The first thing Matt and Ricky Ortega needed were ground rules. They had to figure out where to draw the lines in their relationship, the public part of which would be on display under bright lights on Friday nights.
"They had to make some hard decisions,” Corrie Ortega said of her husband and oldest son. “Matt’s the coach and dad. Ricky’s the son and player. They had to figure how all that would work.”
It’s been an ongoing process, marked by consistent success by the Coatesville football team, record-setting play by Ricky Ortega and a deft balancing act by Matt Ortega.
And it’s deep in the fourth quarter.
Sometime in the near future – maybe Friday following the District 1 Class 6A semifinals at Garnet Valley, maybe the first weekend in December at the state final in Hershey — Ricky Ortega will walk off the field after playing his last game for his father.
"We don’t want it to end,” Ricky Ortega said last Friday after leading Coatesville to a 41-24 victory over Central Bucks West. "It’s probably going to shock us. We’re trying to keep going, keep trying to win the next game.”
Standing on the field after his team won its 10th consecutive District 1 playoff game, Matt Ortega tried again to find the sweet spot as coach and father, as educator responsible for 80 student-athletes and parent of the star quarterback.
“Obviously, you think about, ‘Is this the last game?’” Matt Ortega said. “I’m just trying to coach up the team and coach him like he’s any other kid and after the game, love him up because he is my boy.”
Coatesville has been among the state’s best programs in the last four seasons. The Red Raiders are 47-7, with four Ches-Mont League National Division titles, and they need two more victories — over Garnet Valley and over the Downingtown West-Haverford High winner next weekend — to capture their third straight District 1 title.
"It’s going to be really tough and sad when it ends,” Ricky Ortega said. “But at same time, we had a great career together. As a team, too, our whole senior group might have the most wins in Coatesville history.”
Ricky Ortega has fashioned one of the most accomplished careers in state history. He’s third on the state’s all-time list with 122 touchdown passes, according to sports historian Chuck Langerman.
Ortega needs 33 passing yards to become the first player in Pennsylvania history to throw for 2,000 yards in four seasons. He needs 264 yards to reach 10,000 passing yards.
He is a daring runner, too. The Villanova recruit has 2,694 career rushing yards. He went for 131 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the victory over C.B. West.
"Dynamic,” C.B. West coach Rob Rowan said of Ortega after the district quarterfinals.
Ricky Ortega came home from the hospital as a newborn in a Penn State onesie. So did his younger brothers Tommy, a sophomore wide receiver, and Matt Jr., a.k.a. Buggy, a quarterback and nose guard for the Kid Raiders youth program.
The Ortegas are a football family. All three boys had toy footballs in their cribs. Ricky, in particular, loved to watch film with his dad, the head coach at York High before taking over the Coatesville program.
“Matt never pressured the boys to play,” Corrie Ortega said. “They’ve just always seen his passion and love for the sport.”
Matt never coached Ricky in football at the youth level. They needed to set the terms for their relationship when Ricky became a freshman in 2016. But nobody considered ruling out football talk at the dinner table.
"Heavens no,” Corrie Ortega said. “That’s the language we speak.”
She said it helped that Matt is defensive coordinator and not directly involved with the offense. But at times, things at home have heated up.
“I’ve had to break up fights,” Corrie Ortega said. “Kind of send them both to their room to cool down.”
Things have evolved over the years. This season, it’s not usual to see Ricky pacing next to his father on the sideline while Coatesville is playing defense. Sometimes, Ricky will pull on Matt’s shirt when the coach takes a few steps on the field.
"That never would have happened before,” Corrie Ortega said. “Now Ricky is more of a leader. He’s always telling Matt, ‘We’re going to be fine.’”
Ricky has been on the sideline for every game the Red Raiders have played in Matt’s 11 seasons. That streak started when Ricky was a second-grade ball boy and has continued through his playing days, season after season.
That family tradition will end next August, when Ricky enrolls at Villanova and Matt takes the field for the first time at Coatesville without his oldest boy within reach. Maybe that’s why father and son are squeezing these last practices, cherishing these final games.
"It’s the greatest thing ever to happen to me,” Ricky said of playing for his father. “I’m blessed to share these memories, share these moments with him. Nothing could beat it.”