Senior right guard Louis Ryan’s father is also a coach on the team.
“I come from a long line of Fort Cherry Rangers,” said Ryan, who wears No. 58. “My dad, he wore 58. He played right guard. It’s the ranger mentality, right? We want all the guys out here to go out and play as hard as they can for as long as they can.”
The tight-knit community supports the team as well.
“The whole community, I mean, it’s a small town so a lot of people know each other,” sophomore quarterback Matt Sieg said. “I feel like the identity of this community is becoming Fort Cherry football. It’s just great knowing that there’s a whole bunch of people supporting you and behind you.”
Tanner Garry came in when the team was in the midst of a 22-game losing streak. Each year the team has improved under his leadership, and last year they broke through.
Sieg was instrumental in that. The talented quarterback came in and became the first freshman in WPIAL history to rush for 1,000 yards and throw for 1,000 yards.
“The season was so fun,” Sieg said. “This experience, that’s what you dream of as a kid. You know, Friday night lights here at every game, especially in this community. Fort Cherry football, that’s what everybody did. So just growing up like that, and then finally walking down the hill with your friends and buddies and just knowing like it’s finally your time, that’s the dream.”
Sieg is a relentless worker. He plays baseball and basketball and runs track for Fort Cherry. Over the offseason he added weight. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash time at the Penn State football camp in July. He works with quarterback coach Greg Perry. Garry made a reel of different plays from last season, and with more time to digest film in the offseason, Sieg was able to understand the game at a higher level.
“It is pretty rare that you get a kid that has the natural ability that he has and also the work ethic that comes along with it. He’s always looking to improve, always trying to find ways to get better.”
Sieg made a lot happen last year, but he was eager to take another step in his development this offseason.
“He’s definitely picked up a lot in the offseason just from the mental side of it and just understanding what we’re trying to do. Where we’re trying to get the ball on what plays,” Garry said. “So we’re excited to see how he takes that next step.”
Ryan is excited by what he has seen so far.
“You wouldn’t think it’d even be possible to step it up another level from what he was at last year. But, he’s grown. He’s put on a lot of muscle. He’s faster. He’s stronger. And some of the balls he’s throwing right now, it’s just ridiculous. D-I level passes. It’s pretty wild. Last year, he was more running. I think this year, we’ll see a lot more from Matt in the passing game.”
Sieg’s best friend and top receiver from last year, junior Shane Cornali, has given the Rangers another reason to be excited about the offense this year. Cornali came in as a freshman at about 150 pounds “soaking wet,” as Garry put it. This season he is up to 6 feet 2 and 195 pounds.
“He’s a really big target,” Garry said. “Big strong hands. Just kind of goes up and gets it. And someone that we’re excited to see.”
After having 33 players last year, the team is up to 46 this year. Just about everybody plays on both sides of the ball. Ryan was the team’s leading tackler after moving from the edge to the interior of the defensive line. Sieg is a safety, which he said helps him understand the defenses he faces as a quarterback. Cornali is a lockdown corner.
Fort Cherry has never won a WPIAL title.
In the ultra-competitive WPIAL Class 1A Black Hills Conference, the Rangers will face Bishop Canevin and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, both of whom have won titles in the past five years. Even rival Burgettstown has a title.
“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t heard some of the chatter,” Garry said. “This is definitely the first year where, going into the season, it feels like there’s a certain expectation after what we were able to do last year.”
While success brings expectations, it also adds experience. Garry noted the Rangers won their first playoff game against Monessen, 56-42. They didn’t just make the playoffs, they proved they belong.
“I keep saying WPIAL championship,” Ryan said. “Whether that’s in the picture or not, I will do everything in my power to get back to the playoffs.”
Ryan mused on what winning in November at Acrisure Stadium would mean.
“It would be unbelievable. I’ve always played in the red and gray. I’ve gone here K through 12. I was a big sports guy growing up, three sports right now. I wish nothing more than to bring back the WPIAL championship.”
Editor Rick Davis
Reporters Brad Everett, Steve Rotstein, John Santa, Rob Joesbury, Saul Berrios-Thomas
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