Berkley High football plays with a chip on its shoulder, which is just fine with second-year coach Jeff Burnside.
“We really come from a blue-collar community. You’re not going to have things handed to you in life. So we talk to our kids and say that you have to work hard for everything you get,” Burnside said. “We’ve got to work a little harder and use when people say, ‘You’re just not good enough,’ as motivation. ‘Well, we’ll show you.’”
The Bears are 2-2 and 2-1 in the Oakland Activities Association Blue Division. Last season, they finished 4-5 while Burnside was learning about the kids just as much as they were learning about him.
“The kids know me now. They know my expectations. There are always some growing pains in a transition,” the coach said. “Coach (Jim MacDougall) did a great job setting the foundation, but everyone is a little different. This year, we’re pushing our kids a lot more into what we want them to become.”
Senior linebacker Matt Koerner said he can tell a difference in the atmosphere surrounding the program compared with last season.
“It’s just awesome seeing everyone out here work hard,” he said. “We don’t have a bunch of egos, selfish people. We’re a family, and we want to accomplish the same thing, and we’re willing to work as hard as we can to get to our goal.”
“The focus is our league; that’s what we want to do,” Burnside added. “We want to bust our tails to win the league.”
Offensively, the Bears have gone away from their option attack, but have still kept some elements of the scheme in their system. This year, they tend to keep the quarterback more in the pocket and let their running backs get out in space.
“We use our team speed very well. We try to get (the defense) going left and right, and then we try to gash the up the middle,” Burnside said. “We’ve got some good tailbacks that can run it up the middle and then some guys that can stretch it horizontally, too.”
After getting a taste of the Blue last season, Burnside has also adjusted his defense.
“Most of the teams are going to pound the rock, and we needed to get more guys near the line of scrimmage to get that taken care of,” he said.
Koerner said the key to the team reaching its potential is responding when times get rough.
“If we get scored on, we need to come back and punch them in the mouth on the next play,” he said. “We can’t put our heads down and say, ‘We’ll get them next quarter.’ We need to strap it up next play.”