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GEOGHEGAN: ‘Coatesville Six’ help Raiders achieve rare Final Four repeat

ROYERSFORD >> The question was posed: what do Aaron Young, Dymere Miller, Tione Holmes, Ricky Santiago, Eddie Easterday and Dapree Bryant have in common, other than being current members of the Coatesville boys’ basketball squad.

“They are all football players,” Coatesville’s head basketball coach Fred Thompson said without missing a beat.

It’s true. Those six had a huge impact as the Red Raiders advanced to their second consecutive semifinal appearance in the PIAA State Football Playoffs last fall. And now — following Saturday’s 96-82 high-flying victory over Chester in the state basketball quarterfinals — Coatesville has equaled the accomplishment of a Final Four in hoops.

“It is astounding,” Thompson said of the feat. “Some of them are more football players than basketball players. The greatest thing about having them is that they’ve experienced the pressure of the state tournament earlier in the school year.”

It’s difficult to convey in words just how difficult it is for one high school – particularly a public one – to climb to the top of the mountain, in a place like Pennsylvania, in the two preeminent sports in the state the way Coatesville has done in the 2018-19 school year. And the six who were on both rosters are a real tangible link between the two programs.

“It’s incredible. It just shows how hard we compete in every sport we play,” said Young.

“We bring a lot of energy,” added Miller. “We are all athletes and we are going to go out there and play our heart out.”

Nearly one-third of Coatesville’s current basketball roster also played football for the Raiders last fall, including Bryant, a first-team All-State wideout, and Rutgers-bound Young, the state’s top running back prospect. Add in two-way starter Tione Holmes (DE-TE), premier offensive lineman (and Towson recruit) Ricky Santiago and dangerous receiver Dymere Miller, and you have five of Coatesville’s top eight basketball players this winter.

The final piece to the puzzle is senior backup guard Eddie Easterday, who would be the starting quarterback if it wasn’t for a generational talent like junior signalcaller Ricky Ortega. He’s been a scout team warrior for both programs.

“Of course, they are very important factors to our basketball team,” Thompson said of the six. “We are happy to have them.

“These kids are tough and resilient. They are among the tougher guys on our team due to the experience of also playing football.”

In both sports, this group’s had a difference-making influence on elevating the Raiders to the top four, and we’re talking about the 6A level, which is tops in the state.

“Impressive” just isn’t a strong enough word. Western Pennsylvania superpower Pine-Richland did it a year ago in hoops and football, which is the only time it’s happened in recent memory in 6A. The Rams played in the state final in both, going 1-1 with a title on the gridiron.

“We bring toughness, which I think transfers over from football,” Young pointed out. “We are all used to the pressure and playing in front of big crowds.”

Five of the six are seniors, with Bryant the only junior. He nearly notched a triple-double for the second straight outing with 22 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on Saturday. As a group, the football/basketball contingent contributed 23 of Coatesville’s 38 rebounds and 11 of the squad’s 14 assists. And even though the incandescent Jhamir Brickus put on one of the greatest offensive performances in Chester County history with 52 points, the group of six chipped in with a total of 35 points.

“This is our senior year and we are just trying to have fun and go out with a bang. There is so much talent at Coatesville, so we want to take advantage of it,” said Miller, the basketball team’s sixth man, who scored four points and added two rebounds and two steals against the Clippers.

“Being a part of two great programs throughout this year is a great feeling,” added Easterday. “All of us seniors have been saying, ‘one last ride.’ This is it, and we are trying to do something that hasn’t been done in quite a while.”

And make no mistake, Coatesville gets everyone’s best shot, in both sports, because knocking them off is so hard to do. Whether in football or basketball, the Raiders are highly respected throughout District 1 – the state’s premier boundary district — and beyond. For evidence, consider the massive crowd that gathered for Saturday’s quarterfinal at Spring-Ford.

To get an idea of the appeal, consider this: Rams’ Athletic Director, Mickey McDaniel, told school officials to lock the doors to the gym a full 15-minutes prior to tip off. Standing-room-only is kind of a catch-all term for a big crowd, but this was the real thing.

“For me, it’s just an honor to play for Coatesville and the city,” said Young, who scored two points and chipped in with three rebounds.

“This has never happened before in Coatesville history,” Miller added. “It makes all of us feel great.”

In addition, big-men Holmes and Santiago combined to score six points and grab eight boards on Saturday.

In 2018-19, the Raiders are now a combined 42-3 in football and basketball. And all six of the dual-sport performers are using this hoops run as a chance for a little redemption from last fall’s heartbreaking 27-24 football setback to Harrisburg with the state final on the line.

“They are all so determined to make things right,” Thompson said. “I was talking to Aaron Young, and he said, ‘I might not have won (a state title) in football but I’m trying to get one in basketball.”

Two more wins, starting on Tuesday against Kennedy Catholic, and the quest will be complete.

“It was a long football season, and losing in the Final Four was hard on us, and then we came right over to basketball season,” Young said.

“Losing that last game to Harrisburg was heartbreaking to all of us,” Easterday added. “We were stunned.

“To have a chance to get it back on the basketball court is like getting a second life.”

Neil Geoghegan can be reached at ngeoghegan@21st-centurymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NeilMGeoghegan.

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