Seven-year-old Tyler Fortner was in his first year participating in Tallmadge Youth Football. And he wanted to quit. Why? The practices were boring. But his father demanded that Tyler stick with it. A decade later, Fortner has blossomed into one of the premier running backs in the history of Tallmadge High School.
Seven-year-old Tyler Fortner was in his first year participating in Tallmadge Youth Football.
And he wanted to quit.
Why? The practices were boring.
So his father intervened. He suggested strongly to his son that he shouldn’t quit what he had just started. In fact, he demanded that Tyler stick with it.
And the rest is very pleasant history. A decade later, Fortner has blossomed into one of the premier running backs in the history of Tallmadge High School.
In fact, he has set a single-season school record in 2008 with a still-growing total of 2,309 rushing yards. Fortner, who has also scored 22 touchdowns, will be leading the Blue Devils into the second round of the Division II playoffs against Madison on Friday night.
And to think that if it wasn’t for an insistent dad, all that talent might have gone to waste.
“I also played baseball and basketball as a kid, but as I got older, I started to enjoy football more,” says Fortner. “I really started to like it in middle school when I started playing running back. Before that, I played a lot of linebacker and also some flanker and wide receiver.
“I think I really liked playing running back because I was getting the ball on almost every play and I felt like I was an important part of the team. And when I started scoring touchdowns, I really started liking it more. I was having success and I enjoyed that.”
Fortner is still getting the ball on almost every play. The Blue Devils have averaged about eight passes a game while he is receiving 28 carries a game. Tallmadge coach Joe Vassalotti understands that when you have a back who averages nearly eight yards a carry despite facing eight defenders in the box who just know he’s going to be handed the ball, you hand him the ball anyway.
“Tyler is a north-south runner with a good combination of power and speed,” says Vassalotti, who has guided the Blue Devils into the playoffs in five of his seven years at the school. “He’s strong physically and he ran track last year, which bolstered his speed.
“The thing about Tyler, though, is that he’s relentless in his attitude. He keeps his legs pumping and follows his blockers very well. He’s just an outstanding high school running back. Considering that defenses are geared toward stopping him, his production has been even more impressive.”
Fortner admits that early in his football career he tended to look for the long gain rather than take what the defense and his offensive line were giving him.
“I needed to learn to hit the hole harder,” he explains. “When you’re younger, everyone wants to bounce to the outside. But as I progressed in high school, I realized that it wasn’t bad to gain four or five yards on a play.
“Before that, I just wanted to break everything, but you just have to realize that you can’t break one on every play. Our offensive line is giving me a little room on every play and sometimes a lot of room to get through. I see linebackers or safeties creeping up, but I still realize that my linemen will open up at least a little hole for me.”
That willingness to change is an indication of common sense and intelligence, both of which Fortner boast in abundance, as his 4.0-plus grade-point average attests. It’s no wonder he is receiving tremendous interest from Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Brown. He feels likely to attend a high-profile academic institution as an engineering major and still find time to play football.
And when he does hit the college gridiron, he plans on playing with the same intensity and confidence.
“I take a very hard-nosed approach to playing football,” he says. “My philosophy is that I don’t let one man bring me down. I want the whole defense to have to take me down. I don’t want to let the first tackler bring me down. But I also realize that without my teammates, I wouldn’t have the success that I do.”
And that’s a football and life lesson that he never would have learned had his father given in 10 years ago.