MILFORD – Going away to camp can be a positive experience for a high school football team.
Last year, Milford never got the chance to find out, and head coach Keith Jones believes it hurt the Spartans. For the first time since moving up to Division III, Milford failed to make the playoffs, finishing the season with loses in five of its final six games.
Starting on Monday, the Spartans will spend the majority of four days at Camp Northwoods in Tuftonboro. While Jones admits taking 70-plus high school boys away for a few nights can be difficult, he knows what he wants to get out of it.
“Unity,” Jones said. “Not going to camp last year hurt us because we never came together. It’s a living nightmare sometimes. The thing we’ve been preaching since day one this year is ‘we, not me.’ That’s important, and camp helps with that.”
Milford has been hurt in the early going by the loss of some players Jones was expecting to be back, but the head coach still likes what he’s seen during the first week-plus of practice.
“So far, I’ve been impressed with the work ethic,” he said. “There are a few kids who didn’t come back that I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t come back. I’m happy with the numbers and I’m happy with the kids being in shape and ready to go.”
The number of kids out for the team is a little lower than it has been in years past – down from 80-85 to about 70 – but Jones understands that’s just something Milford will have to deal with this year.
“It’s a little down, but it’s all right,” he said. “It’s a changing generation and football is hard work.”
Milford’s biggest losses to graduation were along the line, including Jordan Gaudette and Andrew Bellantoni, both of whom play in the East-West High School All-Star Game. But a lot of the Spartans’ skill players are back, and many of them got a lot of experience last season.
“It happens every year,” Jones said. “Seniors graduated, but we played young a lot of the season.”
The Spartans were scheduled to scrimmage at Exeter on Thursday morning, and Milford will scrimmage at Winnacunnet on Aug. 24 after it leaves camp. The Spartans open the regular season on Aug. 31 in a crossover game at Bedford.