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Reshuffled Cards: Duford takes over as Stevens High football coach

  • Josh Duford, who recently took over as Stevens High School's head football coach, addresses his team during an Aug. 15, 2022, practice at Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

  • Paul Silva instructs Stevens High football players during an Aug. 15, 2022, practice at Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H. Silva stepped down as head coach earlier this year after 11 seasons but has stayed on staff as defensive coordinator. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

  • Stevens High head football coach Josh Duford directs a player on which direction to run during a certain play at an Aug. 15, 2022, practice in Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H. Duford, 32, took the job earlier this year after being a Cardinals player and assistant coach. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley news photographs — Tris Wykes

  • Josh Duford watches the Lebanon High football team play Plymouth on Oct. 20, 2017, in Lebanon, N.H. Duford was the Raiders' offensive coordinator during the 2017-18 seasons but returned to Stevens and earlier this year was named the Cardinals' head coach. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

  • Stevens High senior football player Kaden Thyne points while trying to remember a younger teammate's name at an Aug. 15, 2022, practice in Monadnock Park in Claremont, N.H. Thyne came up with the name, allowing he and his teammates to run a shorter conditioning sprint. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. calley News — Tris Wykes

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2022 9:40:10 PM
Modified: 8/16/2022 9:36:42 PM

CLAREMONT — The final activity of Monday’s Stevens High football practice at Monadnock Park was tinged with pressure.

Two upperclassmen stood with their backs to the program’s roughly 15 newcomers. Head coach Josh Duford then had one of that group step forward and told the older players to turn around. If they could correctly recall the chosen youngster’s name, the entire team of about 30 players would go for a short jog.

Flunk the quiz, however, and the Cardinals were required to run farther and faster. Twice out of five tries, the upperclassmen couldn’t pass, and the team huffed and puffed into the distance and back.

“In any organization, if you don’t know the people you’re working with, it weakens the bond,” Duford said. “We need the older guys to bring the younger ones into the fold.”

The Cardinals certainly know Duford, a 2008 Stevens graduate who starred for the Cardinals as a receiver and defensive back before playing at Curry (Mass.) College and Plymouth State. The Claremont resident took over the team’s top job early this year, guiding players through workouts and passing matchups against local foes.

The 32-year-old began coaching directly out of college, working on the Stevens staff first as a volunteer and then as a full-time assistant while beginning his teaching career in Unity. Now entering his sixth year as a Lebanon Middle School math teacher, Duford was Lebanon High’s offensive coordinator in 2017-18 but returned to the Cardinals in 2019 and spent the past three years in the same role.

Duford succeeds Paul Silva, who’s staying on as defensive coordinator. The 62-year-old led the program for 11 seasons after first joining it as an assistant in 2002. Silva said there’s the potential for a large and talented influx of football freshmen next fall and that stepping aside this year will allow Duford to be completely comfortable as head coach when that group arrives.

“This was the eventual plan when he came back from Lebanon,” said Silva, who describes Duford, and his twin brother, Nate, as two of the best players to ever suit up for the Cardinals.

“There’s so much more to being a head coach than most people realize. I can help him with the transition this year, and then his full attention will be on the group coming in next year.”

Duford said the toughest part of a head coach’s job is knowing where to draw the line. Does a player who misses a certain number of practices lose his starting position? Do you switch a capable lineman to tight end, even if he’s not sold on the idea? How far do you push the team in preseason so that it’s ready but not worn down?

A head coach these days must oversee the program’s equipment and ensure each player is academically eligible and has undergone baseline testing for possible concussions. He must decide which players have pressing family and employment situations that justify them skipping an occasional workout. Communication with the Claremont Middle School football team and program fundraising are also vital.

Luckily, Silva is there to offer counsel. The two men guided Stevens to the 2016 NHIAA Division III title and a runner-up finish in 2020. The Cardinals were 3-6 last fall.

“I’m really thankful that he’s stayed on, because he’s helped me wonderfully with all the paperwork and other things that come with being a head coach,” said Duford, who has two young children with his wife, Stephanie. “The parent phone calls and those hard decisions and conversations you have to have with players, they’re all mine now.”

Watching Duford at practice, one senses his ease with instruction. Close your eyes and listen to his enunciation, the cadence of his sentences and the warm tone of his voice. In almost every drill, he explains exactly what the players should be trying to accomplish and often grips the back of their shoulders pads to gently steer them through the necessary steps and options.

Simple components of a play, such as which foot to step with first, can blur into an indecipherable mix for rookies, but football seems pretty simple if you pay attention when Duford talks.

“Putting together a lesson plan for school is a lot like making one for practice,” he said. “Going at a predetermined pace doesn’t always work. You have to make sure the kids understand as you go.”

Silva has known Duford since the younger man played youth football with Silva’s son, David, who’s now assisting with the Cardinals’ line.

“His preparation is second to none, and the concepts he uses and the mismatches he can put together are impressive for a young guy,” the older coach said. “He was born to teach and coach, and this is a natural progression.”

Notes: Tyler “Tank” Christian, the Cardinals presumed starting quarterback, will miss the team’s first week of practice while on vacation. The junior spent the winter and spring recovering from a serious knee injury suffered during a football game last fall. … Coaching gear at most football practices is pretty predictable, but there was David Silva on Monday, wearing a corduroy cap emblazoned with the logo of the jam band Phish. … Duford’s brother, Nate, played football at Maine Maritime Academy and now lives in Claremont and works as an engineer. … Stevens and Mascoma scrimmage Saturday in Claremont. The Royals appeared energized under first-year head coach John Daley during their first practice Monday and, with roughly 30 players, feature a larger roster than in recent years.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.




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