Football combine gives athletes a chance to shine

Ryan Nase is hoping to help kids who aren’t playing football this fall pick up some college offers. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Ryan Nase knows how important a senior season can be.

Nase, the football coach at Cheltenham High School, didn’t play a varsity snap before his final year in high school when he became a starter on the offensive line for Father Judge. His success in his final season got him a chance to play at the Peddie School, and then he attended Lafayette College, where he became a solid player.

If he didn’t have his senior season, none of that would have happened.

That’s why he and many other coaches in the area are disappointed that districts have canceled the fall season because of coronavirus.

“Missing your senior season as a Division I player is bad because you want to play, but it’s really not the end of the world because if you’re a Division I player, most of the time, you’re going to have enough film to get a scholarship,” said Nase, who last year in his third season as coach led the Panthers to the 5A state championship game before losing to Archbishop Wood. “But the Division II and III kids, it’s going to really hurt them because this is the time for them to get noticed.

“Take my team, last year we had some Division I receivers who were seniors. They graduated. This year, we were going to start kids who I’m 99 percent sure could play at the Division II level and 1,000 percent sure they could play at the Division III level. But they have very little film because last year, they were behind Division I kids. It’s not their fault, it’s just how it goes. Those are the kids who are getting hurt by not having a senior season.”

But Nase, along with other coaches and organizations, are doing their best to make sure these kids get noticed.

On Saturday, Beyond the Field Showcase will be held at Black Hawk Field just off the Temple University campus. The event will be a combine of sorts, where football players who are unable to play this fall because of cancellations will be put through paces in front of college football coaches. They’ll also receive a free lunch and engage in some socially distanced one-on-one drills.

Among the schools that are welcome to take part in the combine are all Philadelphia Public League teams as well as Harry S. Truman, Cheltenham, Academy Park, Chester, Chichester, Interboro, Norristown, Penn Wood, Reading and Catholic League schools West Catholic and Father Judge.

“There are a ton of people who got involved in this, and they really stepped up to help these kids,” Nase said. “Me, (Frankford coach) Bill Sytsma and Nick Lincoln, who coached at Imhotep and now at Del Val, took the lead to get it organized, it was all the people who stepped up that made it happen. The Ertz Family Foundation did so much for this. The Maxwell Football Club did a lot for it. A lot of people came together to make this happen.”

Including schools that won’t benefit from the combine.

“Two schools that helped us so much and they both insisted they get no credit are Archbishop Wood and St. Joe’s Prep. Wood helped us get the service at a reduced rate and we wouldn’t have had the field without St. Joe’s Prep. Their head coach and top assistant are both Northeast Philly guys, so you have connections. They were great about this.”

Taking part in a combine doesn’t do much to take the sting out of not playing. And Nase admits that every Friday and Saturday, when he sees teams playing football and knowing his boys are stuck at home, it hurts.

But local schools have gotten together to have football activities a few days a week, and he’s happy to add any activities to keep idle players thinking about football and their future. Nase isn’t surprised by the outpouring of support, but he does love to see it.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Nase said. “That’s what football coaches do. We do everything we can to beat each other, a lot of times we don’t like each other, we might say bad things about each other, but when someone needs something, we come together. It’s all about helping the kids.

“Division I coaches aren’t allowed to be here because it’s a dead period, but we’re expecting between 35 and 40 Division II and III football coaches to attend. Going to college can be life changing, and sometimes a kid needs help getting there. This could give them the help they need.”

It’s also giving these kids a chance to do what they love to do.

A lot of these kids have been idle since coronavirus shut everything down in March. They might have to wait a little while to get back to playing football, but at least they’re getting back into the game.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Nase said. “So many, beyond the field workouts, a lot of these kids didn’t know and some still don’t know when they’re going to have a season, but they’re so happy to be out there and working out, being around their friends.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the social and emotional benefits that sports play for high school aged kids, particularly for the schools that aren’t playing this fall. It’s predominantly young, black males. They need a chance to do something positive, and this will give them that. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun day.”

The event is capped at 150 participants due to social distancing, and registration is required. For more details, visit allsportstesting.com/registration.