By Ben Kaufmann
County Courier

SWANTON – Former assistant Anthony Labor will take over as head coach of the Missisquoi Valley Union varsity football program this fall, filling the vacant post left when former coach Chad Cioffi took the top job at Rice.

Labor, 32, is a lifelong Franklin County resident currently living in Swanton. He coached three years, the middle one as head of the 5-6 team, in the St. Albans Steelers program before joining Cioffi’s staff last year.

“I’m excited to have him on board,” said MVU Athletic Director John Lumsden. “He really talks about the things we talk about here like program culture, having a positive experience for our kids and student-athletes here. He’ll do just fine.”

Labor says he hopes a positive culture will bolster football participation at Missisquoi. Limited player numbers, the team was forced to compete at the junior varsity level in 2019 and, though the team returned to varsity last year, light numbers meant that a few injuries forced MVU to forfeit a midseason game at Windsor in the 0-8 campaign.

“That’s really the goal is the culture and getting something ingrained up here,” Labor said. “We don’t want this to be the new team anymore, we want this to be a big part of MVU. That starts with just consistently getting numbers up there. Obviously winning would be nice, but really at this point where the program hasn’t really had enough numbers for two years in a row to finish a varsity season it’s just about getting something settled and getting some consistent numbers.”

Lumsden said Labor’s focus on providing a good experience for student-athletes stood out. Asked if cared more about that than winning six games in 2022, Lumsden was quick to answer.

“I certainly do. I still consider football a new sport here at Missisquoi. I appreciate what Chad has done building it up the last four years and I know Anthony will do a great job continuing and building that tradition here.”

The work will start with making sure there are players on the field to enjoy the positive experience. Labor says developing a good feeder program is a top priority. Franklin County currently only offers youth football through the St. Albans Steelers or Fairfax Patriots.

“We just need kids out here, whether or not they’ve played before, we just need them to come out and play and learn and we’ll go from there,” Labor said.

Some support might come from neighboring communities. Missisquoi had one player from Enosburg Falls High School last season and Labor says he hopes to attract more players from schools where football isn’t offered. At the other end of the county, BFA-Fairfax has developed a co-op team with Lamoille – with occasional help from players at schools like Stowe – and has played in the last two Division III championship games. A full co-op agreement with another school isn’t in the works right now, but players from schools like Enosburg and Richford are able to play football at MVU.

“It’s a little bit of a trek coming from Enosburg every day, but we’d love to reach out and kind of do what they (Fairfax/Lamoille) do,” said Labor. “For schools that don’t have a football program but have kids who want to play, that’s obviously an opportunity.”

Labor is hopeful it will be a benefit to the program to have minimal change even with the departure of a head coach. He noted last year’s Thunderbird team was very young, so he started in the program at the same time as many of the players. Lumsden added that players were on the hiring committee and he expects the transition will be easier for all with a familiar face at the helm.

Labor played four years in the Steeler program and another four at BFA-St. Albans. His varsity time for the Bobwhites came under longtime coach Geoff Murrary, and Labor says his time with Murray will be useful in his new role.

“Consistency is key,” Labor said of what he learned playing under Murray and his staff. “I think that’s part of why I wanted this job, it’s hard to grow a program that’s constantly changing whether it’s coaches, playbooks, playing styles. And holding everyone to the same standard, there’s no superstar. If someone screws up, you can’t hold them to a different standard than other players.”

A season at MVU and years as a player and coach in the Steeler program with Chad Cioffi and his father, Rob (another longtime program leader), has also helped to shape Labor for this new challenge.

“A lot of the X’s and O’s stuff,” Labor said of what he learned from the Cioffis. I just really knew my position, which was lineman, and Chad already had a line coach when I got here. And coaching with Rob Cioffi too, both of them kind of taught me about seeing bigger than just my position.”

With recruiting players and implementing a complete playbook lingering as top priorities, Labor says what he wants most is to provide kids in the Missisquoi area the same chance to get what he got from football.

“It’s a family, you grow up with these guys. Out of five offensive lineman (at BFA), I was in four of the other guys’ weddings. That’s what you get out of this sport, something bigger than yourself.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Though he’s not writing currently, Anthony Labor has recently done freelance sports work for The County Courier.