Judge grad Nase right at home at Cheltenham

Ryan Nase led Cheltenham to its first playoff win since 2001 last year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The community is surprised and happy.

The coach is anything but.

Ryan Nase, the head coach of the Cheltenham High School football team, didn’t give himself a five-year plan. When he was named the Panthers coach prior to the 2017 season, he wasn’t looking toward the future.

He was just looking to have a good football team.

“I’m happy with the way the kids are working, but when I look at our team, I don’t really see the wins, I see the penalties, I see the mistakes, I see ways we need to get better,” said Nase, a 2002 graduate of Father Judge who now lives in Morrell Park. “I see things we need to improve on. I love seeing our kids go play in college and get better and stronger, but I’m always looking to get better. I think that’s how most coaches see their programs.”

Perhaps when he retires years from now, he’ll be able to sit back and see what the rest of the Cheltenham football community is watching.

In his first year as the coach, Nase’s team won just two games, though they were competitive. Last year, the team went 8-4 and won a playoff game for the first time since 2001. This year, they’ve been even better, starting off 2-1 with wins over Council Rock South, and Frankford. But the success they’ve had thus far isn’t because of the hard work they started putting on in August. This work started long ago.

Nase, who teaches a youth court class, where students run a courtroom and peers serve as the jury, runs the weight room at the school for all students. And while he loves seeing wrestlers, basketball players and track stars in the room, he is happiest when he sees his players in there, pumping iron. He’s even happier when it’s a two-sport star.

“I know a lot of coaches want their kids playing football and that’s it, but I’m the exact opposite,” Nase said. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t play another sport. I love seeing kids play multiple sports. And we have a lot of them.”

Nase loves winning football games.

He’s been a competitor since he played at Judge, and later at Peddie School and then Lafayette, where he graduated as a history major.

But he likes helping kids even more.

He does that at the school, where he spends more time trying to get his players to do well in school and to get into college than he does drawing up plays.

And he helps in other ways, too.

Nase runs the Greg Hennigar Memorial Tournament, a 7-on-7 flag football tournament that features some of the best high school teams in the area. And proceeds from the tournament go to help schools and athletes who need it. For example, this summer, when Frankford coach Bill Sytsma brought his players to the clubhouse, giving them a safe place to hang out, Nase used funds from the tournament to pay for pizzas.

The tournament is a great way to raise money, but it also started as a great tribute. Hennigar was Nase’s quarterback at Judge. He passed away after a car accident in 2003. At the time, he was a quarterback at Penn State.

Hennigar loved football and was known for being a good person willing to help anyone. Nase has continued that under his friend’s name.

“I really like helping kids because I was lucky to have coaches like the ones I had at Judge and Peddie and in college,” Nase said. “If I can help someone, I’m going to do it. It’s nice to help kids at Cheltenham, but I’ll help anyone, and athletics is a great way to do that.”

Nase might be known for helping people, but he’s still not afraid to reach out to his mentors and get some advice. He’s got a pretty good one, too, in former Judge coach and current Penn Charter headman Tom Coyle.

Coyle has been a huge part of Nase’s life. He was in his wedding and has always been there whenever Nase has had a question. He also hired Nase to coach at Judge and Penn Charter.

“How often do I call him? A lot more than he probably wants me to,” Nase joked. “He’s always there when I need anything. I don’t usually call him as much about football X’s and O’s, I’ll call him mostly to talk about building a program, which is what I’m trying to do here, and I did it a little bit when I was (the athletic director) at Tacony. He did it at Judge and he did it again at Penn Charter. He would get help from Whitey Sullivan, and he’s helping me. He’s helped me more than I could even say.”

Coyle was a great mentor to Nase. Another great mentor to him was his father, who passed away in 2014. A star baseball player, he saw his son play football and coach as an assistant, but he’d be very proud of what his son has accomplished in a short time at Cheltenham.

“My dad wouldn’t say anything, but I could tell, when I was playing and later coaching that he was proud,” Nase said. “He would give me the look. And my mom likes it, too. I think she wishes I’d be less stressed. But she’s happy because she knows I love doing it.”

His parents aren’t his only inspiration.

His wife, Katie, has been very big in his coaching career. When he’s busy at work, she’s home playing zone defense to watch the couple’s three kids, twins Cadence and Kalynn, 5, and Carley, 14 months.

“She is great and so understanding,” Nase said. “She’s a teacher so she understands putting in long hours. She is a great mom, and the kids love her. She does a great job with them, and I love seeing them. I spend time with them, it’s just limited during football season.”

It’s a routine everyone should get used to.

Nase enjoys being at Cheltenham and hopes to be there for years to come.

“I tell the kids, I’m not sure if it’s good news or bad news, but I’m not going anywhere,” Nase said. “The only way I would ever possibly leave is if there was a school that could offer my kids a great education. But I want to be at Cheltenham. I love the school, I love the kids and I love the community. I want to be here.”