Shrine Game preview: NH’s Childs doing the roster shuffle

  • Lebanon High School coach Chris Childs, left, goes over a play with Londonderry High School’s Aidan Washington during a New Hampshire practice for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl at Castleton University in Castleton, Vt., on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor High School’s Austin Gauld, center, chases an offensive player during a Vermont team practice for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl at Castleton University in Castleton, Vt., on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • Lebanon High School’s Cameron Davio tackles a dummy during a New Hampshire practice for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl at Castleton University in Castleton, Vt., on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Hartford High School’s Harrison Gaudet, left, cheers with his Vermont teammates before a water break during a practice for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl at Castleton University in Castleton, Vt., on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • New Hampshire players stretch at the end of a practice for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl at Castleton University in Castleton, Vt., on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2022 9:27:07 PM
Modified: 8/4/2022 9:27:02 PM

CASTLETON, Vt. — Chris Childs remembers what the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl used to mean.

The head football coach at Lebanon High for the last 15 years who will be stepping down after leading the New Hampshire team in this year’s Shrine Game, Childs played in the 1995 contest after a standout career with the Raiders, back when the game was played at Dartmouth College’s Memorial Field. He also coached the Granite Staters in the 2011 game in Windsor.

But times have changed since then — the CHaD New Hampshire East-West All-Star Game was first played in 2012 as a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Many top graduated seniors, particularly from southern New Hampshire, have opted for the CHaD game over the Shrine Bowl, which benefits Shriners Hospitals for Children. Players are not allowed to compete in both games.

In 2015, the Shrine Bowl was moved from its longtime home at Dartmouth to Castleton University, much farther from the New Hampshire-Vermont border and thus a much longer commute for those from the likes of Manchester and Nashua.

“Upper Valley kids, it’s an easy sell. They’re on board with it,” Childs said. “South of Concord, you have to talk to kids about (the Shrine Bowl) and get them to know what the game is all about.”

Gone are the days when New Hampshire would beat Vermont like a drum — the Granite State won a record 15 in a row from 2001-2015, and only one of those games was decided by one score. Vermont ended that streak emphatically with a 50-2 victory in 2016, the first of three straight for the Green Mountain State, although New Hampshire has won the last two and leads the all-time series 49-16 with two ties.

New Hampshire’s roster must contain no more than 15 seniors from Division I and 12 from Division II, with at least nine spots reserved for Division III and IV players. But Childs had to deal with much more than just the roster quotas when putting together his team. He was tasked with replacing 15 members of his initial squad, including Lebanon quarterback Jack Stone, who needed to report for preseason practice at the University of New Hampshire and opted to play in the CHaD game in late June.

“We (identified) a handful of kids we thought we’d pick up if somebody dropped, (but) we exceeded that this year because of the amount of kids who backed out late,” Childs said. “By then, we were just trying to make sure we had the depth we needed. In New Hampshire, you’re only supposed to take two per school, but we have three from Lebanon this year because someone else dropped.”

Childs’s son, CJ, is on the New Hampshire roster as a running back and linebacker, though he will play defensive back at Castleton. Cameron Davio, who will play at the University of New England, and Justin DeCarlo are the other Raiders representing New Hampshire, along with all six of Childs’ assistant coaches.

Davio had an offer to play in the CHaD game but chose the Shrine Bowl for one last game with his high school coaches.

“It’s been a dream ever since I was really young,” Davio said. “I had to take a moment to think about it, but once the coaches said they were going to be coaching this game, it was a no-brainer.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Bircher, who has been on the staff since Childs’ first season in 2007, graduated from Lebanon in 1993 but was not selected for the Shrine Bowl. Bircher and the other assistants are also leaving the Raiders as new head coach Herb Hatch and his staff come in, though offensive and defensive line coach Brandon LaHaye will become the head coach at Lebanon Middle School.

“We started watching for kids way back last year, in the preseason,” Bircher said. “As we watched different teams, we made mental notes of the kids and who we saw that we liked. We knew pretty early that we were going to be the Shrine coaches. It’s not easy because after the CHaD East-West game, you’re taking 80 of the best New Hampshire kids off the table.”

Connor Chambers and Seamus Murphy of Hanover, Roman Farnsworth of Mascoma and Devyn Heino of Newport are the other local New Hampshire players.

For Vermont, Dalton Clifford, Austin Gauld and Benjamin Gilbert of Windsor, which won the VPA Division III title, will all suit up, as will Harrison Gaudet and Devon Sinclair of Hartford and Woodstock’s Corey White. Kickoff is Saturday at noon at Castleton’s Dave Wolk Stadium.

Davio, for his part, called Saturday the most important day of his high school career, noting he did not have much of a role when Lebanon played in the NHIAA Division III championship game his sophomore year. And even though many of New Hampshire’s most talented players may not be in Castleton, Davio was confident his team will send Childs and the rest of the Raiders’ staff out with a victory.

“I’m definitely a more important player now than I was (as a sophomore),” Davio said.

“Then, I was just an offensive player, and now I’m on both ways. It’s been pretty fun getting to bond with the team, and I think Vermont’s going to be shocked.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.




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