Inside the Program: Fort Cherry football

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With one game remaining in the 2013 regular season, Fort Cherry is in a good position to do something it hasn't done for more than a decade -- win a conference championship.

At 7-1, the Rangers are in a three-way tie for first atop the Class A Black Hills Conference standings with Monessen and Clairton. A tiebreaker point system will determine which team would get the top seed for the playoffs if the Rangers and Greyhounds win Friday. A conference championship would be the first for Fort Cherry since 2002, a welcome reward for a program that has been one of the most successful in the Black Hills the past several seasons.

"I think it means a lot," Fort Cherry coach Jim Shiel said of a possible conference championship or co-championship. "As a coach, it means a lot to me, it means everything to the players and it means even more to the school and the community."


The Fort Cherry offense has been among the most impressive statistically in Class A. The most prominent face in that high-scoring attack has been senior running back Koltan Kobrys, who has established himself as one of the top rushers in the WPIAL. Kobrys showed flashes of excellence last season, when he rushed for 754 yards before he was injured and missed three games as the Rangers finished 3-6.

This season, he has rushed for 1,430 yards (second in the WPIAL) and 21 touchdowns while averaging 11.5 yards per carry, the highest mark among the WPIAL's top 15 rushers. Shiel said several colleges are looking at Kobrys, who reportedly runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, at slotback, a position where he thinks his star player could find success at the next level.

"It's incredible what he has done this year," Shiel said.


Though sometimes overlooked in the wider spectrum of the WPIAL, Fort Cherry is among one of the more decorated schools in terms of the number of high-profile football figures it has produced. The program, which has gone 43-25 since the start of the 2007 season, can claim two successful NFL coaches, one current and one former, as alumni -- Marvin Lewis, in his 11th season as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, a team he has taken to the playoffs four times; and Marty Schottenheimer, who coached four teams over a 21-year career in which he compiled a 200-126 record.


Though Kobrys' success running the ball has garnered much of the attention, the team's quarterback, Matt Heslin, has had a successful season, too. A 6-foot senior, he has 1,183 passing yards in eight games, a single-season school record and more than double the passing yards he had last season.


Shiel is entering his second season as coach, and his move to the position represented a sharp change in Fort Cherry football history. Before Shiel took over, the school had only had two football coaches since it was established in 1959 -- Jim Garry, who coached until 2002, and his son, Tim, who was the coach from 2003-11.

After a 3-6 debut season, one he said had some "ups and downs," Shiel has the Rangers in position to possibly make a deep run in the WPIAL playoffs, even if they're not getting as much attention as other teams.

"I've said from the beginning that I don't mind flying under the radar so much because, eventually, we'll rise to where we need to be," he said.

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