BHS Head Football Coach Talks Goals & Excitement For Upcoming Season
Photography provided by Amy Payne & BHS Athletics/Dorian McDaniel
When the temperature dips, the wind changes direction and the leaves transform from green to a golden hue, football fans get goosebumps because they know what’s coming. What, in your mind, makes this fall sport so special? John Hart, head coach of the Brownsburg High School football team, offers one explanation for the magic.
“In basketball, a kid may play 50 games in a season or in baseball, 100 games. When you play that often, the moments aren’t as special,” Hart says. “With football, on the other hand, you get 10 games — nine and a playoff. That’s the schedule for four years and it’s over for most people after that. It’s a very concentrated thing to do, which, to me, makes it special.”
This fall will mark Hart’s fifth year with the Brownsburg Bulldogs and his 36th year coaching high school football overall. After 35 years, his record is an impressive 294-88. He first became a head coach at the age of 22 and in the past three-plus decades has turned around a number of programs in several locations. Though he moved around a good bit through the years, that was never his plan.
“Every time we moved, I felt like it would be the last time,” Hart says. “But I kept getting presented with great opportunities.”
When he was asked to come to Brownsburg, it was another fantastic opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Prior to his arrival, the school experienced three straight losing seasons. The past three years, on the other hand, they’ve won three state conference championships. Not that he’s taking credit.
“I have an incredible coaching staff,” Hart says. “In fact, I consider myself more of a CEO than a football coach.”
He says a big part of their success has to do with what their players do to develop during the off-season.
“A lot of programs spend 90% of their time on the skilled part of the sport and 10% on developing the athlete,” Hart says. “Here we do the opposite and spend 90% of our time developing the athlete and 10% on the sport.”
Doing so gets the players to become stronger, faster and more agile. And word is spreading across the student body that this approach works as the number of students registered for strength training has risen from 250 to 600 in just three years.
When it comes to the mental aspect of the sport, Hart concedes that there are many clichés that compare life to football — all of which are true. There’s the being forced to endure every kind of environment — wet, cold, hot, slippery— and having to survive all of it while still competing at a high level. There’s the “this isn’t fair” mentality which translates from the field to the full range of life. After all, you can be the hardest working person with the best of intentions and still not taste success.
“In football, as in life, the people who get knocked down and stay down typically aren’t successful whereas the people who get knocked down and get back up are,” Hart says.
Sometimes, however, people today don’t even want to bother trying, and that’s a big problem. In many ways, a good work ethic and the value of team building are not lauded the way they once were. As a result, when the going gets tough, some students are inclined to throw in the towel.
“I’ve heard parents say, ‘Well, if my child doesn’t want to play, I don’t want to make him,’” Hart says. “To that, I respond, ‘What’s the alternative? Going home and playing PlayStation?’ If you give a teenager a choice between goofing off and running wind sprints in 100-degree weather, they’re always going to take the easy way out.”
For those kids who stick with it, however, amazing things transpire. Hart has seen it happen time and again. He tells the story of Sheldon Day, a former player he coached at Warren Central who went on to play for the NFL. Sheldon’s mom said the first five or six years her son played football, he despised it and came home every night crying and begging to quit. His mom made him tough it out, however, because she knew that the lessons he learned in football would benefit him in life.
“Sometimes as parents we have to decide what’s best for our kids and what’s easiest for our kids, and what’s easiest isn’t always what’s best,” Hart says.
Brownsburg has a number of parents who agree with Hart’s mantra, which is why the program is thriving with 116 seniors, juniors and sophomores and 50 incoming freshmen coming out for the sport. The numbers have grown over the past few years. When Hart arrived five years ago, 105 players made up the roster. Now there are 166.
With so many kids on the team, not everyone will play Division I football or even get field time.
“To be honest, with 116 kids, a lot of them won’t play on Friday nights,” Hart says. “But it’s our job as a staff to be sure these kids know they each have a purpose. We want our fifth-string defensive tackle to feel like he has the same purpose as our starting quarterback.”
The players on this team most definitely play with a united mindset.
“It’s not an individual feeling,” says Cade Shupperd, who enjoys being a part of a brotherhood. “It’s a feeling you get when you know from first team to second team, offense to defense, even special-teams, players have the desire to be great as a team.”
“The reason that we win games is because we believe in what our teammates can do,” adds Isaiah Higgins.
Hart and his wife, Janet (a kindergarten teacher for 31 years) are happy to call Brownsburg home and suspect that this time they really are here to stay. They have two daughters: Kristen and Brittany and two sons: Nick and Derek — all four are head coaches of a sport so coaching definitely runs in the family DNA.
For now, Hart is just happy to be at the helm of a great program, and his players are psyched to have him there.
“Through the good and bad times, [my teammates] have each other’s backs no matter what,” says Charles Tanner. “Being a bulldog means helping your brothers at all times.”
And when facing adversity, this team bands together.
“We work as one unit to overcome problems that are way bigger than us,” says Anthony Lawrence.
Just another reason why football is special.