Friday, November 30, 2012
Coatesville's Ortega fosters family atmosphere
By NATE HECKENBERGER
DOWNINGTOWN -- Moments after Spring-Ford punched in a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to close the scoring at 59-28, Coatesville coach Matt Ortega met his son, Ricky, on the sideline and reached out his arm for a fist bump.
Ortega, beginning his rounds of hugs and handshakes prior to his Gatorade bath in the waning minutes, probably couldn’t have drawn it up better than that, celebrating a Class AAAA District 1 title with his son.
In his fourth season as head coach of the Red Raiders, Ortega become somewhat of a father figure to many of his players as well and the results have followed.
“I feel as though he’s changed the program a lot,” Coatesville quarterback Emmett Hunt said. “He treats us like sons. Outside the field he tells us not to call him coach. We’re more of a family and he’s a great coach and I love him. He’s the best coach I ever had.”
It’d be easy and obvious to say that Ortega was the right hire in 2009 now that Coatesville has become the first Ches-Mont district champ in 16 years, but that validation came before this postseason even started.
I have covered a fair amount of Coatesville games and had enough phone conversations with Ortega to understand a few things about him. He’s not one for small talk. He has a quiet but firm way about him. And he has an absolute passion for Coatesville football and for winning.
That all-business mentality was just what the Red Raiders needed after three straight non-playoff seasons and a program that had become somewhat disorganized and undisciplined. For a turnaround, Coatesville needed someone who could inspire teenagers both on the field and off.
If there’s one thing to be said about Ortega, it’s that he definitely takes his job home with him. Knowing how to keep his keeps focused each week on preparing for the next game does not always stay within school hours, and Ortega has been willing to put in the time to make sure he is there for his players so they stay committed to each other.
“He gives us a lot of confidence,” Coatesville receiver Chris Jones said. “He made us believe in each other and believe that we could change the program. It took four years to finally get a district championship, but I’m so glad we could do it for Coach Ortega.”
Back in 2008, Coatesville jumped out to a 3-0 start, only to get bumped by an 0-3 Downingtown East team, 19-14. A week later the Red Raiders were shut out, 27-0, on a Saturday afternoon at Unionville. They went on to win four of the next five, but a first-round loss to Downingtown West left an unfulfilling feeling in the air and a switch was made.
The culture change has been the biggest reason for Coatesville’s resurgence. Slowly but surely the Red Raiders have grown from a team that could be shaken when things started to get bad to a team that simply shrugs off adversity.
Even in Ortega’s first game at the helm, a 21-6 loss at the hands of the eventual District 1 champ Ridley, there were signs that better days were ahead.
Those days are here now, and Coatesville has scored 202 points in four playoffs games and Hunt is steering a ship that has a defined direction. If that 2008 loss to Downingtown East was the beginning of the end, the 35-34 loss to the Cougars in week four was the start of something brilliant this season. Instead of a next-week hangover, the Red Raiders stomped on Unionville, 42-0, in week five and haven’t looked back since.
Ortega credits the kids and the structure.
“The biggest part is figuring out how physical you have to be to win in District 1,” Ortega said. “It’s something that started to build each year. We knew we had the right philosophy and right system. To be good in District 1 we knew what we had to do physically to get it done, and we were able to do that (Friday night).”
Sure, the weight room and a strong coaching staff and the right scheme with the right kids all help. But don’t think for one minute that Ortega’s demeanor doesn’t translate in the way his team has played this season. Ortega is meticulous and driven and he’s also a pacer. And his team has been a meticulous, driven team all year long, and not coincidentally, has not yet stopped moving, either.
So, for Ricky, who quarterbacked his 100-pound Kid Raiders team to a Bert Bell runner-up finish this fall, that fist bump probably felt pretty cool, knowing his dad just pulled off something great. The catch is, he’s inherited a whole team of older brothers who think much of the same.