STATE COLLEGE — When practice broke, a sea of jerseys swallowed the steps on the east side of Memorial Field.
The hungry State College Little Lions blanketed the concrete landing where chocolate milk and pepperoni rolls awaited. From an aerial view, they turned the cold, gray concrete into a living, human patchwork quilt ofmaroon and white.
A quick glance at the roster confirmed who should have worn No. 5, but that is the essence of Dan Fry. He was there, somewhere in that huddled mass.
A player so versatile not even his jersey number stays the same.
When State College meets DuBois on Friday at Altoona’s Mansion Park for the District 6-9 Class AAAA championship, Fry will definitely play defense, likely play some offense and certainly contribute heavily on special teams.
“He’s one heck of an athlete,” said State College Defensive Coordinator Mike Snyder.
As a defensive back – his favorite position – Fry is the team’s leader in interceptions with six, just one sentinel safeguarding an area his teammates have dubbed the “no-fly zone.”
“I really like playing corner,” Fry said standing on Memorial Field wearing his number 21 practice jersey. “That’s probably where I have the most fun. And we’ve been having a good year with our ‘no-fly zone’ between me, Ebrahim ‘EB’ Britton and Darian Herncane.”
The three seniors have combined for 14 of the Little Lions’ 18 interceptions, including a 96-yard touchdown return by Herncane in State College’s 20-13 win over Mifflin County.
“It kind of started in our first game against Liberty,” Fry said. “It was their first drive and we knocked down three of their passes, so we just started saying it. EB just started saying it and it just stuck with us and we’ve been living up to it pretty well so far.”
The trio will be needed against a balanced DuBois offense featuring sophomore quarterback Gabe French, who has thrown for more than 1,500 yards; Garrett Brown, a senior running back who has rushed for more than 1,600 yards and 23 touchdowns; and Bryson Paulinellie, a sophomore wide receiver who averages more than 15 yards per catch with nine touchdowns.
“We thought going into the year that they were going to be a strength of ours, and they have been,” said State College Coach Al Wolski of the trio. “They've forced multiple turnovers in several games and they've also defended the run really well.”
But securing victories by keeping offenses out of the end zone is just one of Fry’s roles. He’s also occasionally tasked with scoring points.
After a late, 97-yard Chambersburg touchdown a few weeks ago, the Little Lions managed to quickly race back down the field before quarterback Patrick Irwin hit Fry in the end zone for the winning touchdown on the game's final play.
“I just thought we were done,” said Fry, who leads the team with six receiving touchdowns. “So being able to catch that pass in the end zone was just unreal.”
However, what is real for Fry is the cold, harsh truth of the dwindling time remaining in his high school career. It’s on his mind but has yet to breach his consciousness — a mental “no-fly zone” of sorts.
“It’s weird because last season when we lost, it stunk, but I knew I was coming back this year,” Fry said. “But this season, if we lose, I go home and I never put on this uniform again,” he added, clutching his jersey. “And that still hasn't sunk in yet.”
This season, he was asked to take on yet another role: With kicker Ian Fennessey injured, Fry added kicking to his role as punter.
Playing multiple roles is not difficult for Fry, a switch hitter for the baseball team — much like his rugby-style punting abilities.
“I’m a lefty but somehow I manage to get some off with my right,” Fry said. “One day coach asked me if I could rugby to the right and I just did it. Now, (teams) don’t know which way I’m going.”
Justin Hazleton, Fry’s hitting coach in baseball, does have an idea of where Fry could go with that athleticism.
“He has the commitment and the drive to succeed whether it’s in sports or life in general,” Hazleton said. “He’s going to be a success wherever he goes and whatever he chooses to do.”
Hazleton isn’t worried about Fry’s work ethic and said his athleticism, versatility and willingness to fulfill any role will serve him well in college.
“It’ll definitely be an advantage for him, especially at the college level,” Hazelton said. “Because it just makes you more valuable to a team if you can play different positions.”
Fry said he’s being recruited to pitch at a Division II state school despite playing mostly outfield and first base for his ERA Sports Elite travel team. The southpaw said he only pitches sparingly.
But being multitalented isn’t without its drawbacks. Which sport will he play in college?
“Oh … this is the really hard question,” Fry said with a groan. “I’m just having such a great time right now in football it’s hard to just walk away. It hasn’t really registered that after this year I have to walk away from one of them. I haven’t completely decided which one yet.”
For now, he’s keeping his options open and staying focused on DuBois, hoping to enforce the "no-fly zone" with his teammates.
“We’re going to have to be really disciplined,” Fry said. “Because DuBois uses a lot of crossing routes and if we bite, they’re going to have open guys. So we’re going to have to really stay within ourselves – and play our roles.”