Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Homecoming pays off for Coatesville coordinators
By NATE HECKENBERGER
It’s after midnight early Monday morning and Coatesville High School rests quietly before its inhabitants return hours later.
All is quiet and still, except for the room where Tim Lucci teaches history by day. At this hour, however, Lucci is still up, preparing for his role in the history he and the rest of the Red Raider staff is busy penning.
This is exactly why Lucci, as well as Nick Felus, migrated north four years ago to coordinate the defense and offense, respectively, for head coach Matt Ortega.
“I always knew I wanted to come back to Pennsylvania,” Lucci said. “When I heard from Matt, it was something I definitely had to consider. When I came up here and drove through downtown (Coatesville) it reminded me of all the steel towns I grew up around back home. It was like western Pennsylvania.”
Lucci and Felus took an eerily similar track to becoming some of the top coordinators in the region. Lucci hails from a little town northwest of Pittsburgh called Beaver. Felus grew up not too far away, near Johnstown. After a couple stops at some small colleges, the pair found themselves on the same staff at Sherando High in Northern Virginia.
Both helped lead the Warriors to a state title game in 2007, but an opportunity to return to the Keystone state to compete in District 1 was an easy decision.
“I knew the type of program Coatesville was and it was a no-brainer,” Felus said.
The two coordinators have hardly been the only benefactors as Coatesville’s offense has reached new heights the past couple years and Lucci’s defense has outplayed opponents all postseason.
When Ortega took over in 2009, he was quick to track down the impressive duo he had connected with in the clinic cycle.
“I felt like they were sharp, young, up-and-coming coaches,” Ortega said. “When I talked football with them I could tell they were sharp and they came from a successful program. When they came in to interview, they impressed me and I was willing to take a shot and give them a chance. They’ve done a heck of a job.”
For Felus, football runs in the family. His brother, Carmen, is a co-offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee-Martin. Nick’s presence has been felt in a big way in his short stint, helping 2012 graduates Manny Stocker and Kyle Kerrick earn scholarships to North Carolina State and Michigan State, respectively.
As if he needed validation that last season’s offense with a Division 1 quarterback-wide receiver combo, as well as running back Dae-Hon Cheung (Delaware State), was a product of its players, Felus has produced an even more explosive unit this fall.
“When we lost those guys, and they were great players, we sat down as a staff to see what we had coming back,” Felus said. “We knew (quarterback) Emmett (Hunt) was capable of running the offense and we had some good wide receivers. Putting the numbers up that we have is a little bit of a surprise, but we always focus on player development. We tried to get (running back) Daquan Worley and (wide receiver) Dre Boggs a lot of reps in the offseason and it’s been paying dividends.”
Hunt has gone from a backup quarterback whose notable plays as a junior came on fake punts as the punter to a 43-touchdown slinger with growing Division 1-AA attention. Senior wide receiver Chris Jones has 1,492 yards and 25 receiving touchdowns, and Boggs and Worley are now touchdown threats with every touch.
“He has a lot of knowledge on quarterback-wide receiver play,” Ortega said of Felus. “It’s exceptional the success he’s had with quarterbacks and developing wide receivers. I think he’s one of the best around.”
When asked if he’d ever coached an offense like the one he steers each week currently, Felus was succinct.
“No,” he said.
And he knows exactly why.
“I was thinking a little bit about it this week,” Felus said. “In the summer the kids worked extremely hard, with Emmett and Chris and Vinnie (Williams) throwing together. We actually had to try and get them to rest a little bit so they didn’t get burnt out. It started back in the offseason, and we started to gel together. That’s part of the reason we’re playing so well now, because they know each other so well.”
For Lucci, the circumstance that has presented itself is something that fits his style just right. A football guy through and through, Lucci relishes coordinating a defense that hardly gets credit in a community that mirrors his upbringing.
“The blue-collar work ethic and how football is a way to teach life lessons are important to me,” Lucci said. “When I came to Coatesville I thought, ‘these are the things I know.’”
That might be because Saturday’s game is one that he has been readying for since growing up in the football-rich quadron of the state.
“What hit home for me was North Allegheny has been a big-name program out there since I was young,” Lucci said. “It’s an honor to compete against them and play it on the biggest stage. It’s something I thought about since I was a kid. … It’s beyond cool. Not taking anything away from (the 2007 championship game), but it pales in comparison to this one.”
As has been stated each week of the postseason, the opponent ahead provides the greatest hurdle for the Red Raiders. And each week Lucci has managed to stifle his opponent’s strengths.
It won’t be for a lack of trying against the Tigers, Ortega said of Lucci.
“Tim is a hard worker,” Ortega said. “He’s going to really dot his I’s and cross his T’s. He’s very sound and very thorough and leaves no stone unturned. He makes sure he covers his bases and the kids have confidence in him and play hard for him. They really buy into his system.”
The result has been a defensive squad that resembles its leader by playing tough, scrappy, well-prepared football. With a core built around middle linebacker Tyler Burke, linemen Mike Boykin and Dylan Morgan and Worley at cornerback, Coatesville will once again have to top itself.
That wouldn’t surprise Lucci.
“I’ve never seen a group of kids remain calm when presented with a challenge and readily accept it,” Lucci said.
A proposal of becoming another team’s head coach may very well present itself to Felus or Lucci or both in the near future. Whether or not they’d decide to accept that is irrelevant at the moment.
For now, getting that sour flavor of a loss in the 2007 Virginia state championship out of their mouths is priority one.
Home cooking tastes better anyways.