Coaching freshman football with Coach Eric Burks was so much fun. He was the perfect guru for a novice coach, like I was, to start coaching with. EB was the head freshman coach and coached offense; I was the freshman assistant and did the defense. His offense was simple and effective, but his real talent was connecting with the players.
The kids used to love that he called our best offensive play, 34 Power, “Bread and Butter”. EB told the kids “Bread and Butter” play is the one “go to” play everyone trusted and could execute in dire situations. 34 Power was ours for dang sure. Last summer, at a couple of wedding for kids who played on those teams, I could still walk up to the majority of those players ten years later and say, “Bread and Butter” which to a man would respond, “34 Power.” Folks, in the coaching world, that is staying power.
Freshman boys are not the most responsible or most aware beings on the planet. I know this is a shock to parents, but it is true. We actually made a list we posted in the locker room to remind freshman football players of the equipment they would need to practice or play. Helmet, shoulder pads, pants, shoes, etc. etc. etc. all essential equipment to play organized football all had a reminder so the young man would not forget.
One Monday at a freshman road game, we unload the bus, dress out in the locker room, and get ready to take the field for warm-ups. At the very last minute, one player walks up to us two coaches and reports the obvious. “Coach, I forgot my pants.”
“Uhhh. Really? I couldn’t tell.” was the official coach reply.
Player number two slides up. “Uh, Coach. I forgot my shoes.”
Coach Burks lays into a soap box rant about responsibility, etc. He tells the two players to sit down and shut up, he will deal with them later, then we go out for warmups. EB is po’d during warm-ups. Toward the end of team period, right before we go back into locker room for final meeting before the game, he breaks out a huge smile and elbows me in the ribs. ”Watch this” , he says as the team jogs to the locker room.
Coach Burks addresses the team. “Player One, you have shoes, right?”
“Player Two, you have pants, correct?”
“Okay, then Player One, you will wear the pants and shoes while playing the first half. Player Two, you will wear the pants and shoes and get to play the second half. Any questions?”
“Nope.” They say collectively and join the team breakdown huddle.
“Let’s get after it then, boys! One, Two, Three…”
“Tigers!” The team yells and runs onto the field.
As I walk with Coach Burks across the field to the sideline, I say, “You, my friend are a freaking genius.”
We had to deal with a couple upset parents, but after explaining the situation, they just shook their heads and walked off. I think we won, maybe we didn’t. Who cares, though, this far down the road? In the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter much because what I will always remember most are the lessons I learned on that fall autumn day:
1. Sharing is caring and a beautiful thing (unless one player has pants that fit his 6’2 frame and the other player who must wear the same pair of pants is 5′ 6″).
2. Sometimes one player plus one player does indeed equal only one player.