It is a picture, I believe, that embodies the reasons Broad Run captured its first football state title in school history Saturday.
Captured by Washington Post photographer John McDonnell, the picture (shown above) shows Broad Run coach Mike Burnett and linebacker Kenny McAdow celebrating seconds after the game ended. One is smiling. The other appears to have a tear in his eye.
I first met Burnett a couple of years ago when Comcast was broadcasting a Broad Run game against Potomac Falls. Burnett was in his first season as the Spartans coach, and he was trying to turn around a team that had gone 1-9 the previous season. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, but his team looked like one struggling to adapt to a new coach, committing literally dozens of penalties while losing to the Panthers. Broad Run, though, was improving, finishing the year at 5-5.
The next season was different. Broad Run won its first five games, and after another broadcast, I had the chance to talk a little with Burnett and McAdow. You could tell that the team was no longer struggling to adapt to its new coach, and with this newfound belief, results were clearly visible.
The more I talked with Burnett, the more it became evident that he was anything but a typical football coach. He was a former attorney whose eyes sparkled not only when he spoke of football, but developing young men, building a team, and caring. He was, in short, a leader.
For over 20 years, I’ve had the chance to manage other people, and there are certain undeniable truths when it comes to motivating and managing them. One is that you can’t fake caring: Either you do or you don’t. If people believe you do care about them and are not just using them to win games or get a bigger bonus, they are more likely to listen to you, more likely to work together, and if you have a game plan that makes sense, more likely to succeed. Burnett sincerely cared about this group.
But to really get things done, you need key people to buy in early to what you’re selling. McAdow, you could see last season, was emotionally “all in.” He talked of hard work, believing in his teammates, and getting to the next level. His excitement for getting out on the field, working hard in the weight room, and dealing with his teammates was barely containable. He seemed to be the kind of teammate who would come looking for you if you missed a workout. And if you declined his invitation, he’d just drag you back to the gym any way.
The team would continue last year through a magical 10-0 season, beating defending champion Park View on the final night of the regular season to win the Dulles District title. The next week, however, Broad Run crashed back to earth. They faced Park View again, and the more playoff savvy Patriots sucker-punched the Spartans with a trick play in the fourth quarter to end the Broad Run season.
A good 20 minutes after the game, when all the television cameras, microphones and cables had been packed away, I walked to my car. Despite the cold night, several players still hadn’t left the field, standing or sitting on a bench in stunned silence. One was McAdow. “That kid,” I thought, “is probably going to be in the weight room tomorrow already working on next season.”
He must have been, along with the rest of the offensive and defensive linemen. This year’s team didn’t boast five-star recruits with college coaches camping out in the parking lot waiting to sign them. But week in and week out, they controlled the line of scrimmage thanks to the play of folks like Shawn Lewis, Nick Galzerano, Will Field, Frank Foreman and a host of others.When they needed to get yards on the ground, T.J. Peeler and Breon Earl got them. When they needed to pass, Chris Jessop threw it, and Adrian Fleming, Kevin Sanderson or Earl would catch it. Their defense, with linebackers like McAdow and Mikey Cotton, was stingy, hit hard, and flew to the ball.
Many had their moments. But throughout the season, it was a team effort, with different players shining on different nights. They believed in each other, covered for each other, worked hard together, and in a manner many will think is corny, genuinely liked each other.
So in a surreal setting, on a cold December Lynchburg night with snow falling in the background, a picture of Broad Run’s season was taken. One cared. The other believed.
What developed…was a team that won its school’s first-ever football state championship.