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Football Program Suspended for Lack of Players

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Palm Beach Post (Florida)

 

The reigning Class 3A state runner-up will not play high school football in 2018.

The Oxbridge Academy football program has been shut down for the upcoming season, according to the school.

"This was not an easy decision for us," Oxbridge Athletic Director Patrick Hollern said in a news release. "For the past six years, we have been fully committed to a football program, built on the values of character development, athletic and academic excellence, and service to the community. Like many football programs around the country, we are experiencing a decline in participation rates.

"At this time, we no longer have an adequate number of football players to sustain a safe football program. We remain committed to our athletic department and teams, building upon what has become one of the most consistently successful athletic programs in South Florida. Our athletic department creates many opportunities, which result in exceptional college placements for our student-athletes in all our sports."

The ThunderWolves are only six months removed from losing (by four points) in the Class 3A state title game, but the team has suffered attrition due to graduation and transfers.

Oxbridge Academy played its first season in 2013 under then-coach Doug Socha and quickly became a strong program. Playing in an independent conference, the ThunderWolves went 19-3 in their first two seasons and won two titles. The program moved into the FHSAA playoff system in 2015 and qualified for postseason play in each of the past three seasons.

"It's just upsetting," said former ThunderWolves kicker Noah Singer, who played for Oxbridge from 2013-15. "We all really put in a lot of time to build that program up ... and it's kind of just being taken away."

Another alumnus, Tre Gabriel -- currently a wide receiver at Columbia -- was also disappointed by the decision.

"Oxbridge was a school like no other in Palm Beach County, where you didn't have to choose whether you wanted to pursue a great education or wanted to pursue a top football program," said Gabriel, who was also a member of the first ThunderWolves team. "Oxbridge gave you the best of both worlds."

Socha was let go after the 2015 season -- along with Athletic Director Craig Sponsky and school CEO Robert Parsons -- as the school moved to de-emphasize the football program. Oxbridge later vacated two years' worth of victories amid allegations of financial-aid favoritism toward football players.

Socha assistant Brendan Kent was promoted to head coach in 2016, and the winning continued. The ThunderWolves went 20-4 in the past two seasons and earned a spot in last year's state title game.

Despite the sustained success, Oxbridge was low on players after last year. Fifteen of the 44 players on last year's roster graduated, and eight others have transferred since the season ended.

"I really don't know (why so many players have transferred)," offensive lineman Da'Quan Thomas said Tuesday after announcing his transfer to Dwyer. "I guess the guys feel like it's time to move on."

Several key players who have not announced transfers will now look for new places to play, including class of 2019 linebacker and Indiana commit Dorian Jones (No. 13 on The Post's Big Board), 2019 quarterback and FAU commit Gio Richardson (No. 16) and 2020 wide receiver Jordan Cash (who has offers from Bowling Green, Florida Atlantic and Kentucky).

Decision made 'a long time ago'

The quick end for the ThunderWolves football program doesn't surprise Socha.

"I'm not shocked," Socha said. "I think this decision was made a long time ago, and it was just a matter of time. I think this decision was made back in May 2016 when they decided to go in another direction and de-emphasize football and fire Bob Parsons, Craig Sponsky and Doug Socha."

Socha, now the head football coach at Keiser University, said the former players he's talked to are unhappy about the decision and that he's upset for them and the rest of the Oxbridge alumni base.

"I've moved on, and I'm just really disappointed for the current players, the team, the coaches and I'm really disappointed for the alumni because of their sense of pride of what we did build," he said. "And not just the football alumni. There are some great alumni there that created an atmosphere and sense of community. Football brought that school together; football put that school on the map. And for all of this to come to this is disappointing."

alichtenstein@pbpost.com Twitter: @ABLichtenstein

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June 21, 2018
 
 
 

 

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