×

Oxbow Football Trying to Rebound

  • Oxbow High football coach Jason Marsh instructs Ron Senecal, right, on how to hold his hands in a tight diamond stance when catching the ball, so that his hands will automatically close on the ball, during practice on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in Bradford, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Oxbow High football coach Jason Marsh instructs Ron Senecal, right, on how to hold his hands in a tight diamond stance when catching the ball, so that his hands will automatically close on the ball, during practice on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in Bradford, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Oxbow High starting quarterback Cooper Simmons sets up to pass during a practice drill on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in Bradford, Vt. Simmons and the Olympians are preparing for a return to VPA Division III football one year after dropping their varsity program because of a lack of players. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Oxbow High starting quarterback Cooper Simmons sets up to pass during a practice drill on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in Bradford, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Oxbow High starting quarterback Cooper Simmons sets up to pass during a practice drill on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in Bradford, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Oxbow football coach Jason Marsh works with wide receiver Dana Blair during practice on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in Bradford, Vt. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Oxbow High football coach Jason Marsh gestures during a practice session on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. (Rick Russell photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bradford, Vt. — Forget about wins and losses for a second.

Oxbow High’s football team has the program’s longevity in mind one year after dropping out of varsity contention due to low numbers. First-year head coach Jason Marsh feels like he’s up to the challenge of righting the ship, this time with a slightly larger roster in tow.

The Olympians began preseason practices last week with a new coach in Marsh, a re-energized mentality and — most importantly — a few more players. Nineteen athletes have signed up for football this fall, only six of whom are upperclassmen. Two have signed up from neighboring Thetford Academy and Blue Mountain Union High, taking advantage of the Vermont Principals Association’s member-to-member program.

Oxbow had only 14 student-athletes sign up to play football last summer, many of whom were underclassmen, forcing the school to drop the program’s varsity schedule for the first time in its 10-year history. Marsh said he is still hopeful more athletes will join the squad when school begins in the next few weeks.

Oxbow’s first-year athletic director, Derek Cipriano, said the member-to-member program is a key piece in keeping the O’s program afloat. Program stability may encourage more students from neighboring schools to join the team in the future.

The O’s began the 2016 season with 22 athletes, a number that shrank to 18 by the playoffs due to injuries.

Marsh said 20 student-athletes committed to play football this fall when the school board was deciding whether to drop football from the athletic department, enough to keep the program alive.

“There was a lot of concern about what the program was going to be,” he said. “The school board decided to keep (football), support us and back us 100 percent.”

Marsh, now retired after a lengthy military career, admitted his team is young and inexperienced. But beyond results, Marsh is hoping to begin a rebuild that puts Oxbow back on track.

“Coming in with my own playbook, my own defense, my own style is what starting a program from scratch should be,” Marsh, who now works at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, said before practice on Monday. “We are rebuilding. But we’re not only rebuilding the varsity team for Oxbow football, we’re also rebuilding the Bradford Bulldogs for them to understand what we’re doing at the next level. I do believe we’re building the program from scratch.

“It’s actually really exciting for me, for as much stress as it puts on me,” he added. “(The school) took a chance on a first-year coach to try and get this program to where it was. That’s what we want. We want people to talk about Oxbow football.”

Marsh grew up in upstate New York, joined the military out college and played professional football, for a short time, in Europe. He lived in Cabot, Ark., before getting the VA job two years ago. He served as an offensive line coach with the Bradford Bulldogs, Oxbow’s feeder program, last season.

“I moved up from the South, from Arkansas (two years ago),” Marsh said. “I was coaching down there, coaching the youth and the middle-school level. We had 300 kids try out for football teams. For me, it was a big shock because I didn’t understand what it was like coming in from a smaller school and struggling for players. That was one of the things I was really concerned about.”

The Olympians debuted as a club program in 2005 before going varsity in VPA Division III in 2007. It holds a 35-54 record over a 10-year span, finishing above .500 four times and going 0-5 in tournament play. Oxbow was defeated by Woodstock in the D-III quarterfinals in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Marsh takes over for Dan Nolan, the former Lyndon Institute coach and West Burke, Vt., native who stepped in last summer. Nolan coached the O’s through a junior varsity schedule in 2017 with fewer than 10 student-athletes and stepped down in the spring. Marsh was hired in mid-June and has spent the last few months on the recruiting trail, making sure his team would have enough athletes by the time training camp opened.

“To be honest with you, being a first-year coach, the team being this young, I don’t know what we’re going to get,” Marsh said. “Our goal is to come with a winning season. I think we have the right players — a lot of fast players, a lot of strong players. It’s my job to put them together and make them work as a unit.”

Zach Koslowsky, the team’s lone senior, who played junior varsity with the squad last fall, said getting the call to play football again has been a dream.

“I was excited,” Koslowsky said when he first heard football would be back this fall. “I was ready to get the season going. … I’m just trying to look back to when I was a freshman, see what my seniors did. I want to provide that to them.”

The O’s are slated to start junior quarterback Cooper Simmons under center. Marsh said he’s coming in with a general idea of what his team can do. Beyond that, he’s hoping for a spark that can keep the program growing for years to come.

“I want to be able to drive through the town and have our jerseys hung up, have people talk about us,” Marsh said. “Not just Oxbow football, Oxbow sports. That’s kind of what my job is going to be. I almost call myself a football politician. We’re here to stay.”

The Olympians open their season on Sept. 1 at Mill River. Oxbow will face Spaulding in its home opener seven days later.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.