It’s fall and that means another much-anticipated season of high school football is underway at Orillia Secondary School (OSS). It is the only high school football program in the city.
One of the driving forces behind the successful program is Nathan Box, who helped revive the sport more than a decade ago.
Back in 2003, Park Street Collegiate Institute had been without a football program for 12 years.
They wanted to change that, but they needed a teacher with experience in the sport to help coach.
So, they hired 28-year-old Nathan Box, who had been a linebacker at Queen’s University for five years and had just returned to Canada after a stint of teaching in Japan.
"I had never coached before. I didn't even know if I could do it and I didn't know if I would be good at it," says the now 44-year-old.
"The kids didn't have any football experience because it was a new team, so we kind of learned together."
Box, a native of Ottawa Valley, learned how to coach a football team quickly after gaining some confidence.
"It was a learning process. After my first year, I got more confident and started to assert myself a bit better," he said.
Box has now been coaching at Park/OSS for the better part of 17 years. For many reasons, Box said, he has fallen in love with the role.
"I like that football has big guys, small guys, slow guys, and fast guys,” Box explained. “Football has people that might not be the kind of person that you would think is an athlete, a person who doesn't play any other sports or would maybe not even come to school or do so well in school, but they can come out here and be a part of a team and be a part of a bigger thing."
As much as Box loves the opportunity for individual growth within the game, he also loves how important teamwork is to the squad's success.
"I like that If one guy doesn't do their job, it kind of screws everything up. It's really about teamwork and working together," Box said.
There is lots to like about coaching high school football, Box stressed, but he conceded the job is also quite challenging at times.
"Kids come out to tryouts and they think football is going to be a certain way, they think it's going to be spread, five wideouts and everyone wants to be a wide receiver. And then they come out and realize that they might have to block and tackle and they can't all just catch the ball," Box explains.
"We've won championships at junior and senior, we've been to finals, but you also have those years where winning just one game is your goal," said the coach of how goals evolve from season toseason.
Box has been coaching the junior team for the last six years. It's an important role with the program as he is often teaching students playing the game for the very first time. A big part of that is teaching students how to tackle safely and protect themselves - and help prepare them to play senior football.
Ty Slemin, a Grade 11 student at OSS, played for Box in his first two years at the school.
"He's a great coach,” said Slemin. “I didn't know how to play football before I came here, and he taught us in a way where we could easily understand and pick it up quickly," said the 16-year-old.
Box is often serious about football and focuses on teaching the players the techniques of the game and keeping them safe, but Sleman says he can also be a lot of fun.
"He's a really good guy, he can have a lot of fun and goof around with the guys but he also knows when to get serious and get down to teaching," he said.
Aiden Colebrook is also a Grade 11 student at OSS and played his first two seasons of football under Box. Colebrook says he was surprised with how detail-oriented Box's teaching is.
"Box is good at making you progress,” said Colebrook. “I didn't play football before coming here, and he worked with us from the bottom-up with things like footwork and the motions of tackling and brought us up to game speed slowly."
Box will once again be coaching the junior squad this season. The team will play three games away from home before returning to OSS for their home opener on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 3:30 p.m.