By Joseph Santoliquito

Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — They knew them. Or at least they thought they knew them. They would see them every day in Coatesville High School walking in the halls, talking between periods. They were there with them last December, there at Hershey Park Stadium to support them when they played in the PIAA state championship.

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But when racist text messages surfaced between former Coatesville School District superintendent Richard Como and athletic director Jim Donato, their opinions changed and it almost could have torn apart their team.

But the pillar throughout the whole sorted, controversial mess in the Coatesville School District has been Coatesville football coach Matt Ortega and his team.

The Red Raiders, currently 5-0 and ranked No. 1 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by CBS Philly, have stayed the course toward returning to the PIAA District 1 Class AAAA playoffs.

“Everyone knows what was said and what was done; I was shocked too by what happened, I mean everyone was shocked,” said Coatesville star linebacker Tyler Burke, who’s headed to Maryland on a football scholarship. “We, the football team, all look at each other the same way. We know everyone is going to be there for each other. This thing has gotten us all closer.

“Think about it. Coatesville is primarily a black community, and if you’re racist, you’re not playing for this school and this team. It’s really that simple. Coach Ortega addressed the issue and he was shocked, too. But winning helps. There were news vans everywhere and they were putting all of these bad stories about the community and about the area out there.

“It’s not us. Coatesville is a family community. We always talk to each other and we’re a family. During the summer, we were with each other every day. We really want to get back to football. It’s back to normal and back to a normal week for us. This has made us stronger. It’s motivated us more to succeed.”

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Senior Isaiah Flamer rushed for three touchdowns and 197 yards in the red Raiders’ 37-13 win over Bishop Shanahan last week. Flamer is pleased things are returning to normal.

“I thought it was crazy when I first heard about [the racists texts], but it think it proves that we’re one big family,” Flamer said. “We all still came together as one. I think this whole thing did make us closer. We’re out to prove to everyone what Coatesville is really about. We need to stay focused and make it back to state. I want a state title ring—that’s our main goal. No one is feeding into the negativity.”

Penn State-bound defensive back Daquan Worley feels the controversy has galvanized the way his team is looking forward. Coatesvilel hosts Ches-Mont League rival Downingtown East on Friday at 7 p.m.

It will be Coatesville’s first home game since the controversy was made public.

“We’re getting better every day because of this, and it’s nothing that was really blown out of portion by us, it was everything else around us that blew it out of proportion,” Worley said. “All we’re looking at Downingtown East this Friday and taking it a step at a time. I think we were strong to start off with. We prevailed last year when there were doubts about this team. We control what we can control and believe in the process. Coach Ortega has done a good job of keeping our heads, so no one on the team really took it to heart what [Donato and Como texted].”

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.

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