Ryan Hertzog is fortunate he gave up football.

The South Western High senior played tight end and outside linebacker his freshman year but was disappointed he didn't receive more playing time. He decided to join the cross country team the fall of his sophomore year after participating in track in the spring.

"I don't feel my talents were being used very well in football," Hertzog said. "Cross country, there's no politics. You run these times, you're better than this person, you're going to participate."

He did well in his new sport. Hertzog signed a letter of intent Wednesday evening for a scholarship worth about two-thirds of the tuition at Robert Morris University.

He's amazed with what's happened.

"I was going by the seat of my pants," Hertzog said. "I was just going out running."

Mustangs track and cross country coach Bruce Lee recognized Hertzog's talent immediately.

"He didn't back down," Lee said. "He was pretty aggressive as far as the races came. It's always easier to hold somebody back than kick them in the butt. He listened, worked hard, wasn't afraid to go race. He had all those natural attributes.

"He became pretty dedicated to it, putting in the miles, working with the team but putting in the behind-the-scenes work nobody sees. It was never, 'Hey, Ryan, you ought to do this.' You only had to tell him once, and he was doing it."

Hertzog suffered an up-and-down senior season.

He finished second in the YAIAA Championships after a blister on a foot popped with about a quarter-mile left. Lee remembers Hertzog grimacing in pain with each step.

Hertzog then went 17:34, tying for 70th place, in the PIAA Class AAA Championships. Lee said Hertzog was pushed down toward the start.

"He lost a medal in the first 200 meters," Lee said. "He had great perspective. 'It's over, let's move on.' That'll serve him well in athletics and life."

Lee believes Hertzog will do well in college because of the longer distances. Collegiate races range from five to 10 kilometers (3.1 to 6.2 miles). Hertzog is looking forward to RMU, which started recruiting him about halfway through the fall.

He considered two other schools, Lehigh University and Geneva College, but RMU appealed the most.

"After I went on a college visit there, I felt really nice there," Hertzog said. "Everything felt good about it."

dpaulling@eveningsun.com; 717-637-3736, extension 139; Twitter: @DanielPaulling