One in a series looking at top recruits for the 2019 football season.
Ricky Ortega can’t remember the first pass he threw to Dapree Bryant.
“It was a long time ago,” Ortega said of the start of the decade-long partnership between Coatesville’s star quarterback and star wide receiver.
For a while, Ortega had a vision of the last pass he would throw to Bryant.
“State final, game-winner,” Ortega said. “That would be a dream come true.”
The possibility of living that storybook final scene to their scholastic careers still fuels Ortega and Bryant, who sparked the Red Raiders to the state semifinals in 2017 and 2018 and enter their senior seasons determined to finally push the team to the top.
Regardless of how this campaign ends for Coatesville, it won’t be the end of the alliance between Ortega and Bryant.
“It’s unique,” Bryant said. “We’ve been together so long, and we’re going to stay together for a few more years.”
Ortega and Bryant, a pair of first-team, all-Pennsylvania selections as juniors, have both committed to continue their careers at Villanova.
Ortega committed to the Wildcats in late June. Bryant pledged to join his longtime friend a few weeks later.
“It was what was best for me,” Bryant said. "My parents can come and see me play. I visited [earlier this summer] with my father, and we both loved it.
“But it makes is special that Ricky is going there, too. We’ve been together for a long time.”
Ortega said he had 21 offers but felt a special connection with Villanova coach Mark Ferrante.
“When I went there we sat in his office, me and my dad [Coatesville coach Mark Ortega] and just talked for over an hour,” Ricky Ortega said. “They believe in me. It felt like home.”
Ortega had narrowed his choices to Villanova, Elon, William and Mary, Monmouth, Wofford, Holy Cross, and Colgate before committing to the Wildcats.
Bryant had announced in June that he had narrowed his choices from 16 offers to a final seven of Toledo, Monmouth, Youngstown, New Mexico, Western Michigan, Holy Cross, and Delaware. But Ortega kept reminding his friends to keep Villanova in the mix.
“He left it up to me but, he was talking to me about it," Bryant said.
Said Ortega: “I wanted him to do what was best for him. But I told him 'Nova was a special place.”
Ortega and Bryant were sophomore stars on the Coatesville team that lost to St. Joseph’s Prep, 53-49, in the PIAA Class 6A state semifinals in December 2017.
They were junior stars on a Coatesville team that lost to Harrisburg, 27-24, in the Class 6A state semifinals in December 2018.
Two special seasons. Two drives to the brink of the state final. Two losses in games undecided until the last play.
For Ortega and Bryant, that’s the driving force for their final high school season.
“They’ve been so close,” said Coatesville coach Matt Ortega. “They want to build on what they’ve experienced, especially the last two years.”
At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Ortega is one of the state’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He threw for 2,507 yards last season, with 36 touchdown passes and five interceptions. He also ran for 953 yards and 13 scores for a team that went 14-1 and averaged 40.9 points.
The 5-8, 170-pound Bryant defies skeptics of his smaller stature with his speed, quickness, hands, and ability to adjust to the football. He caught 53 passes for 1,022 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
“I’ll be glad when they graduate,” Downingtown West coach Mike Milano said. “They are so hard to defend. They spread you out, and it’s pick your poison. And if you pick the wrong poison, their band is playing.”
Matt Ortega traces the special connection between his son and Bryant to their time together in AAU basketball, playing for the Rip City team sponsored by former Coatesville star and NBA player Rip Hamilton.
“I think the biggest thing for them during their developmental years was the time the spent together on the basketball court,” Matt Ortega of the team that finished ninth in the nation when the boys were 12 years old. "I think it was big in terms of their vision, seeing lanes, understanding how to move in relation to each other.”
Ortega and Bryant have been partners on the football field since they were 8 years old and joined the town’s Kid Raiders’ youth program. From the start, Ortega was a quarterback, Bryant a wide receiver.
Ortega said the bond between the two grew especially tight when they took the varsity field as wide-eyed freshmen for one of the state’s most prestigious programs.
“We were both kind of new to the game, both starting varsity, both a little scared,” Ortega said. “We have that relationship where we can trust each other. It’s special.”