Jeff Burnside’s work is just getting started.
The football coach’s first season at is in the books even though it didn’t quite finish as he would’ve liked. The Bears were 4-5 this season (4-4 Oakland Activities Association), one win shy of qualifying for the postseason.
It was the first time since 2009 Berkley didn’t advance to the playoffs. But, Burnside is hard at work making sure his second season in charge lasts a few weeks longer.
He talked with Berkley Patch this week about his first year at Berkley and what’s next.
Patch: On the field, your first season was very up-and-down. Every time the Bears seemed ready to take a step forward, you’d take two steps back. What prevented the team from getting on a roll?
Jeff Burnside: To pinpoint it, I don’t know. I think we had the lead in every game, but one. I think we scored first in every game but one. And I think we scored on every opening drive except one. We just couldn’t seal the deal.
We always seemed to have a key penalty or just seemed to lose our heads for three to four minutes. As a coaching staff, we are still kind of looking through and going back and watching film already to see what we need to do fix those things right now.
P: Defensively, there were some struggles. The defense gave up more than 30 points four times this season – were you surprised by that?
JB: Yeah, that’s something we have to improve on. Tackling early on in the season was pretty good, but we didn’t tackle as well as the year went on – that’s what it comes down to.
A lot of time we just missed key tackles. The game of football is played in open spaces, and open field tackling is important. That’s probably the most difficult thing in football to tackle a guy with the ball that’s trying to run around you. It’s something we’ve already discussed that we got to get better at.
P: You finished the season up 4-5, three of those losses were by less than seven points. A 5-4 record would’ve definitely put Berkley in the playoffs for a second consecutive season. On Selection Sunday, was that going through your mind?
JB: We had a big group of senior kids and we really wanted to make the playoffs for them. It’s frustrating, but I think it works as a bit of a life lesson for all of us.
As coaches and players, did we practice hard enough? In June and July did we lift enough? Did I study hard enough for that test in May? That’s the attitude you have to have, not just in football, but in life. And same thing goes with coaches.
We lost three games by a total of 10 or 11 points; that’s frustrating. We make plays in the games we wanted. We aren’t just sitting at 5-4, but we are sitting at 7-2.
P: When you came in, you made changes on both sides of the ball. As the season went on, were you happy with how installing the systems went?
JB: It’s nice now that we have the base. Now, you can do tweaks. We wanted to become a no-huddle team and we did that. We were able to do that and allow our quarterbacks to make changes at the line of scrimmage.
I had a few people say you can’t do that here; and I said yeah you can, you just have to teach the kids up. Toward the end of the year, we had two quarterbacks that called things at the line of scrimmage. That’s something we were very pleased with.
Plays are pretty much in, we’d like to add more formational changes, but these guys have a good base of what we expect both offensively and defensively.
P: Where do you think you’ll be at next year? Do you think you’ll be further along on offense or defense?
JB: The nice thing is we are going to have a nice group of offensive lineman returning. We had to replace the entire offensive line (this season).
Coming in, we actually only had one returning starter on offense. – all those guys just played defense; they didn’t have a ton of experience on offense.
But we are trying to build the program here; we have to get more and more kids in the program. We were at 90 this year, as far as total numbers in the program, we want to be around 120 or 130 so you can just reload every year.
Losing Omar (Sitto), Josh Hall and Jason Taylor is huge, but Eric Hudson, Jeremy Shephard and these new kids got to be stepping up. We’ve already started doing our work already for next year.
P: So one thing you’ll be focused on this off-season is trying to get more kids in the program?
JB: You have to. Last year, I went and met with eighth-graders. I’d even like this year to meet with ninth-graders or any other kids (at Berkley) who just want to play football. We also met with the coaches of the Berkley Steelers.
We really want this to be a community-based football program. It takes a lot of work to get to know those people and spend some time with them.
We made some slight in-roads, but there’s a lot of work to be done. We want every boy that’s five-years-old that grows up here, we want them playing high school football at Berkley.