BBA coach to lead Shrine bowl team

CASTLETON - For Burr and Burton Academy coach Jason Thomas, it's the assignment of a career.

The Bulldogs' leader for the past five years, Thomas was chosen in December to head up the Vermont team at the 60th annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl on Saturday against New Hampshire at Dartmouth College and he's spent the past seven months preparing for the interstate battle.

"It's a great honor because you're recognized and chosen by your peers," said Thomas on Tuesday after the third day of training camp at Castleton State College. "It's for a great cause and it's a chance to represent Vermont."

Thomas, a Poultney High School graduate, coached at Middlebury College, the University of Buffalo and at the University of New Hampshire before returning to Vermont to lead the Bulldogs.

In his five seasons, BBA has reached the playoffs three times, including a Division II championship game appearance in 2011 against Fair Haven. Thomas leads 72 of the best football players in the state including Fair Haven's Dakota Euber, Essex quarterback Joey Picard and Hartford's Taylor Potter, just to name a few.

"It's been a lot of fun, and a lot went into picking the kids," Thomas said. "The process was extensive. We have a great bunch of players, they have [such] an aptitude for the game."

Thomas will also have two of his players in the game - quarterback Jake Stalcup and receiver Chris Redding - an advantage as Thomas said Vermont will use a version of the BBA spread, uptempo offense.

"I get to coach Jake and Chris again, that's a great opportunity," Thomas said. "We've had a lot of success with our program." Having Burr and Burton highlighted is a main reason why Thomas accepted the assignment.

"It's great for our school to be recognized and our players and coaches," Thomas said. "We're trying to build our programs and it's a big responsibility."

Thomas is the latest in a long line of Southern Vermont coaches that have represented the Green Mountain State at the Shrine Bowl. Others include Rutland's Mike Norman (the 2011 head coach) and Hartford's Mike Stone - two of many coaches who have been invaluable resources.

"The format has changed, it used to be two weeks of practice, then 10 days with a scrimmage," Thomas said. "Those guys have been very helpful in how to lay out the schedule for the week; they've been great references for me to prepare for this. I didn't come in blind."

The most important part of the week came on Sunday, as Thomas, the other coaches and the entire Vermont roster traveled to the Shriners hospital in Springfield, Mass.

"It's a special experience. It's a blessing and tough at the same time to see kids go through that," said Thomas, a father to two young daughters. "The Shriners do such a great job making the kids comfortable. It's an honor to be a part of it, knowing we can make some small difference to a kid's life."

The Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl will kick-off at 5:30 p.m. at Memorial Field on Saturday.


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