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New Oxbow Coach Looks to Spread the Fun

  • Sean Murphy speaks to his Oxbow High football team after its Aug. 12 practice in Bradford, Vt. Murphy is beginning his first season with the Olympians. Valley News - Tris Wykes

    Sean Murphy speaks to his Oxbow High football team after its Aug. 12 practice in Bradford, Vt. Murphy is beginning his first season with the Olympians. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow High quarterback Tristan Longmore lets a pass fly during an Aug. 12 practice in Bradford, Vt. Longmore is expected to work out of the shotgun formation in leading the Olympians' new passing attack. Valley News - Tris Wykes

    Oxbow High quarterback Tristan Longmore lets a pass fly during an Aug. 12 practice in Bradford, Vt. Longmore is expected to work out of the shotgun formation in leading the Olympians' new passing attack. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sean Murphy speaks to his Oxbow High football team after its Aug. 12 practice in Bradford, Vt. Murphy is beginning his first season with the Olympians. Valley News - Tris Wykes
  • Oxbow High quarterback Tristan Longmore lets a pass fly during an Aug. 12 practice in Bradford, Vt. Longmore is expected to work out of the shotgun formation in leading the Olympians' new passing attack. Valley News - Tris Wykes

Bradford, Vt. — While waiting for coach Sean Murphy, delayed by road construction traffic, to arrive for the start of practice Tuesday afternoon, members of the Oxbow Union High football team conversed with friends inside Mona Garone Gym, listened to music or got in a few extra reps in the weight room.

When it comes to learning Murphy’s high-flying offense, the Olympians have much less leisure time.

Oxbow will run something other than a “power-I” base offense for the first time in its eight-year varsity history this season as Murphy works to implement the spread offense he utilized during a 22-year tenure at St. Johnsbury Academy (1991-2012) as assistant/head coach.

Murphy, who remains Director of Guidance at SJA, stepped down from coaching the Hilltoppers following the 2012 season to spend more time with his family. He returns to the gridiron to work under Olympians Athletic Director Hank Van Orman, who was his offensive coordinator at St. Johnsbury from 2005-12.

The energetic, meticulous Murphy admitted the learning curve is steep for his new charges in Bradford. The O’s have just nine days left to familiarize themselves with the new playbook before opening the season at Winooski.

“The guys are learning different things every day,” Murphy said while the team stretched at the start of practice. “The offensive system has more timing (elements), where you have to make reads, and it takes a while to learn that. We’re going to need all three weeks of the preseason here to get a basic foundation for what we’re trying to do. Honestly, if we get 70 percent of our offense down in time for Winooski, I’ll be happy.”

The Olympians don’t lack enthusiasm or physical skills, traits developed well under departed coach Mark Palmieri — the only head coach the program knew since it started as a club team nine years ago. It’s primarily the cognitive and synchronizing aspects of the game that Murphy is concerned with as opening day approaches.

“We’ve got to learn our assignments,” Murphy said. “You can be as aggressive as you want, but if you don’t line up right and make the right reads and the right decisions, it’s not going to help you.”

Murphy does have good weapons to work with, including eager-slinging sophomore quarterback Tristan Longmoore, seasoned running backs Hunter Page and Nick Grant and a receiving corps that is fast and athletic, if inexperienced.

Oxbow — which reached the eight-team Vermont Division III playoffs a year ago despite a 3-5 record — replaces QB Quinten Mahikoa, who churned out more than 1,000 all-purpose yards (822 through the air) in 2013. Another loss was top receiver Jordan Eastman, who had 11 total touchdowns and was among the Upper Valley’s leaders with 943 yards receiving.

Juniors Nick Daigle and Zach Gray will have more prominent roles at wide receiver this season along with Demetrius Perry, a sophomore who joined classmates Longmoore and Josh Walls to the National Underclassmen Football Combine in San Antonio last winter.

“(Perry) is good, he’s talented. Now we just have to get him to be consistent,” Murphy said. “Those other guys are certainly going to help, too. Receiver is actually the least of my concerns.”

The coach is more occupied with solidifying an offensive line that lost stalwarts Dylan Hatin and Tyler Gillis to graduation and whose incumbents have yet to consistently practice together this summer. The O’s had eight players absent Tuesday because of injury or vacation, including injured starting linemen Jared Garvin, Chris Underhill and Jake Senecal.

“I’ve got three guys (trying out) at center who have never played it before and really, the whole offensive line is up in the air because of injuries right now,” Murphy said. “We need to get guys in there and get them learning the system.”

Longmoore, for one, isn’t concerned about the offense. The confident sophomore is fresh off of last month’s USA Football Team Development camp in Maryland and has liked what he’s seen from this year’s unit so far.

“I think we’re going to be a lot better than last year, personally. I think we’re already better,” Longmoore said. “We had our first scrimmage (Saturday) against Rice. We didn’t keep an official score, but we did the math and we would have tied them. That’s pretty good against the (defending) Division II champions.”

One area the Olympians are still getting re-accustomed to is hitting. After calisthenics, they began Tuesday afternoon’s practice with open-field tackling drills, with Murphy offering plenty of encouragement.

“Is this fun? I think this is fun!” he said with enthusiasm. “We’ve got to start running through people instead of dropping our heads and plowing into each other.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.