Two ex-District 3 coaches, Matt Ortega, Jim Cantafio lead powerhouse Coatesville program
After coaching high school football for 40 years, Jim Cantafio was settling into a life of semi-retirement with his wife, Tracy, in bucolic Lancaster.
But Coatesville head coach Matt Ortega had a different plan in mind for Cantafio, who was known for successfully running the spread offense and helping quarterbacks earn college scholarships.
While serving as a defensive coordinator at Lancaster McCaskey and Harrisburg and being the head coach at York High, Ortega became friendly and talked football strategy with Cantafio.
So, when Nick Felus left as offensive coordinator at Coatesville after the 2015 season to become the head coach at Altoona, Ortega immediately knew the person he wanted to replace Felus.
"Matt called me, but I couldn't say yes at first," Cantafio said. "But that didn't deter him at all. He drove to my house three times to talk to me. He was very persistent."
Cantafio, in turn, drove to Coatesville twice to see the players go through workouts.
"I said to myself, 'Man, they have so much speed and talent,' " Cantafio said. "I wanted the opportunity to coordinate a high-powered offense."
"Matt gave me full authority with what I wanted to do; he brought in a good offensive line coach [Mick Bonner, formerly at Ridley]; and he said all you have to do is worry about running the offense."
Cantafio, 65, has done just that, and Coatesville is lighting up the scoreboard this season behind quarterback Ricky Ortega, the head coach's son, Michigan State-bound halfback Aaron Young, and wide receiver Dapree Bryant.
With a wide-open scheme that features four- and five-receiver sets, the 11-0 Red Raiders average 47.3 points per game. That number could be considerably higher, but Ortega pulls his starters early in the second half of lopsided contests.
Coatesville has outscored its foes, 520-112 and has advanced to the District 1 Class 6-A quarterfinals. The Red Raiders were ranked No. 2 in the state in 6-A in the latest TribHSSN rankings.
Mutual respect: Do Ortega and Cantafio ever bicker over play-calling or the squad's pass-run ratio?
"There's a mutual respect there, so there aren't any issues," Ortega said. "When you have Jim on your side, you just put your trust in him and don't get in his way."
Said Cantafio: "Matt lived up to his promise. He has never tried to one-up me or anything like that. He knows my style and the time I put into this, so he has confidence in me."
Cantafio has compiled a 263-95-2 record (.735 winning percentage) in 32 seasons as head coach. He was in charge at Conestoga Valley for 15 years; Wyoming Valley West for three years; Wilson, outside of Reading, for eight years; and Cedar Cliff for six years.
QB guru: The coach has long provided one-on-one instruction and run camps for quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends, and kickers. He is the president and director at Susquehanna Valley Sports at Spooky Nook Sports, an enormous indoor complex located in western Lancaster County.
He is the only coach in state history to send two quarterbacks to the annual Nike Elite 11 finals: Wilson's Chad Henne and Cedar Cliff's Andrew Ford.
Henne went on to be a four-year starter at Michigan and is in his 11th NFL season, now a backup with the Kansas City Chiefs. Ford is a redshirt senior at Massachusetts and has thrown for nearly 7,000 yards and 57 scores over the last three seasons in Amherst.
Another one of Cantafio's quarterbacks pupils was former Malvern Prep quarterback Alex Hornibrook, now a starter at Wisconsin.
Ricky Ortega said he has been going to Cantafio's camps since he was in fifth grade. The up-and-coming junior added one-on-one training sessions as a freshman at Coatesville.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without him, and neither would our team," Ricky Ortega said. "He works so hard at preparing our offense for each opponent."