PORTSMOUTH — Lots of positives. Some concerns.

Two months after a merger with Oyster River High School got final approval from the NHIAA’s Executive Committee, and less than a month before practice starts, Portsmouth football coach Brian Pafford said he loves the increased numbers — and a lot of other things about the partnership.

Just not everything.

Start with those numbers. As of late this week, 16 players from Oyster River — 11 of them freshmen — have joined the program, which will now be known as the Portsmouth “ClipperCats.”

That brings the number of players in the program to 82, which is 10 higher than it’s been at any point in the last decade. A combined freshman class of 29 is by far the biggest Pafford has seen as a coach.

“For us, the biggest thing is we have not been able to field three teams for the last 10 years,” he said. “We were unable to play JV games. This will allow kids to play at the level they should be playing at.”

Portsmouth will field varsity, JV and freshman teams this season. In recent years, it has only had a varsity team and a “reserve” team, made up of freshmen and sophomores, with several of those sophomores pressed into varsity service out of need.

“I think the number may end up being even more than that,” said Oyster River athletic director Andy Lathrop. “I’d expect some upperclassmen to come out of the woodwork.”

Practice opens in a month. The first game is at home against Londonderry on Aug. 31. The ClipperCats will be home for each of their first three games and five times overall.

Pafford attended, and met with players and parents at Oyster River’s fall sports meeting, outlining the program’s philosophies, which include an emphasis on attending all practices, maintaining strong academics and community service.

“The freshman and JV level is not a concern; every kid’s going to play,” said Pafford, who is entering his fifth year as head coach. “The problem could be at the varsity level, where if everyone comes to practice and plays hard, the best player is going to play.

“Maybe the first time a Portsmouth kid’s spot is taken by an Oyster River kid (there could be some backlash). I’m gearing up for that to happen. But I think the fact that we have a veteran coaching staff that’s been together for a while will help that.”

There will be one addition to the coaching staff, from Oyster River, thanks to an added stipended position. Pafford said a strong candidate has emerged and the position should be filled soon.

The Portsmouth/Oyster River co-op is the only one of its kind in Division I: There are two cooperative teams in Division II (Gilford/Belmont and Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton) and three more in the smaller divisions.

Forming a co-op program to boost numbers is something Portsmouth has been exploring for years, since NHIAA realignment in 2014 elevated the program to Division I, where it’s been matched up against schools like Exeter, Pinkerton and Manchester Central that have significantly larger enrollments.

In four seasons as one of the smallest schools in Division I, Portsmouth has produced records of 6-4, 1-8, 5-4 and 4-5. It’s only made the playoffs once.

At Oyster River, the largest high school in the state that does not sponsor football, the merger is being seen as a positive.

“It’s been very exciting,” said Lathrop on Friday. “The kids and their parents are certainly excited. For us as a community, it was a great opportunity for our kids.”

Lathrop noted that his own role will be largely a supportive one. Like Oyster River administrators have taken the lead in the two-year-old girls hockey co-op with the Clippers, Portsmouth officials will drive this merger.

Oyster River first made a push toward forming a football co-op with Portsmouth in 2016, but its school board voted not to approve it. The two main reasons it cited were the instability of the co-op (Portsmouth could have backed out at any time if NHIAA realignment bumped it down to Division II) and the introduction of football-related negatives (i.e. concussions) to the community.

Pafford, like many of the men on his coaching staff, played football at Portsmouth a generation ago. He sees the game taking hits in the media over concussion dangers and CTEs, but it’s still an activity he endorses wholeheartedly; his own son, Nolan, a junior, is a candidate to start at defensive end.

Whether they’re joining his program or not, giving more kids a chance to play the sport at this level is something he sees as a positive. He noted that a dozen of the Oyster River players attended a recent passing camp at Portsmouth.

“For us, yeah, it helps us out,” said Pafford. “But it also really helps 15-20 kids who want to play high school football but haven’t had that opportunity.”