Thursday, June 20, 2013
SOUTH BERWICK — The high school football playoffs begin tonight throughout Maine. It's the time of year Alex Rotsko knows well.
Marshwood High received a coaching prize last spring when Alex Rotsko decided the time was right to move from a highly successful career at Longmeadow (Mass.) High to a home he had purchased in York Beach … and the Hawks.
Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
Alex Rotsko was surrounded by more than 100 players on his teams in Massachusetts. It’s not quite the same in South Berwick, where he even has a freshman on his team for the first time. But guess what? Marshwood is the No. 1 seed in the Western Class B playoffs, with a 7-1 record.
PPH LIVE STREAMING
We're streaming two football playoff games this weekend:
• Wells at Greely, 7 p.m. Friday
• Kennebunk at Thornton Academy, 1 p.m. Saturday
The Marshwood High coach built a legendary career in Massachusetts before taking over the Hawks' program this season.
Marshwood is in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, with a home playoff game for the first time since 2006. The Hawks were in Class A then; in this, their second year in Class B, they earned the No. 1 seed for the Western Maine playoffs.
Marshwood (7-1) will meet No. 8 Cape Elizabeth (3-5) at 7 tonight.
Rotsko, 59, spent 19 years at Longmeadow (Mass.) High, guiding the Lancers to 15 straight Division I Super Bowl appearances in Western Mass. For the last few years he also was the school's athletic director. His teams won 11 of those Super Bowl matchups, including last year's 35-7 victory against Springfield Central at Gillette Stadium to complete an 11-2 season. He had a 184-39 career record at Longmeadow.
Rotsko would still be at Longmeadow had the Marshwood head coaching position not become available. Rotsko and his wife bought a house in York Beach seven years ago. He learned of the opening through a good friend, John Caverly, who coached the Hawks last season. Caverly coached against Rotsko at East Longmeadow High, and they also worked together at summer football camps.
As the principal at Marshwood Middle School, Caverly couldn't devote the time required to be a head coach.
"John knew I was going to move up here eventually," said Rotsko. "I just did it a few years sooner than I expected."
Rotsko said it was tough leaving Longmeadow and telling his players he wouldn't be back, and Marshwood was the only school that could have lured him.
He was hired last April as the football coach and a health and physical education teacher.
Caverly recalled his first year as head coach at East Longmeadow and how the coach at the rival school helped him.
"I had gone from being the freshman coach at the school to the head coach in one season," said Caverly. "Alex was kind enough to have spent countless hours with me to help make the transition easier. Everything I know about football, I learned from Alex. He's a steward and a gentleman of the game."
Marshwood was not only getting a highly successful high school coach, but one who also had been a head coach and an assistant coach in college.
Rotsko was the head coach of American International College in Springfield, Mass., for 10 seasons before going to Longmeadow High in 1993.
Prior to that he was an assistant at Ithaca (N.Y.) College under head coach Jim Butterfield.
"When I went to high school from college, people asked me if I missed coaching in college," said Rotsko. "I didn't miss anything about it. Coaching and teaching in high school has been great."
Rotsko left a Longmeadow team that had several players returning from a championship team.
He was greeted by a Marshwood team that was very young, and with two top players sidelined for the season because of knee injuries.
"I thought about turning around and going back," joked Rotsko.
"The players have worked hard and been very receptive to what the coaches have told them. It's been a good experience."
Rotsko said it's good the Hawks made the playoffs because it would have seemed strange having the football season over before the end of October.
At Longmeadow, his teams didn't finish the season until the first week of December. Thanksgiving Day games in Massachusetts count in the regular-season record, so the playoffs start after Thanksgiving.
The biggest difference from coaching at Longmeadow and at Marshwood, said Rotsko, is the depth.
"I don't have the numbers to work with like I did at Longmeadow," he said. "We had about 1,000 students at Longmeadow. We were the smallest school in our conference, but we would get between 105 to 110 kids out for football.
"Injuries were a little easier to handle. I have a freshman starting for me here. In my 19 years at Longmeadow, I never had a freshman playing for me. I had very few sophomores starting at Longmeadow, too."
There are 59 players listed on the Marshwood roster.
Rotsko feels the playoffs are wide open.
"All eight teams have a chance of winning. (No. 6 seed) Mountain Valley can beat anyone. It's really balanced. Everyone has taken turns knocking off each other," he said.
Rotsko said Marshwood will be his last coaching stop.
"I hope Alex coaches until he's 70," said Rich Buzzell, the Marshwood athletic director.
"He's a really good teacher of the game for his players and his coaches."
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:
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It’s not just the winning that’s earned respect for Alex Rotsko. It’s his willingness to help. “He’s a steward and a gentleman of the game,” said a former rival coach.