PORTSMOUTH — It’s hard not to get anxious about football season with the dog days of summer continuing into late June.
Former Portsmouth High School football coach Curt Clifford knows all about that feeling.
In the summer months during his coaching days, Clifford and his staff would use that time to prepare themselves and their Trojan players for a gauntlet of a 10-game regular season.
The game of football — and winning or losing — is more than just what happens during the two or more hours inside the white lines on Friday nights during the fall.
It’s an idea that Clifford — one of the newest members of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame — always tried to implore during his 24 seasons as the PHS coach.
“I found that to be an overriding factor every time we qualified for the playoffs. You take a look at what kids did in the offseason, our weight rooms were brutal — a pool of sweat under every station,” Clifford said. “We did things the right way and we worked our kids as hard as we could work them.”
The former Trojan coach led his alma mater of PHS for part of four decades (1989-2012), compiling a 138-128 record in those seasons.
Clifford was called to be informed he would be one of six members of the 53rd Class of the OHSFCA HOF — by Board of Directors member and friend Matt Bartley, a Xenia High School assistant coach.
Joining Clifford at the 2022 induction ceremony will be Sam Fornsaglio (Cadiz HS), Jeff Durban (Lake HS), Ed Nasonti (Bellevue HS), Joe Yost (Akron Ellet HS) and Bob Ramsay (Dalton HS).
“For me, knowing Coach Clifford personally, it was an honor,” Bartley said, of informing his friend of his HOF acceptance. “Coach Clifford was accepted not only having a great career but his impact on the game and his players. He’s been an active member of the Coaches Association for a long time and we’re looking forward to having him as a member of the HOF.”
The 1972 PHS graduate and 1977 Wilmington College graduate Clifford began in roles on the sidelines immediately following the end of his playing career.
Before his 24-year stint as the head coach, Clifford was an assistant coach with Portsmouth for 12 seasons — assuming such roles as offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, offensive line coach and even special teams coach.
He also assumed the role of varsity track coach for four years during his coaching days, and coached junior high track for 15 years.
Clifford even dabbled into some basketball coaching, leading PHS junior high and freshman teams during a few winter sports seasons.
His wife Mary and children — Courtney, Tyler and Caitlin — and former college coach Bill Ramseyer each came to mind when he received the call informing him he was being accepted into the HOF.
“I thought back to my daughter (Courtney) who passed in 2011, I thought about my mom who was my biggest fan, I thought about my college coach who recently passed, Bill Ramseyer. He was a major influence in my life when it comes to football, and off the field as well…,” Clifford said. “I thought about my wife and all the times she had to spend by herself raising our children. I thought about Caitlin and Tyler and how much they had to do without their dad around.”
Some of southern Ohio’s most dominant teams in recent years were coached by Clifford at Portsmouth.
A playoff appearance in 1999 started a four-year run of consecutive postseason trips for the Trojans — a run that included a berth in the Division III state semifinals during the 2000 campaign.
In total, Portsmouth qualified for the postseason seven times in his 24 seasons leading the program — several of those years being when only four teams per region qualified by the points system.
Beginning next season, 16 teams per region will qualify for the postseason, putting into perspective just how difficult it once was to have a playoff-caliber team.
The 2000 Portsmouth team outscored its opponents 609-127 while crafting a 13-1 record, including their postseason run.
The Trojans were the Division III Associated Press Poll Champions that year, and their head man in Clifford earned D-III Southeast District and State Coach of the Year honors.
“They were football players — that’s what they wanted to do. They weren’t playing for any other reason, they played because they wanted to be there,” Clifford said, of his 2000 team. “That level of talent ran up until about the ‘04 season.”
Clifford was the head coach of the South team for the 2003 OHSFCA North/South All-Star Game — following Portsmouth’s run of four straight playoff appearances and three straight regional final appearances.
Today, former Trojan players which have joined the coaching ranks themselves have credited Clifford for laying the groundwork of style and preparation that’s allowed them to lead today’s young men in sports — as well as the game of life.
Bruce Kalb (current head coach) and Aaron Duncan have each led the PHS program since Clifford’s retirement following the 2012 season, while Ted Newsome — who played under Clifford when he was a Trojan assistant and later coached under him — have all had their opportunities to help groom up-and-coming players thanks to his influence.
“Proud to have been coached by Coach Clifford, and I hope that I live up to the example that you set for what it means to be the head football coach at PHS,” Kalb said, in a Facebook post. “This is a much deserved honor for an amazing coach and an even better man.”
“I was absolutely excited and proud for Curt. Nobody earned it more than he did,” Newsome said. “I was really, really happy for him that he was elected to join the ranks of where he belongs.”
Duncan will be rejoining the PHS football staff beginning this fall, while Newsome recently accepted a position on the Portsmouth West football staff.
“It validates your career,” Clifford said, of his former players joining the coaching ranks. “To know that you’ve had enough of an influence on them as high school players… it validates what you’ve done.”
Clifford will be inducted into the OHSFCA HOF next June (2022) — at the HOF ceremony at the Hilton Columbus at Easton Hotel.
A specific date has not yet been set for the ceremony.
Any former player or assistant coach of Clifford’s is invited to Columbus for the celebration banquet.
“When I take a look at some of the people in this Hall of Fame, you ask yourself if you belong. Do I belong in the same picture as guys like Ed Miller, Bob Lutz… Paul Brown is in the HOF. I wouldn’t have voted for myself, but I was lucky enough that I did get voted in by my peers. I appreciate that and I will be forever in their debt,” he said.
A full interview detailing HOF coach Curt Clifford’s career at Portsmouth can be found on YouTube by searching “PDT Sports Podcast — Curt Clifford” once the episode becomes available.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved