SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — There was reason for the optimism pervading the first football practice at Springfield on Monday: A quarterback who played with poise well beyond his freshman standing last season and a large senior class. On yeah, and running back Brady Clark is wearing the Cosmo green after productive seasons at Bellows Falls.
Vermont high school football teams began formal practices Monday with the season openers looming the weekend of Aug. 30-31.
Sam Presch was that freshman quarterback in 2018 and he showed his savvy in a 28-20 victory over rival Windsor when he faced a third-down-and-28 and third-and-19, throwing touchdown passes on both plays.
That victory was a highlight of a season that ended with a 30-14 loss at BFA-Fairfax in the Division III playoffs.
This is a veteran Springfield team — 16 of the 37 players are seniors — and that playoff loss serves as motivation for a group that wants to take the next step.
Running back Jake Stepler and lineman Greg Otis are four-year starters and would love to go out with a lot more than they achieved last year.
“Last year it was tough to lose that (playoff) game. It was a game we should have had,” Stepler said. “We really wanted to get to the next round.”
The Cosmos were trailing BFA-Fairfax 16-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know about a state championship but that’s the hope,” Stepler said during a water break Monday.
“We were hyped for that game (against BFA) and we want to do better. We only lost two seniors from last year’s team,” Otis said.
Clark left Springfield after the eighth grade but came back in the middle of his junior year. He was the top hitter in the Cosmos’ baseball lineup in the spring and now he will be wearing the Cosmo football uniform for the first time.
He had some impressive numbers running the ball and catching it out of the backfield for the Terriers.
He and Stepler should be one of the division’s top running back tandems.
“It is super to have him here playing with us. It is awesome to see,” Stepler said.
“We return a lot of skill players and a few linemen,” Springfield coach Todd Aiken said.
The opener is at home against Mill River on Aug. 30 and two scrimmages are in place to get the Cosmos ready — Aug. 20 at Hartford and Aug. 24 at Fall Mountain.
Springfield Athletic Director Rich Saypack anticipates a good crowd for the opener with Mill River.
“Even when we have been down, the people have come for football,” Saypack said.
The first practices included some new head coaches in the area. Jim Hill takes over at Fair Haven. He replaces Brian Grady, who assumed the position of offensive coordinator at Castleton University.
Greg Lewis is the new man in charge at Mill River, replacing Greg Wallett, who is now an assistant on Mike Norman’s staff at Rutland.
Tom McCoy succeeds Jason Thomas at Burr and Burton Academy. Thomas is the head coach at Flint Hill, a private school in Virginia.
Lewis will get a good look at his Minutemen in a couple of preseason jamborees — one at Colchester on Aug. 20 and the other at Mount Anthony on Aug. 23.
Brown Field, Springfield’s game field, is much improved this year following a good deal of work. Its lush green grass was in sharp contrast to what the Cosmos played on last season.
“Last year we were playing on dirt,” Aiken said.
The Cosmos were getting after it early — the first practice began at 6 a.m.
An hour later, Norman’s Raiders held their session on Alumni Field. After the practice, the Rutland coaching staff crammed into Norman’s office for a meeting.
Rutland’s numbers look as though they will be up a bit from last year. Norman pegged the roster at 60 to 65 including the freshmen.
The Raiders will have a scrimmage at Brattleboro on Aug. 20 and make the trip to Exeter, New Hampshire, for a tri-scrimmage with Exeter and Nashua South on Aug. 24.
Chad Pacheco was happy with his team’s first practice at Brattleboro, where he greeted 38 players in grades 10-12.
There is a good nucleus returning for the Colonels, especially in the lines.
The unknown for the Colonels will be new opponents due to going from Division I to Division II.
“We are in uncharted waters with the new division and a lot of good coaches and teams in that division,” Pacheco said following the morning’s practice.
Ramsey Worrell is fighting a numbers problem at Woodstock.
“This is the lowest we have had in my time here,” said Worrell in his seventh season as the Wasps head coach.
Worrell said the program is starting out with about 25 players and he is hoping to add some more once school begins.
Numbers is always a big topic on this day. They can be the difference between fielding a team or folding the program, as was the case with Mount St. Joseph and Missisquoi last fall.
Otter Valley coach Kipp Denis said he is excited that his Otters have been dropped down to Division III, where he believes they belong after enduring a one-win season in Division II last year.
Surveying the Otters scattered about the practice field Monday, Denis said he believed his team would have about 32 players.
“We are excited (about being in D-III),” he said. “It was tough last year playing against teams with more than 40 players.”
The Otters’ numbers are buoyed by getting a few players from last year’s MSJ program.
OV Athletic Director Steve Keith said the program will have “three to five players” from MSJ.
Jarred Denis, a left tackle and defensive tackle/defensive end, said he has been motivated by the two lean seasons the Otters just went through.
“The last two years have given me more drive to get in the weight room,” Jared said. “I would love to bring a state championship to Otter Valley.”
Jared believes the Otters will get a lift from former MSJ players like Chance Passmore and Keegan Chadburn.
“Chance is a fast, athletic kid. He will have a huge role,” Jared said.
Chadburn is a big athlete who was a member of the Division II MSJ state championship basketball team. Coach Denis is eyeing him as a tight end.
“I am just glad we are being allowed to play football again after not being able to finish the season last year,” Chadburn said.
Coach Denis is enthused about the future of football at the school because there are 11 freshmen out for the team and only five seniors and four juniors.
“If these 11 freshmen stick with it...” coach Denis said.
NOTES: The annual Upper Valley Jamboree will be held Aug. 24 at Hanover High. Hartford will be the only Vermont team in the field. ... Veteran coach Dave Capman sent his Poultney Blue Devils through their first practice in the early evening. Milton will be in Poultney for a scrimmage the morning of Aug. 24. ... Fair Haven will host a tri-scrimmage with Otter Valley and Burr and Burton on Aug. 23. Hill’s Slaters will also go to Otter Valley for a joint practice on Aug. 20. ... Ken Stanley is a new physical education teacher at Otter Valley who will be working with special teams. He played at Nauset High School on Cape Cod, which is a team that played against Rutland recently.