By Justin A. Rice
JAMAICA PLAIN — Working as an assistant coach at Thayer Academy in Braintree for the last 14 years, Chris Boswell learned a thing or two about football rivalries.
“We got Milton Academy, we got St. Sebs [Sebastian’s], the Belmont Hill game is always a good game,” Boswell said on Thursday afternoon after the first high school in the nation named him their first new head football coach in 30 years, thrusting the Roxbury native into the nation’s oldest continuous high school football rivalry game: English-Latin.
The only problem is that Boston English has only defeated Boston Latin School twice in the last 44 years.
“I’m not going to make any promises or predictions,” Boswell said. “We just want to play better and try to win a few of those. I was there last year, Thayer ends early, we only have eight games. I was kind of scouting the team seeing if I want to come on board. I was there and it was interesting.
“I’ve been told that’s our Super Bowl every year. The alumni are very interested in what happens in that game and what the outcome is and I embrace it and I’m ready to go. It’s what this school is all about and it’s a big thing.”
But before handing over the program to Boswell, English’s outgoing coach, Keith Parker, cautioned his successor that it’s not all about wins and losses.
“It’s not about football, it’s about transitioning to this academic challenge,” Parker said. “We’re the only school in the state where you need a 2.0 to participate and next year it’s going to be a 2.2. I hope they’re successful but it’s a matter of people being patient with English High football . It’s not about X’s and O’s right now, it’s about getting a new frame of mind to get the kids into the classroom and out onto the practice field.”
During a press conference to announce Boswell as the new coach on Thursday, English High also announced that Larry Merritt will be the team’s new academic coach.
“I am going to lean on him, I am going to help support him and rely on him,” Boswell said. “I think we have the perfect person for the job.”
Parker also warns not to get too caught up in the English-Latin rivalry, noting that English—with less than 400 boys, most from foreign countries—has a difficult time competing with Latin, with a male enrollment of close to 900 boys whom take an exam to get into the school.
“I compare the English-Latin game to the great college rivalry of Navy vs. Notre Dame!” Parker said in an email. “I believe Navy also has two wins over ND in something like 48 years? But, they still keep playing!! Good for them!”
A physical education teacher at the Thomas A. Edison Junior High in Brighton, Boswell, 47, was born in Roxbury and played football at Marlborough High through the METCO program. He played college ball at the University of Maine.
“Football changed my life so I’m hoping we can change somebody’s life,” he said.
For the English players it’s a big change too, one that is both daunting and exciting at the same time.
“I expect him to be a tough coach,” said junior Raphael Cox, who hopes to get his grades up to play this fall. “We gotta work, we gotta start winning a lot more games. We got the heart we definitely got the heart everybody is always trying to win. We just gotta execute.”
The learning curve will also be high for a coach taking his first head coaching job.
“I feel humbled, I know I have a lot of work to do but I feel ready,” Boswell said. “I just look at these kids and I can’t wait to get a hold of them. Thayer taught me everything. It was a great experience. It’s tough leaving. I feel sad.
“I know it won’t be the same type of accommodations, it feels like going from a palace to a different place. But I’m excited to bring this to a higher standard. I’m ready to come back to the city. I was born in Boston, I was born in Roxbury.”