Hanover -- At the end of the third quarter of yesterday's junior varsity game, Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens crossed Memorial Field and asked his counterpart if he wanted the game clock to run nonstop through the final quarter. After all, the Big Green was leading by almost 40 points. David Motherway politely declined: "We came to play. This is what we said at the beginning and this is how we'll run it." So Motherway's squad, the University of Vermont club football team, absorbed a 57-3 shellacking by afternoon's end. For the second-year startup -- UVM's test tube, as it were, for the potential resurrection of a varsity football program that was dropped after the 1974 season -- it's not the score that matters. It's all about follow-through.
The Catamount program, the brainstorm of current UVM junior Doug DeLuca three years ago, is evolving almost by the week. Instead of last fall's semi-pro schedule and the West Coast offense under head coach Darren Haynes, Vermont this year is competing against area college jayvee programs with a triple-option attack popularized by Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and directed by Motherway and offensive coordinator Steve Coon.
The wholesale change in leadership and philosophy, according to DeLuca, was driven by increasing interest in the sport on campus. In 2007, the club had between 25-30 regulars; now it has around 45. DeLuca also wanted to play the squad's peers, instead of the older weekend warriors of the Northeast Independent Football League (in which the Catamounts went 6-4, including playoffs, in 2007). This season, jayvee programs from Norwich, Williams, Endicott, Bates and Middlebury dot UVM's slate -- Dartmouth is the only Division I program on the docket. "It wasn't the most competitive environment for us," DeLuca said last week of the semi-pro schedule. "We wanted to define ourselves as a collegiate team. We wanted to be university-based." Asked if that meant providing the impetus for varsity football's return to Burlington, DeLuca demurred, "Now it's just to provide the sport of football for UVM. We want to build the program as we can in the community and have a good time. We'll let the university worry about bringing it back." Marc Bucklin, a Hartford High graduate and a junior cornerback with the Catamounts, said the varsity topic is something the players generally try to sidestep. "It's kind of taboo," Bucklin said. "We don't want to overstep our boundaries, but probably it's a legitimate concern for five or 10 years down the road."
Motherway, however, sees the writing on the wall -- or more specifically, in the e-mails and messages from supportive alumni who hope to revive the program. The team has its own little Quarterback Club in Burlington, the financial support of which Motherway is banking on just to fund the last two road games on this year's schedule. "Am I approaching it as my goal to bring back UVM football? No," said Motherway, a South Burlington resident who played collegiate football at the Coast Guard Academy. "I'm approaching it as, there's 50 kids in that locker room who want to play football, and I'm going to give them an opportunity to play against their peers and have a lot of fun. "Our goal has been to have fun while elevating the program. We'll run eight fun plays per game, two per quarter, just because we want to have fun. That's what these guys are all about."
Some of the logistics of UVM football are daunting. The university's student government funds a portion of the team's costs, but that still leaves about $15,000 to be raised independently. As one of the outstanding expenses, the team has to rent the Burlington High School field for its home games, at around $3,500 per contest. Players kick in around $175 apiece to defray costs. DeLuca struggled long and hard to secure medical insurance through the university; the team's two trainers are freelance specialists. "It's hard to find someone like that in Vermont," DeLuca pointed out. The club practices three or four times a week, hardly enough time to install a complicated scheme like the triple-option offense. It's not as if Motherway has a wealth of specialized athletes to assign to positions anyway. "We've got 44 linebackers, a couple of defensive backs, a guard who thinks he's quarterback and two offensive linemen," the coach said. "We've got fullbacks playing linebacker and wide receivers playing halfback -- just trying to make it work. Everyone just does what they need to do. "I look at it from a program perspective. We have a core group of guys who are learning what we do this year. They'll be getting better next year and better the year after that. As it becomes the program, it'll evolve."
According to DeLuca, Dartmouth showed its appreciation for the Catamounts' visit by footing the bill for the bus travel and dinner. For a few dollars out of a much larger budget than UVM has, Teevens has a viable, nearby opponent for his youngest charges. "From what I understand, it's pretty well-run, as much research as we've done in it," Teevens said in the days leading up to the game. "We'll play a lot of young guys, and they'll be a little older and a little more experienced. It'd be wonderful if it was beneficial for both groups and continued in the future. "When I was growing up, UVM had a strong football program. They had some outstanding players. You'd hate to see a program disappear, but maybe they're heading back and they have support for the program. Anything we can do to help to keep it alive -- it'd be nice to have another program in the Twin States area." Bucklin wound up with an injured hand from yesterday's tussle, but
laying a lick on a Division I player has its own rewards. "I thought I was done playing football," he said. "I missed playing, and I wanted to have fun."
Tony Lane can be reached at [email protected]
or (603) 727-32