By Abigail Funk
Abigail Funk is an Assistant Editor at Coaching Management. She can be reached at afunk@MomentumMedia.com.
Coaching Management, 13.4, April 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1304/columbusday.htm
School: Brookhaven High School, Columbus, Ohio
Head Coach: Tom Blake
2004 Season: 15-0, Division II State Champions
Notes: The Brookhaven Bearcats are the first Columbus City League team to win an Ohio football state championship ... Brookhaven beat Avon Lake, 42-21, in the title game, snapping the defending champion's 29-game winning streak.
Varsity Assistant Coaches: Marv Whiting, defensive coordinator; Steve Ayers, defensive secondary; Travis Clodfelter, defensive line; Trevor White, linebackers; Anthony Thornton, offensive coordinator; Chuck Andrick, offensive line; Damon Kimbrough, receivers; Mike Pechac, tight ends.
Title Game Memories: "After the game, I looked around and saw the kids' faces, those big smiles on their faces. I was just so darn happy for them."
Tom Blake, Head Football Coach at Brookhaven High School in Columbus, Ohio, recently became the first City League coach to lead his team to a state football championship. But what Blake remembers most from the title game isn't the touchdown his team scored on the opening kickoff. It's not the media frenzy that surrounded him and the Bearcats. And it's not the fact that he just made history. It's the smiles on his players' faces.
"After the game, I looked around and saw the kids' faces, those big smiles on their faces," Blake says. "I was just so darn happy for them. I was extremely happy for Marv Whiting, our defensive coordinator. It's something Marv deserved. Chuck Andrick, one of our line coaches, has been involved in all nine of the school's trips to the playoffs, either as a player or a coach. I was so happy for those guys. The thrill for me was watching them celebrate."
The Bearcats' 15-0 season and state title were enjoyed far beyond Brookhaven's sidelines. Archie Griffin, a City League alumnus and two-time Heisman Trophy winner, spoke at the team banquet. Players Blake had coached when he was an assistant in the '80s were in the stands for the title game, as was Ohio State tailback and Brookhaven graduate Maurice Hall.
"Going into that game, the kids knew they were representing the entire city and everyone who's ever played City League football," Blake says. "We're just so proud to have done this for everyone connected with City League football."
One year earlier, the Bearcats might have thought they had missed their chance to bring a state title to Columbus. Brookhaven won 13 straight games in 2003 before losing in the state semi-finals. The Bearcats lost several defensive players from that squad to graduation, and Blake thought 2004 would be a rebuilding season. Instead, he was surprised at how quickly the defense jelled and how strong they were early in the year. "I knew we had a pretty good team coming in," Blake says. "But you never know how good you really are until the end of the season."
The coaches held a team camp in June, and Blake says with those 10 days over the summer, they weren't as pressed in the preseason as many other schools are. Blake says the turnout for camp was high and that his team did a good job of working hard in the off-season as well.
Although it was only his second season at the helm for Brookhaven, Blake has more than 20 years of coaching experience. He started as an assistant at Brookhaven in 1983, and coached at Independence High School and Thomas Worthington High School, both in Columbus, before returning to Brookhaven as head coach in 2003. Blake's experience taught him that it was important to maintain consistency throughout the season.
"We kept practice the same and approached each game the same way all year long," Blake says. "We talked all year about taking one game at a time. We didn't let the kids bask in the glory of victory. We told them, 'The next game is the most important.'"
After following that script to 14 straight wins, the Bearcats took over Massillon Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on their way to a 42-21 win over Avon Lake High School, snapping the defending champion's 29-game winning streak. The game started with Brookhaven recovering a fumble for a touchdown on the opening kick. The first quarter ended with the Bearcats leading 14-0, and the team sealed the win by taking a 35-14 lead in the third.
Even on the day of the championship game, Blake's approach remained unchanged. The team boarded the bus after school and pulled out right behind the other students. "The only difference was, those kids were going home, and we were headed up to Massillon," Blake says. "We didn't do anything special. We got up there at the same time we always did for an away game and just played."
While Blake likes consistency for his team, he also understands that coaches and players have to adapt as they progress through the schedule. Columbus was losing daylight, but instead of shortening practice, the Bearcats started earlier. Blake also reduced the amount of contact in practice toward the end of the season to avoid injury and burnout.
One aspect of Blake's coaching that he's always adhered to is the selection of captains. The Bearcats did not have season-long captains. Instead, each week the coaching staff picked four players to represent the team at that week's game. Based on their Monday through Thursday performance in practice, Blake and his staff announced the four new captains at their weekly Thursday night team dinner.
"Kids would ask me if they were going to be captain that week," Blake says. "It's a goal for some of them and it gives each of them an opportunity to be a leader. By doing it this way, they're all leaders."