Tanner Garry looks to restore tradition at alma mater Fort Cherry

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Tuesday, August 25, 2020 | 11:22 PM


Tanner Garry remembers fondly his playing days at Fort Cherry.

It was just nine years ago when he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns to lead the Rangers to a 7-4 record and a trip to the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals.

Fans lined the fences at Jim Garry Stadium, the Rangers’ home venue named after his grandfather, and Fort Cherry football was ingrained throughout the community.

Garry returned to Fort Cherry in December when he was hired to coach at his alma mater. He will roam the same sideline where his grandfather coached for 43 years and where his dad, Tim, guided the Rangers for nine seasons. He replaces Jim Shiel, who resigned after eight seasons.

Garry hopes to renew the energy around the Rangers’ program and give his players the same feeling he had in the Fort Cherry Red and White.

“I’ve always held Fort Cherry close to my heart,” said Garry, who went on to play at Youngstown State and Slippery Rock. “It’s something I think a lot of people do. You take pride in where you come from. You want to remain a respected school in terms of athletics and the talent it produces.”

Fort Cherry was 2-18 over the past two seasons, playing in Class 2A. The struggles on the field led to difficulties building a roster and staying competitive against much larger teams.

Through PIAA and WPIAL realignment, the Rangers returned to play in the Class A Big Seven Conference for the next two seasons.

They will match up with conference foes Burgettstown, Cornell, Northgate, OLSH, Rochester and Union.

“Rochester, we have great history with them going back to the WPIAL championship in ’01,” Garry said. “We had battles with them my junior and senior year. There’s games on that schedule that people from our area will be excited to see.”

The move to a more geographically and enrollment-friendly conference has been a bright spot for a challenging offseason hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. Garry was hired in December and got to initiate some offseason workouts before the pandemic sent players home from school in March.

Over the past month, they returned the field for conditioning workouts but haven’t been able to use the school weight room facilities.

“It’s kind of adapting to the times. There’s a lot that’s easy to get mad at and frustrated with. There’s a lot of uncertainties,” Garry said. “Kids want answers and parents want answers. Things can change almost day to day. We’re just trying to stick to the rules, understand the guidelines and what we’re allowed to do and take advantage of what we’re allowed to do.”

Helping the first-year coach get acclimated are a group of senior leaders that include quarterback Jake Tkach, lineman Christian Bartoletti and wide receiver Nasier Sutton, as well as junior Dylan Rogers.

“It’s been hard for these kids to get anything rolling,” Garry said. “We’re trying to preach to them there needs to be a leader in every situation.”

Junior linebacker Mitchell Cook (5-9, 205) also has established himself as the leader of defense.

“He got time as a freshman at middle ‘backer,” Garry said. “He was the leading tackler as a sophomore last year. He’s someone we’re really relying on to take charge of the defense.”

The Rangers have several skill players returning on offense.

Senior Chase Belsterling (5-10, 180) was the team’s leading rusher a year ago and will again be in the backfield.

“He’s a hard-nosed kid, not one to shy away from contact,” Garry said. “He’s fast, strong, athletic, a natural athlete. He’s someone we’re counting on.”

Tkach (6-0, 175) spent parts of last season under center after returning from injury, and junior Maddox Truschel (6-0, 185) saw time at quarterback as a freshman but missed all of last season with an injury. They are competing for the starting job.

“I’m someone who believes in a one-quarterback system,” Garry said. “I don’t want to have a lot of back and forth. We want to make sure we have our best athletes on the field. They are both good athletes (and both will play somewhere).

“Either one of those guys will give us someone who is a playmaker. It’s one of the positions we have options.”

Back at wide receiver are Rogers, Sutton and junior Anthony D’Alessandro (6-2, 215).

“There’s been a significant stride with (D’Alessandro) over the past couple months,” Garry said. “He runs like a deer. He’s a real good-size kid. Real good hands. We’ll use him as an H-back or a stand-up tight end or make it a nightmare for linebackers to cover over him on the inside.”

Fort Cherry will enter the season with a roster in the mid-30s, a group Garry hopes will start to resemble teams from his childhood.

“We want to get everything back on track,” he said, “get the community excited about Fort Cherry.”

Schedule

Coach: Tanner Garry

2019 record: 0-10, 0-7 in Class 2A Three Rivers Conference

All-time record: 342-250-15

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Burgettstown*, 7

9.18, at Shenango*, 7

9.25, OLSH*, 7

10.2, at Northgate*, 7

10.9, Rochester*, 7

10.16, at Union*, 7

10.23, Cornell*, 7

*Class A Big Seven Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Austin Nardozi*

28-66, 210 yards

Receiving: Dylan Rogers

10-115 yards, 1 TD

Rushing: Chase Belsterling

88-234 yards, 1 TD

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Tanner Garry was a three-sport athlete at Fort Cherry, also competing in wrestling and baseball.

• He set school records for passing yards (4,502 yards) and passing touchdowns (50), was named Black Hills Conference Offensive MVP and earned All-State honorable mention honors.

• In their most recent seasons in Class A, the Rangers were 7-3 in 2017 and 9-2 in ’16 in the Tri-County South.

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TribHSInsider.

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