EAST GREENWICH – It was a great day for fathers and sons in general – but specifically for fathers who coach college football and sons who were instrumental in Cumberland High capturing the Division II Super Bowl in runaway fashion.
Sunday’s game at Nick Carcieri Field was a chance for those coaches to forget about recruiting, scheduling and game preparation for a few hours and watch their kin revel in the spoils of high school gridiron glory. On this particular day, Marty Fine, the head man at Bryant University, and Todd Vasey, via Dean College, weren’t patrolling the sidelines as is custom in their line of work. Instead, their game day experience was the same as every other patron that passed through the gate.
Fine and Vasey were spectators enjoying every second of the sweet symphony that their sons, Clipper standouts Joe Fine, a junior, and Trent Vasey, a senior, had a hand in creating. Shortly after the awards presentation at midfield following the conclusion of Cumberland’s 49-0 romp over Woonsocket, Coach Vasey made his way across the field to do what any proud-as-a-peacock father would do in his shoes – seek out his son and offer heartfelt congratulations.
Coach Fine did not stay to witness the postgame jubilation; he left midway through the fourth quarter in preparation to hop on a plane for a recruiting trip. He had seen enough, though, to know that the next time he spoke with Joe, he would be addressing a high school football champion.
“I just try not to critique (son Trent’s play); just enjoy it for what it is,” said Coach Vasey, the onetime football coach at St. Raphael. “Coach Fine and I probably missed half the games, which makes this moment extra special.”
Not every kid is in the privileged position where their father has a lengthy background in college football, but Joe Fine and Trent Vasey can lay such a claim. Both of these newly-minted Super Bowl champs grew up in an environment where they were around their father’s respective programs. In his preteen years, Joe performed the duties as a ball boy for Bryant. As the moments ticked down Sunday, Joe found himself in a time warp, recalling the joyous scenes that erupted after his dad’s contingent captured the Northeast-10 Conference title in outright fashion back in 2007.
“This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had as a football player,” said Joe Fine, a tough-to-bring-down fullback who contributed 56 yards on 11 handoffs and one rushing touchdown. “I’ve been on the sidelines when my dad’s team won a championship, but I’ve never experienced one in any sport. This is a new thing for me.”
Trent Vasey’s earliest football education consisted of sitting with his dad and watching game film. As the tight end/defensive end grew older, those informal classroom sessions resonated whenever Cumberland head coach Chris Skurka or a member of his staff would address a topic.
“I’ve been around the game forever, so I see how players act in high-level games,” stated Trent Vasey, who delivered a ferocious bone-jarring hit on Woonsocket quarterback Brett Bouchard that resulted in a sack and lost fumble for the Villa Novans, the sequence unfolding on the opening drive of the third quarter. “Sometimes, he’ll show me a highlight film of someone who plays my positions, trying to show me something that he does that I need to work on.”
The two Cumberland young men then spoke about the advantage that comes with a father involved in college football.
“(Coach Fine) has taught me everything from reading defenses to how to run the ball … all the football things that I do now, he taught me all of them,” stated Joe Fine. “Myself and Trent, we’ve been around football forever and understand the game.”
Added Trent Vasey, “I’ve seen my dad win championships and I wanted to act like his players did because it worked out for them just like it did for us (on Sunday).”
Skurka confirmed that when it comes to pure football IQ, Joe Fine and Trent Vasey are head-and-shoulders above their contemporaries. Call it a gift that keeps on giving – that of fathers imparting their hard-earned wisdom to their sons and beholding as those sons go on to play at a championship level.
The official program listed Cumberland as having 16 seniors on the roster. Most of those 12th graders joined the program in 2009, the same year Skurka assumed the coaching reins from Rick Reetz.
What ensued was the building of a foundation for Clippers football behind players such as Fine, Vasey, Tom Lazaras, Mitchell Baxter, Kenny deHertogh III, Brendan Guerin and Jake Gaboury. As the years went by, the same group that was part of back-to-back 3-4 campaigns as freshmen and sophomores continued to mature toward a senior season to remember forever.
The first sign that Cumberland was a team blessed with a multi-talented senior class came in November 2011, when the Clippers shocked Tolman in the Division II quarterfinals. The 13-9 upending of the higher-seeded Tigers (though followed by a semifinal loss to Chariho) was the first statement win of Skurka’s CHS coaching tenure, one that allowed him and his staff to look forward to this season without limits on their aspirations.
“It’s been a real special journey,” said a proud Skurka. “You know me, I bleed Cumberland blue. I went to school here (graduating in 1991), and I can't be any prouder of these kids. They've restored pride in this football program. I'll also say this is for all the guys who ever wore a Clipper uniform, and how hard they worked but never won a title. This is theirs, too.”
“This just shows what can happen when you have a group for four years and can mold a team together,” remarked Guerin, Cumberland’s quarterback.
“As freshmen we had to buy into the program, and as you can see after four years of buying in, everything worked out,” said Vasey.
While Cumberland was fortunate enough to not suffer any major injuries, the same could not be said for Woonsocket. Carnell Henderson’s Villa Novans advanced to the final game of the season minus the services of two of his better skill players – sophomore Jaston Robinson and junior D’Andre Thomas. A third key player, senior captain Brian Cahill, dealt with a sprained MCL that limited his availability on defense. It’s possible that Woonsocket could have posed more of a challenge on Sunday if they had been healthy.
“At any level when you lose players to injuries, you’re going to pay,” said Henderson. “In order to win, you’ve got to win, stay healthy and be good. It’s a different ballgame if any one of (Cumberland’s) guys gets hurt.
“In the previous championship runs I’ve had, I’ve won with all my weapons. That’s not an excuse because (injuries) are part of the game,” he delved further.
Henderson then touched on his senior class – Cahill, Jalen Evans, John Poirier, Ryan Lagasse, Kyle Mulvey, etc. – having the good fortune to appear in three Division II title games during their high school careers and winning back-to-back Super Bowls.
“They definitely had a good run and can hold their heads up high,” praised Henderson.
A reader passed along the following information after it appeared in an article last week that Sunday marked the first time that Cumberland and Woonsocket would be playing for all the marbles. It was pointed out that the Clippers and Villa Novans played for the Class B Championship on Thanksgiving Day, 1969. The game ended in a tie, though the title was awarded to Cumberland.
Safe to say, though, that Sunday’s game, the 50th all-time meeting between these holiday rivals, was the biggest of the high school Super Bowl era, which the R.I. Interscholastic League introduced in 1972.