OXFORD >> Oxford’s road to a coveted South-West Conference football championship was always a long one, literally.
The Wolverines, who never won the conference, had to battle larger schools and drive distances far beyond their home region to do so. Now in the Nauguatuck Valley League, players are looking forward to facing local competition, playing smaller schools and taking relatively shorter bus rides to road games.
“Hell, we could walk,” senior Noah Lisewski said.
In the SWC, a typical night game meant Oxford traveling 19 miles to Fairfield to face Notre Dame, 15 miles to Stratford to battle Bunnell, 30 miles to Weston to play the Trojans, or 28 miles to Redding to take on Barlow.
“We even hit traffic on the way up,” senior quarterback Owen Diaz said about the Barlow game.
Oxford will be home for its Sept. 11 opener against defending Class S champion Ansonia. The move to the NVL was approved in February and coach Joe Stochmal said travel played a role in the decision to switch conferences.
Lisewski, who plays linebacker and center, said in a 30-mile trek to New Milford in 2012, the entire team fell asleep on the bus.
“We were groggy for the first quarter,” he said. “We were half asleep.”
The team will be wide awake playing in more familiar confines then Monroe (Masuk) or Southbury (Pomperaug). Oxford is in the Valley — a stone’s throw away from Seymour, Derby and Ansonia.
Lisewski said road games will be just as exciting as home games.
“It’s going to be packed,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Which was not always the case in the SWC.
“Our relatives would be saying, ‘Who are you playing? Who is that team?’” Diaz said.
Senior running back/linebacker Gunnar Fay said he and a lot of his Oxford teammates are friends with NVL players. That may be change when the season starts.
“I’m not going to see them as a friend,” he said.
NVL teams are also smaller, with most schools landing in the small school classes for state tournament purposes. Diaz said playing bigger schools did have its advantages.
“There was a little bit of resentment, like we could be playing teams more our size,” he said. “But we enjoyed the challenge (in the SWC).”
Regardless of who they play, or how long it takes to get there, Stochmal said the Wolverines will be ready.
“We’re going to prepare the same way, go out and compete,” he said.