Jason Thurston always envisioned coming back to coaching.
His first stint as a head football coach since resigning from his post at New Oxford in 2015 might pose a challenge, but it’s one he is more than willing to take on.
Fairfield officially hired Thurston at the Monday night school board meeting, but the meeting also raised the question of whether the high school, which enrolls about 350 students, would be able to field a varsity football team this season, he said.
“It’s just a really tough situation, and I don’t know if there’s a perfect solution,” Thurston said.
A decision will likely come by the end of the week after Thurston meets with players on Thursday.
Fairfield is weighing what appears to be low numbers for the varsity football squad as well as the potential for at least half of the team being comprised of freshman students.
It’s a tough transition to go straight from youth football to the Friday night lights, Thurston said.
“From a liability standpoint, I think that’s a valid concern,” he said.
But Thurston also sympathizes with the seniors on the team, who could spend their final season with the Knights not playing a varsity schedule.
“The last thing you want to do is cancel the varsity season,” he said. “That’s the priority. That’s the core of the whole program.”
With the football season approaching, Thurston will get an opportunity to speak with players and receive their input. From there, he will discuss options with Crystal Heller, the Fairfield athletic director.
Ultimately, the decision is with Heller and the school administration, Thurston said.
Thurston reasoned that Fairfield could start with a varsity schedule, and change course if it’s not working. However, putting off the decision could make it difficult on opponents.
The earlier the decision is made, the more time other schools will have to find other varsity opponents, Thurston said.
If Fairfield drops its varsity team, Thurston will coach junior varsity, trying to bring a “Friday night atmosphere” to the Monday night games. The thinking would be that Thurston could start the program from the ground up, but, with the senior players in mind, it is not Thurston’s ideal solution.
However, if that is the case, those players will still have an opportunity to earn a varsity letter, Thurston said.
Thurston saw coaching at Fairfield as a great opportunity. Though the Knights had some success under the tenure of Darwin Seiler the past six years, there is less pressure in taking over the program versus a bigger school with considerable football history.
Seiler resigned in late May, expressing that he felt the program needed a new voice. A few of his assistants will carry over onto Thurston’s staff.
Thurston has coached ever since he left high school, beginning at Shippensburg University. He has always aspired for head coaching opportunities.
He left New Oxford after three years as head coach to prioritize other things in his life, he said. He had a 10-21 record with the Colonials.
Since leaving New Oxford, Thurston worked on the staff of the Gettysburg High School football team under head coach Matt Heiser.
“I always intended on coming back at some point,” Thurston said.
The challenges facing Fairfield might loom large, but Thurston felt confident knowing he can be the one to right the ship.
“I’d really like to be able to take them to that next level,” he said. “It’s certainly going to take time.”
The “small, close-knit community aspect” of Fairfield appealed to Thurston as well, he said, adding that he hopes the community can be patient in seeing the Knights achieve success.
“I’m really thankful and excited for the opportunity, and I can’t wait to get started,” Thurston said.