Thomas Jefferson football’s Ryan Lawry makes impact with hard work, dedication

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Sunday, April 23, 2023 | 11:01 AM


He may be a bit small in stature, but he was a big-time player for the Thomas Jefferson football team.

Senior WR/DB Ryan Lawry had 32 receptions for 371 yards and three touchdowns in 2022 to rank as the second-leading receiver on the team.

Defensively, he was credited with 21 tackles, 16 of them unassisted, two interceptions, four passes protected and a blocked pass.

Lawry returned four punts a total of 50 yards. He also had five kickoff returns for 75 yards, including a 50-yard bolt against Central Valley in the WPIAL playoffs.

For his efforts, he was named second-team all-conference.

His outstanding season-long performance didn’t go unnoticed to his teammates.

Lawry was voted as the winner of the prestigious postseason Breisinger Award, which was established in 1979 and named after former Pleasant Hills police officer Albert Breisinger. It is presented annually to a senior football player at TJ for his hard work, community involvement and academics.

“Ryan is the player and person every coach would love to have,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “He was unselfish and always gave a helping hand to anyone that needed it. He is a role model for the younger players both on and off the field.

“We expected great things from Ryan and he delivered. He and (Wisconsin recruit) Jordan (Mayer) were definitely two of the main leaders for our team.”

The Breisinger Award is not the team MVP. It goes to the player who best exemplifies the “character, courage, leadership and sacrifice demonstrated in the life and eternal spirit” of Albert Breisinger, whose high school football uniform number — 62 — is the only one retired at TJ.

Each member of the team receives one vote.

“I was extremely excited to win the award because I know it is a big deal,” said the 18-year-old Lawry. “It’s an honor to win the award and was very satisfying to be recognized by my teammates. It’s a good feeling knowing my teammates noticed my hard work and thought I was a good leader. I show leadership through example. For my teammates to catch on to that and realize I wasn’t going to give up makes me feel like I did my job.”

Cherpak said Lawry was a shoo-in for this year’s distinguished honor.

“Ryan being named the Breisinger Award winner wasn’t a surprise to anyone,” Cherpak said. “He had one of the largest percentages of team votes that we’ve ever had.

“Ryan is an amazing young man. He was a captain and team leader. He really never came off the field because he also returned kicks and punts on special teams. I am extremely proud of him and know he will be very successful after high school. He will be greatly missed.”

Well-known TJ football booster Scott Breisinger, who seemingly never misses a game, agreed with the Jaguars’ veteran coach in his assessment of Lawry.

“Ryan is a great example of hard work, dedication and never giving up,” he said. “Not only was he injured early in his career, he was one of the smallest kids on the team. He easily could have quit and given up. Instead, he kept working hard, began to grow and by his senior year was a leader of the team.

“His work ethic, team-first mentality and leadership are great examples of what the Breisinger Award is all about.”

Lawry was a two-year starter for the Jaguars. He played safety on defense as a junior and on both sides of the ball at wide receiver and defensive back as a senior.

He grew from a 5-foot-1 freshman who weighed less than 100 pounds to a 5-10, 170-pound senior.

“Ryan is an example of what can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance,” Cherpak said. “He had injuries in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, but they did not deter him from working for what he wanted. He ended up being named all-conference as a wide receiver.”

Lawry didn’t allow the two preseason injuries that he suffered in his first two years on the team deter him later in his career.

“As a freshman, I broke my foot during camp and that kept me out for over half the season. My sophomore year, I broke my collarbone during camp which kept me out the entire season,” Lawry said. “These were both major setbacks in my high school career. I got a lot of support from the upperclassman; that taught me a lot about leadership. If these injuries didn’t happen to me, I wouldn’t be the player I am now.”

During Lawry’s four years in the highly decorated TJ football program, the Jaguars captured WPIAL and PIAA titles in Class 4A in 2019 and 2020, advanced to the WPIAL semifinals in 2021 and 2022, won or shared three conference championships and racked up a 42-8 overall record.

“Being a part of the Thomas Jefferson football team was the best four years of my life,” Lawry said. “There were many ups and downs, but I feel I did everything I could to help the team be successful. One of my fondest memories was our win against McKeesport (last fall) to win the section. And it was awesome being a part of two WPIAL and PIAA championships.

“Being able to play for the program and coach Cherpak was truly an honor. The memories I made will last a lifetime. I am thankful to my coaches and teammates for always believing in me. The Breisinger family is still very involved with the program, and it is awesome to now be a part of their history.”

TJ finished in a three-way tie atop the conference with McKeesport and Laurel Highlands last season, defeated Latrobe, 21-6, in the WPIAL first round and lost to Central Valley, 19-0, in the semifinals.

The Jaguars marched into the playoffs with consecutive conference wins against Trinity, 45-10, Ringgold, 42-0, Connellsville, 58-0, and McKeesport, 20-10.

Lawry averaged 11.59 yards per reception during his senior season. He relied on his quickness and football guile to develop into an all-conference player for the Jaguars.

“I was one of the fastest players on the team, but I would not consider myself an extremely fast person,” he said. “Having good technique and being in the right spot helps me be quicker to the ball and allows me to be in the right position to make a play.”

The best offensive game of Lawry’s career came against Latrobe on Sept. 16 when he caught six passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Lawry averaged 15.5 yards per catch and nabbed a season-high 46-yard reception against the Wildcats.

Two other big games for the sure-handed athlete came against Baldwin on Sept. 2, when he had seven catches for 64 yards, and Trinity on Oct. 17 with seven receptions for 91 yards.

But Lawry said his performance against McKeesport was No. 1.

“I did my part on the offensive side of the ball with a few catches,” he said. “On defense, I also did my part coming up to make tackles and sealing the game with an interception.”

Lawry also was a two-year starting point guard on the TJ boys basketball team. He was named all-section and was a team captain in both his junior and senior years.

“I enjoyed my time on the basketball team and believed it helped with my agility and athleticism for football,” Lawry said.

The TJ senior has a 4.1 GPA and plans to attend Pitt in the fall.

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