Building Respect at Burlington Edison High School
How Bruce Shearer took a 0-30 football team to the playoffs
By Roger Freeborn
Published: Summer 2004
“The program was dead!”
That’s how Bruce Shearer described Tiger football at Burlington-Edison High School when he took over the program four years ago. The team from Burlington, Washington, was so bad that they hadn’t won a single game in three years. Not one. But if anyone had the ability to turn around the program, it was Shearer.
Shearer was the all-time winningest coach in Alaska. His teams had won 82 percent of their games, a record that included five state championships and 19 conference championships. “What I’m probably most known for is turning programs around,” says Shearer. “Because in every program I’ve turned around, we’ve gone from rags to riches.” Shearer was a proven winner, but he had never faced a challenge as tough as the Tigers. Even so, he believed his positive coaching philosophy and BFS could help the Tigers earn respect.
That first year Shearer’s Tigers were introduced to the BFS program and showed improvement on the field, but not by much. They won only two games. “We were up on our competitors quite often and had a lot of close games, but the problem was our kids just didn’t believe in themselves,” says Shearer. “We were actually up 15-0 on the team that placed second in the state, only to lose it.”
Shearer said that every week his players were told that they were improving, but says, “They got sick and tired of people saying, ‘You’re getting better.’” Shearer’s opinion is that “when you lose by only one or two points, it has to do with work ethic.” So Shearer and the Tigers went back to work, and once again the team improved by another two victories the second year, finishing at 4-6.
Reflecting on that season, Shearer says that they lost several close games, one in the final seconds to a trick play, but he judged their losses that season were primarily attributable to not having a sufficient knowledge base. “I told my coaches, ‘At this point we have to find out what our kids don’t know, and that’s what we have to start teaching.’” It worked, as despite injuries to several key players, the Tigers finished 5-5 the following year and more importantly had a championship attitude. “Our players were enthusiastic because they believed that next year they were going to be one of the teams to beat.”
In 2003 the Tigers not only finished with a winning record but also made the playoffs, winning their first playoff game. They ended up third in the Northwest 3A League. Just as satisfying to Coach Shearer personally was observing the play of his sons, Saxton, a senior, and Sterling, a junior.
A running back, Saxon ran for 1,493 yards on 243 carries, an average of 6.1 yards per carry, and 29 touchdowns. He was honored as the Skagit Valley Herald’s Offensive Player of the Year, and his accomplishments earned him a scholarship to Montana State. At 180 pounds bodyweight, Saxon squats 420 and has a dot drill time of 37, which is phenomenal when you consider that 45 is All American. As impressive as Saxon is, his brother may become even better.
Already selected All County, Sterling plays linebacker and fullback. Understandably proud, Shearer comments, “This school has records that go back to 1904, and Sterling has broken every tackling record they’ve got. He’s been our defensive player of the year for three straight years, and it’s unbelievable for a freshman to do that.” As with Saxon, Sterling has been paying his dues in the weightroom. “At the end of his freshman year he benched 250 and squatted 400, and he just tested at a 305 bench and 450 squat at a bodyweight of 190 pounds. He’ll probably be 210 next year.”
In addition to crediting the BFS weight training program for the Tigers’ turnaround, Shearer acknowledges the effect of the Be An 11 program. “The Be An 11 program is as important as our lifting workouts. In fact, I was telling Dr. Shepard recently that when we go to play a football game, our players tape a “Be An 11” sign above the doorway going into and coming out of the locker room into the stadium. Be An 11 is our football religion!”
The BFS Clinic Advantage
Shearer has been with BFS for 15 years, and jumpstarts his program every four years with a BFS clinic. In addition to incorporating BFS into athletics, he has added elements of the program into his weight training PE classes, which contain both athletes and regular students. “BFS just made sense to me for my classes, says Shearer.” Here’s why.
“One of the biggest problems a PE teacher has in weight training is deciding how to give your students a grade. A lot of kids think that as long as they come to class and work out that should be enough,” says Shearer. “How do you distinguish between an A and a B student? If you give out some C’s the parents say, ‘How did my son get a C? He works out all the time!’ The Bigger Faster Stronger program gives the teacher a way to measure success because the students have to document their workouts. If they don’t do the workout, they don’t have the documentation. It makes grading more objective, in addition to building confidence in the kids by helping them set and achieve goals.”
Shearer gave his first BFS clinic 15 years ago, a time when he was just starting a job at a new high school. The school had some success, but Shearer believes that was due to having a team with a lot of natural talent, since the athletic program hadn’t yet developed a tradition of winning. “So I brought Dr. Shepard up to do a Bigger Faster Stronger clinic to help set the goals for the kids, help bring the team together, and develop a common bond and a common goal. I had been in the business almost 16 years and was already pretty good at what I did, but BFS just made me better.
“There’s nothing like having a professional come in, evaluate your program and tell you what you can do to improve it. Greg has a way of doing that without offending anyone. And every time he comes by he follows up: This last time he followed up with two e-mails with suggestions that really helped. I told our players that Dr. Shepard contacted me and said we needed to do more stretching and that we needed to lift more weight – he knew we were breaking records but we still weren’t lifting heavy enough. We took his advice and, you know what, it’s really made a difference!”
One way Shearer motivates his athletes is by using record boards, and the first board Shearer had was called the 250 Club. “The first year we got here the kids looked at each other and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ but by the end of the year we had five kids who could bench 205. This year we’re up to about 15 kids who can do 200, and we had to start a 300 Club—we have five guys on that board! Now we want to start another club for those who total 1,000 pounds on the bench, squat and power clean.
In addition to football, many other sports at Burlington-Edison have shown amazing improvements from following the BFS program. “The same basic BFS program is used for other sports; the only difference is the auxiliary lifts,” says Shearer, adding that one of the most impressive improvements has been with the baseball team. “In their last four games they had 70 runs, and their homerun ratio is just amazing. They’re hitting the ball so much harder – they’re hitting balls 400 feet and out of the park!”
Enthusiasm for the BFS program among the coaches and the community has helped Shearer acquire funds to build a new weightroom. Since he came to Burlington-Edison, he’s received $19,000 for equipment from support organizations, and recently a bond was passed that will pay to have a new weightroom built next year. “Everything this school district does is state of the art, and Bigger Faster Stronger is going to be a big part of helping us get it all set up.”
Thanks to the new spirit brought to the school by Coach Bruce Shearer and BFS, the Tigers not only live, they roar!