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Cheltenham standout transfers to William Tennent and gets his football season back

Philadelphia Inquirer logo Philadelphia Inquirer 9/9/2020 By Phil Anastasia, The Philadelphia Inquirer
a man standing on top of a grass covered field: As a junior linebacker, Zach Gaffin led Cheltenham with 146 tackles as the Panthers went 14-2 and won the first District One title in program history. © DAVID MAIALETTI/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS As a junior linebacker, Zach Gaffin led Cheltenham with 146 tackles as the Panthers went 14-2 and won the first District One title in program history.

Zach Gaffin calls it an unfortunate family situation that came with a fortunate football twist.

That’s one way of looking at Gaffin’s move from Wyncote to Warminster, from Cheltenham High to William Tennent and from the sideline with one set of Panthers to the middle of the action with a new set of Panthers.

“This really was a great coincidence,” Gaffin said of his decision to transfer to another public school for his senior year.

Gaffin said he has moved in with his grandparents, establishing residence in Tennent’s sending district. He said they need his help around the house and that it makes more sense for the family to rely on a willing, able and sturdy 17-year-old rather than paying an outside firm for care.

a man standing on top of a grass covered field: Zach Gaffin was the sole captain for Cheltenham's record-setting football team as a junior in 2019. He has transferred to William Tennent, moving from Wyncote to Warminster to help care for his grandparents. The move also will allow him to play football as a senior, since Cheltenham has postponed fall sports while Tennent plans to play. © DAVID MAIALETTI/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Zach Gaffin was the sole captain for Cheltenham's record-setting football team as a junior in 2019. He has transferred to William Tennent, moving from Wyncote to Warminster to help care for his grandparents. The move also will allow him to play football as a senior, since Cheltenham has postponed fall sports while Tennent plans to play.

But there’s a huge side benefit for Gaffin: By enrolling at William Tennent, he will be eligible play football.

At Cheltenham, Gaffin was unable to play because the Panthers are the lone Suburban One League school to completely shut down fall sports because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“That’s 100 percent what this is – a family situation that’s also giving him an opportunity to play football,” Cheltenham coach Ryan Nase said. “It’s basically killing two birds with one stone.”

Like the rest of the schools in the SOL that plan to play football, Tennant has delayed the start of the season. The team is supposed to take the field for heat acclimatization on Monday Sept. 14, with practices starting Sept. 21 and the kickoff to the season set for the weekend of Oct. 2-3.

“I never believed that I would ever be at another school,” Gaffin said. “I always thought I would play for Cheltenham all the way through.”

Gaffin said he does not know many players from Tennent, a school with sports teams also known as the Panthers. The teams did not meet last season, when Gaffin was a key player for a Cheltenham squad that set a school record with 14 victories, won the program’s first District 1 title and reached the PIAA Class 5A state championship game.

I have improved every day and I will continue to get better everyday????????https://t.co/YtFawEmloC

— Zachary Gaffin (@ZacharyGaffin) August 12, 2020

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Gaffin tied for the team lead in tackles with 146 (9.1 per game) and was tops on the squad in forced fumbles with five and fumble recoveries with four.

But Nase said Gaffin’s real contributions weren’t found in the statistics sheet.

“I tell college coaches, the thing I can say about him is that we went to the state championship game and we had one captain – Zach Gaffin as a junior,” Nase said. “We had [NCAA] Division I [scholarship] players as seniors and nobody had a problem with that.”

Gaffin said despite his family’s need, it still was a difficult decision to leave Cheltenham.

“The guys are happy for me,” Gaffin said of his former Cheltenham teammates. “They even said they would come and watch me play.”

I’ll take @ZacharyGaffin https://t.co/zgXcOhSfBD

— Ryan Nase (@HennigarFundInc) August 23, 2020

Nase said Gaffin’s decision to move in with his grandparents is typical of his unselfish approach.

“It speaks to the type of kid he is,” Nase said. “He would always step in to help. He was involved in our Athletes Helping Athletes program, our Unified Sports program to help with Special Olympics. He was captain of the football team, captain of the wrestling team.”

Gaffin said playing with a new group of Panthers will be an adjustment.

“I went from being the captain to being the new guy,” Gaffin said.

Gaffin said he’s been in contact with NCAA Division III programs but he’s hoping that a strong senior season with his new team will generate interest from NCAA Division II teams and perhaps lower-level Division I teams as well.

Thank you @CoachDrake31 for inviting me up for the campus visit today, I had a great time!!

— Zachary Gaffin (@ZacharyGaffin) September 4, 2020

Gaffin believes he’s similar to a lot of high school athletes in the area who need a strong senior season to further impress college recruiters. That’s one reason he’s so excited to have the opportunity to play for Tennant.

But it’s not the only reason.

“I just have a passion for the game,” Gaffin said. "My family understands that. They want me to be able to play because they know how much football means to me.

“I’m not sure where I would be without football. It’s taught me everything."

———

©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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