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DOWNINGTOWN EAST: TIGHT END HIGH SCHOOL

HOW A POSITION EMBODIED A CULTURE AND SET A STANDARD FOR THE DOWNINGTOWN FOOTBALL PROGRAM


“PLEASE TELL ME YOU AREN’T RUNNING A STUPID OFFENSE WITHOUT A TIGHT END AND A FULL BACK WITH THEIR HAND IN THE DIRT!” It was 2006 just outside Coach Matta’s office at Downingtown East. Keith Carter was in town recruiting for Wagner when Coach Matta discussed the struggles he had in identifying who and what his program was. It wasn’t for a lack of success – the program had just made the district finals with Pat Devlin at the helm – but Coach Matta felt there was a void somewhere that he couldn’t put his finger on.


Since the split of Downingtown High School, Downingtown East has embodied the personality of its head coach Michael Matta. According to Coach Matta, high school football is the “last game of social darwinism.” A game where only the strong survive. In Pennsylvania, high school football is one of the last sports without fancy club teams where you can try out and get a $100 dollar super-duper tee shirt; there are only ten games to prove your worth. Coach Matta has built his program on this idea for the last 21 years at Downingtown East: only the mentally and physically tough will succeed and giving up or backing down is not an option.


“I can remember as a kid being so excited for Friday nights so I could watch Downingtown football. Back in those days, we could either go to the game or watch it on WCOJ TV. Channel 7. All I wanted to do was be good enough to play in high school for Downingtown. I can remember when I was in junior high, Downingtown High School had a TE named Mike Millard. He was really good, so I remember thinking It would be awesome to play TE for Downingtown! I am proud to be part of the TE tradition at Downingtown. I keep thinking, man, they just keep getting better."

- Keith Carter


While it is easy to say, in high school sports, it is hard to sustain. Great players graduate and move on. The great programs don’t have “good teams” every couple of years; they are sustained through the culture and identity of the program. Turnover happens every year, and there is no recruiting, no grabbing the biggest strongest kids in the tri-state area – making the importance of tradition and culture paramount to continuing the program’s identity of grit and toughness. There is one key to this: the tight end position.


“Tight Ends at Downingtown learn to become blocking tight ends first and receiving tight ends second. There were tight ends of all athletic skill sets to come through the program, all with one thing in common: we are all willing to put our hand in the dirt and beat up the guy in front of us.”

- Ed Matta (‘05-’06)


Anyone who has followed high school football in Pennsylvania knows that there have been great players that have contributed to the success of the Downingtown Football Program. Pat Devlin, Kyle Lauletta, and more recently Bo Horvath, Mike Waite, and Mike Leo have obviously left their marks on the program. But the tight end position has managed to grow the program and build the identity that everyone expects from Downingtown.


2014: Downingtown leads a good Rustin team late in the 4th Quarter – Cary Angeline is emphatically yelling to Offensive Coordinator Tom Wolf and Coach Matta. “Who the hell is he yelling at? What’s the problem?” Coach Matta asks Tom Wolf. After a few seconds it's clear Cary is yelling: “KEEP RUNNING THE BALL TO MY SIDE! DON’T YOU DARE STOP!”

- Cary Angeline (‘13-15)


It is impossible to identify how the tradition was built without the two pillars and foundation of tight ends who have had their fingerprints on the position, and the program, to this day: Brandon Darlington and Keith Carter. To Darlington, it was more than just playing football on a team, it was a responsibility to be tough and impose his will: “It’s about TRADITION and what it means to wear the jersey and what it means to represent that jersey. You are honoring those that played before you and those that play after you.” The foundation of the position was built there and eventually was literally translated to future tight ends (Tyler Kroft, specifically, who we’ll get to later) as Darlington continued to preach the intrinsic values of the position long after his last down of high school football.


As mentioned before, one player and one team cannot independently build and sustain a culture for an entire program. Coach Matta has been able to channel it throughout the entirety of his career at Downingtown thanks to another well known tight end, Keith Carter. In 2006, just a couple years into Coach Matta’s tenure, the program was struggling to find an identity. It was from this epiphany that Coach Matta re-established the identity of the program: it was going to run through the tight end.


“After talking with Keith, I knew that I was going to reinvent the offense and the identity around what became a pillar of our culture: the position would embody values of selflessness, hard-nosed determination, and Family-Attitude-Toughness.”


“I loved playing that position at Downingtown. Being a tight end, I needed to know all the blocking schemes and route concepts to be successful. Most plays I’m at the point of attack, so it makes every block that much more important. Being a tight end at Downingtown is a big deal; there are so many amazing players who come before you. The bar is set high with numerous college and NFL alumni, so it’s up to you to be able to live up to that legacy. It’s daunting when you are a freshman and sophomore when you think about who played that position before you. My time playing at Downingtown has molded me into a better student, a better athlete, and most importantly a better man.”

- Nick Lovenguth (2019-2020)


The offense was re-invented in a pro-style, two back structure that relied heavily on the tight end. Coach Matta leaned a lot on his son Ed during this transition. If anyone knew how to embody a tough, block first mindset, it was Ed Matta. A whole childhood and experience filled with stories of Darlington and Carter inspired Ed to love the feeling of his hands in the dirt. Coach Matta describes, “Ed was able to tap into that tradition and he was a solid blocker that had a couple of tricks up his sleeve, but embraced the blocking aspect of the position and never lost his ground.” Ed had a huge impact on re-establishing that tradition, but Coach Matta was still longing for that “swiss army knife” type of Y like Darlington and Carter, and that came in 2008 in the form of Tyler Kroft.


“Tyler became what we always hoped to have. He could do everything. He was a great blocker, an elite athlete, and we knew that he was going to be good. There was no ceiling. From then on, we really started to become Tight End High School,” says Coach Matta.


When Tyler Kroft and Dan Gianforte arrived for their 9th grade season, it was clear that the TE position would be in good hands for the future. They both honed their specific skill sets in different ways, Gianforte learning from the fullback to TE position and Kroft learning from the X to the TE position. Their ability to play all of these different versions of a TE, while being on the field at the same time, introduced a new reality for the program. Watching Downingtown now, you’re sure to find two Ys on the field in some form or fashion for most of the game, but it was in 2008-2010 that it really became a part of the offense's identity. While there was a slight ship in identity, Gianforte will tell you the foundation of the position was still the same: “The game is won in the trenches and playing tight end, especially for Downingtown, requires a level of toughness not other positions or teams need on every play. Battling all summer on the sled alongside the offensive line family during two-a-days instill the toughness and level of accountability needed throughout the season. On the flip side - the position for Downingtown is a constant threat in the passing game – catching that 15-yard seam route for a first down. That level of toughness, athleticism, and versatility at the tight end position is required on every drive to be a successful offense.”


"I loved learning and playing Tight End at Downingtown East, where the program's pillars of family, accountability, and toughness embody what it means to play the position. Those characteristics will carry you throughout life outside of football. I have tried to embody those pillars, and they have helped me make a living playing this game. The environment created by the coaches and staff at Downingtown East will set you up for success, you just have to buy in. In my opinion, Tight End is one of the most challenging positions in football. I say that because the Tight End is directly involved in both the run and pass game. As a tight end, understanding how you fit in a run scheme is pivotal to a play’s success. Whether you are on the frontside point of attack or backside of a run play, understanding how dramatically different your footwork, leverage, and blocking technique is crucial to win each rep."

- Tyler Kroft (2008-2010)


The key, or secret sauce, to the sustainability and the tradition of TE HS came in the years to follow. There wasn’t always a future NFL tight end like Tyler Kroft or Cary Angeline. The secret has always been in the succession of the position. Young kids wanted to come into the program and play tight end. “We started looking at guys to eventually become tight ends, which is different. Most people try and identify the quarterback. We think the Y is the key,” Coach Matta explains.


They have come in all shapes and sizes and varying skill sets. But as Ed Matta said, they all wanted their hand in the dirt and to beat the guy in front of them. Players like Ryan Bond, Nick Lovenguth, and George Bousum all looked different but embodied what it meant to play tight end for Downingtown. They were mean, tough, and never backed down. According to Bousum, “Playing tight end at Downingtown was definitely an honorable challenge because of how versatile and smart you must be to play the position.” It’s difficult to really understand the amount of stress the Downingtown offense puts on this position. The offense simply can’t be effective without it.


"I felt like Tight end was the ultimate position on offense for someone who loves football. In the off-season you got to take part in 7on7s and events like battle of the hogs. You had to learn pass blocking, run blocking, route running, and catching the ball, working with both the receivers and line in practice. It requires knowledge of the entire offense and a high level of physicality. I saw a lot of this from the other TEs while I was coming up and from the guys who came after me."

- Ryan Bond (2011)


Two recent key tight ends who kept the glue and embodied the past, but pushed the program and culture into the future for years to come were the Noble brothers. In 2017, Connor Noble was a rising sophomore and Coach Matta had known that he’d be the next successor to the illustrious position. “I knew that he would win in a fight against anyone he came across,” Coach Matta describes. It turned out he was right, as a sophomore Connor was a key blocker in a year where Downingtown had THREE separate 1,000 yard rushers for the year (which was quite the feat considering they were never on the field at the same time). The same could be said for the latest installment of Noble tight ends at Downingtown. Jack Noble was one of the more prolific blocking tight ends that this program had seen since his brother Connor. What made both of them so special was that they made a position riddled with history and tradition and into their own, becoming important leaders of the teams in vastly different ways, both leading their senior teams to Ches-Mont titles.


"The tradition of playing tight end for Downingtown is a good one. We have had a lot of great players at the position. We are also at the point of attack almost every play. Because of the great players before us and how important tight ends are in our offense we were always held to a high standard."

- Connor Noble (2017-2019)


Throughout the years, while the names have been different, the tight end position has been the foundation for the Downingtown Football Program’s success. While there have been big names that have gone on to play in Big 33 games, high level college football, and even the NFL, the common thread has not been raw ability, but a belief in the tradition - and of course a real love for having their hand in the dirt.


The History of TE’s

2003: Brad Eagles

2004: Evan Byrd

2005: Kevin Nagahashi

2006-7: Ed Matta

2008-2010: Tyler Kroft

2010: Dan Gianforte

2011-12: Ryan Bond

2013-2015: Cary Angeline

2016 Noah Hahn

2017-19: Connor Noble

2019-2020: Nick Lovenguth

2020-21: George Bousum

2023: Erik Thelander

2024: Jack Noble







In Their Own Words


● Keith Carter: "In my opinion, TE is the best position on offense. You get the physicality and pride of running the ball and the excitement of catching passes and scoring Touchdowns"


● Brandon Darlington: “Fun, Passion, Love, Brotherhood. Forget yourself so others never forget you”


● Tyler Kroft: “It is not a shock to see the level of success players from the Downingtown program have had playing the game of football. While the offensive schemes may have evolved over the years, the pillars of the program family, accountability, and toughness will always lead the way. The program does a great job of setting the current players up for success while honoring the tradition of those that have come before. It is exciting to see the continued success the program has had over the years and I am eager to see how the next generation will make their mark.”


● Dan Gianforte: “Tight End at Downingtown has a deep history of pride in the position. Demonstrated by many continuing to play at a high level in college and even the NFL, the bar is set extremely high coming up in the program playing this position. The coaching staff at Downingtown does a tremendous job preparing and developing players to be successful both on and off the field. It’s exciting to see past and present player success and a source of pride that I was able to be a small part of this storied position for a great program like Downingtown.”


● Ryan Bond: “I’m proud to say I’m part of a group that produced so much talent and success over the years and look forward to seeing that tradition carried on.”


● Cary Angeline: “I'm a strong believer that Downingtown has truly earned the name "Tight End High School". Not too many high schools have the legacy of using a tight end in the traditional way. Downingtown football has stuck to its roots and continues to produce premier tight end talent year in and year out. From Keith Carter, to Tyler Kroft, to Ryan Bond, to Chris Beals, to Noah Hahn to Jackson Noble, the tight end fraternity is truly something that can not be re-created. Downingtown is known for hard nose football, and you can't do that without the tight end position. As a former Downingtown tight end I had the privilege to help coach the tight ends in the 2023 season. There's truly nothing like being back in the Downingtown program and being able to help our tight ends continue to develop a well rounded skill set.”


● Nick Lovenguth: “The bar is set high with numerous college and NFL alumni, so it’s on you to live up to that legacy.”


● George Bousum: “My experience playing tight end at Downingtown was definitely an honorable challenge because of how versatile and smart you must be to play the position. The tradition of tight ends at Downingtown was always special to me because of all the great athletes that played before myself and all of the great ones that played after me.”


● Connor Noble: “Because of the great players before us and how important tight ends are in our offense we were always held to a high standard.”



Author: Jeffrey Whitaker


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