Football: Longtime Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren steps down

May 28—Mark Soehren, who turned Oxford Hills High's football program from a Class A doormat to state champions, has resigned as the school's varsity football coach.

Soehren, 54, said he made the decision last Monday but announced it on X (formerly Twitter) on Tuesday.

"It felt like time," Soehren said. "It's almost the same amount of work every year and I felt I wasn't putting in the time I should and felt that was a disservice to the kids and the program.

"It's a great time for someone else to come in and put their stamp on it."

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Soehren had been Oxford Hills' head coach the last 12 seasons, taking over in 2012 after spending a year as an assistant coach. He went 58-48 in his tenure, including 27-5 in the last three seasons. The Vikings won the Class A title in 2022.

Soehren previously coached at Poland Regional for eight seasons, the last three as head coach. The Vikings went a combined 2-22 in the three years prior to his first season. They had not made the playoffs or had a winning season since 2005.

But success did not come quickly. After a year in the old Pine Tree Conference, which served as Class A East, the Class A ranks shifted in 2013 when the state went from three to four classes. With the traditional PTC teams moving to Class B, Portland, Cheverus, Windham and Deering were placed in Class A East (renamed Class A North in 2015).

"We remember vividly getting beaten 68-0 at our own homecoming by Portland. Our own homecoming, a Saturday afternoon, we remember very well," Soehren said. "We felt, yup, we just have to get better, play faster, have higher expectations."

By 2019, Oxford Hills was a rising power. The Vikings went 7-3 in 2018 and won a playoff game, and followed it up with a 6-5 season in 2019, with another playoff win before losing to Thornton Academy in the semifinals.

But then Class A had become an eight-team league. Traditional Class A teams Portland, Deering, Cheverus, South Portland, Windham and Massabesic had moved to Class B. The reclassification was done, at least in part, because some schools wanted out of Class A, stating they couldn't compete with powers Thornton Academy and Bonny Eagle.

"It felt like once we became relevant, all of the teams that had been beating us, it felt like they had to rebuild somewhere else," Soehren said. "I've been beaten by Portland a lot and when we could beat Portland they had gone to Class B and it was frustrating."

After the COVID-cancelled 2020 season, Oxford Hills reached the state final in 2021, its first appearance in that game since 1999. The Vikings fell to Thornton Academy, 42-27.

Prior to the 2021 season, Soehren was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer. During the season he had surgery and chemotherapy treatments. He missed two games.

"Football was a bit of a godsend, going through all that," said Soehren, who is in remission and said his tests and scans have come back clear. "I could go for two hours (to practice) and not think about the terrible possibilities of cancer."

The next season, with his son Eli at quarterback, Soehren's team completed its rise to the pinnacle of Maine high school football, when it beat Thornton, 21-7, in a state final rematch.

Last season, with Class A back to 12 teams and again divided into two regions, Oxford Hills reached the North regional final, losing to Portland, 29-22. With new starters in 17 positions, the Vikings went 8-3 overall.

"We take a huge amount of pride — and I take a huge amount of pride — in what we accomplished," Soehren said. "We did not run away from anything. We sat in there and took our lumps and we got better. That 68-0 game, all the players they came back the next day and that next year we made the playoffs for the first time in many years."

Soehren said he had seriously considered resigning as head coach prior to the 2023 season but added he was talked out of it by several people. He will continue to teach physics and chemistry at Oxford Hills.

"I don't know if my football journey is over yet but the head coaching job is for now," Soehren said.

Soehren and his wife, Kate, have three children who next year will all be in college. Oldest son Atticus is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, where he competes on the track and field team in the javelin. Eli Soehren is a freshman and football player at Colby College. Daughter McKinley is finishing her senior year at Oxford Hills and will attend Penn State.

This fall will mark the first time in 21 seasons that Soehren, who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota and played at the University of South Dakota, won't be coaching football.

Soehren said he'll use his free time to travel more with Kate, play more golf and refine his novice fly fishing skills.

"I'm going to miss those relationships with the kids, and the coaches," Soehren said. "That's what I'll miss, sitting in the coaches' office and then of course running out on Friday night lights. When I go to a game and watch them run out, that's going to be hard."

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