Talent on the field, and sideline

Matt Ortega has put together an area powerhouse at Coatesville.

Coatesville senior linebacker and tight end Tyler Burke. (Lou Rabito/Staff)

The Coatesville football practice was at full-throttle, pockets of activity speckling the grass field, and coach Matt Ortega was moving briskly, checking in on one drill, scampering over to the next, occasionally talking to a player or one of his assistants.

Ortega has put a lot of talent on the field in building the Red Raiders into an area power. But first, he put a lot of talent on his coaching staff.

He was letting those assistants do their thing at the practice.

"I think it starts with the people he brings in around him," assistant coach Scott Feldman said of Ortega's success. "He wants people around him that know football, that are going to put time in, and know what it takes to take the program to the next level.

"And that's huge - you have to have a great staff. And we have an unbelievable football staff here."

Feldman, Ortega's coach at Steelton-Highspire High, gave Ortega his first coaching job and is one of two former head coaches on Ortega's staff, guiding the wide receivers. Tom Nichols, whom Ortega replaced as Coatesville coach, is another assistant, in charge of the offensive line.

Four other assistants have college coaching experience: Nick Felus (offensive coordinator), Tim Lucci (defensive coordinator), Brian Wood (safeties), and Barry Hawkins (defensive line).

Supported by that experience, Ortega, 38, begins his fifth season with the Red Raiders having improved their record each year (5-5, 8-3, 9-3, 13-3). Last season, Coatesville reached the Class AAAA state final before falling to North Allegheny, 63-28.

That's a new level of football success for a school more known for its boys' basketball program.

"I just think it's the timing of having a couple of classes that are pretty good back to back, and then having a great staff," Ortega said. "I've got guys who have college experience, guys who were head coaches, and then you put that together with a community and administration that's big on sports and believes in what sports can do for a community and for a school, and it's really the reason why we've been so successful the last four years."

Building up a program isn't new for Ortega, who played at Steelton-Highspire, Central Dauphin, and St. Francis College (Pa.) before beginning his coaching career at St. Francis in 1997. He was defensive coordinator for Feldman at Lancaster McCaskey for the next five seasons and at Harrisburg High in 2003 before getting his first head-coaching job, at William Penn (York).

He guided William Penn for five seasons, going 37-18 and revamping a team that had won only eight games over the previous five years.

Ortega took over the Red Raiders after Nichols resigned in March 2009 to coach his alma mater, Conestoga Valley. Nichols stepped down from Conestoga Valley six months ago and returned to the coaching staff at Coatesville, where he had continued to teach.

The Red Raiders program, Nichols said, "has gone further, obviously. They're doing a much better job of getting more kids out than we were."

"The kids," Ortega said, "do all the right things on and off the field, and it carries over definitely to the football field. They put so much time in. They work so hard in the offseason. We ask a lot of our guys, and they answer the bell."

Division I coaches have come ringing, too.

The Red Raiders were led two years ago by three skill-position seniors bound for Division I programs: quarterback Manny Stocker (North Carolina State), wide receiver Kyle Kerrick (signed with Michigan State, transferred to Tennessee-Martin), and running back Dae-Hon Cheung (Delaware State).

Coatesville replaced them last year with a new batch of Division I prospects: quarterback Emmett Hunt (Delaware State), wideout Chris Jones (Coastal Carolina), and running back/defensive back Daquan Worley (Penn State).

Worley, a senior, is the only one of the trio back this season and leads the team along with linebacker/tight end Tyler Burke, a senior who has committed to Maryland. Ortega thinks three or four underclassmen could be Division I prospects, too.

"Our coaches stay on us a lot, and everybody wants to be accountable on this team," Worley said. "We just try to come together and make something special every year."

Matching last season's special year will be a challenge for Coatesville, the No. 1 team in The Inquirer's preseason Southeastern Pennsylvania rankings.

Ortega said he returns eight players on defense and five on offense. Worley anchors the offensive backfield. Junior Jay Stocker, Manny's brother, should be a top wideout. But the quarterback situation isn't as settled as it was in the last two years.

Junior Sami Warren and sophomore Jordan Young battled through training camp and Young won the job, although Ortega said both will play.

The coach, having surrounded himself with experienced and talented assistants, having focused on player development, said he is expecting "some good things."

"I'm not one of those guys that's going to come in here and demand things. I don't think youth today respond to that," Ortega said. "Youth today, first they need to know that you care about them and that you're real.

"And I think when you do that, that's when you can challenge them, that's when you can push them, and that's when you're going to get the best out of them."


Contact Lou Rabito at 215-854-2916 or rabitol@phillynews.com.