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(Oct. 4, 2013) – In 2009, Mike Burnett had about all one could hope for as a high school head football coach. His Broad Run Spartans had just completed their second straight undefeated season and captured back-to-back VHSL Division 4 state championships. The Spartans would enter the following season with 28-game winning streak intact and a roster loaded with returning talent. Faced with what amounted to an embarrassment of riches in the football world, Burnett of course did what any sensible coach would do … he left the well-established juggernaut to start the football program at a new school.
This Friday, Burnett will return to Broad Run high school for the first time as head coach of the Tuscarora Huskies, the Leesburg school where he took over as head coach four years ago. And while there likely were many naysayers and second guessers when Burnett made his decision to leave Broad Run, the results to this point have been nothing short of impressive. After an inaugural 5-5 campaign with no seniors on the roster, the Huskies have gone 9-3 and 10-2 the last two seasons, and enter this week’s showdown with the high-octane Spartan offense as the last undefeated team in Loudoun County. But the question still remains: What in the world was Burnett thinking when he decided to leave Broad Run after two straight state titles?
“It was the right move for me at the right time, mostly because I was able to have our whole coaching staff here teaching with me. At Broad Run I was the only coach that was also teaching at the school, and with a new school at Tuscarora we were able to bring some really great coaches and teachers into a new building.”
So like modern day gold prospectors, coaches Adam Fortune, Brian Fletcher, and BJ Miles joined Burnett as he headed west in search of new football fortunes. Luckily for them, the results were much better than a bad day on the Oregon Trail (dysentery anyone?), as all four coaches remain at Tuscarora and have helped mold the program into one of the area’s best.
Burnett , who describes himself as a teacher first, was also offered the job as chair of the social studies department at Tuscarora, and the move certainly helped his daily commute from his home in Leesburg. But even considering all of these factors, the move was still unprecedented and filled with risk. Yet it wasn’t the first time in his life that Burnett made a bold career choice, and was likely the easier of the two.
You see, Burnett is a lawyer by trade, with both a juris doctor and masters of law degree to his credit. After law school Burnett entered the high-stress but also highly lucrative field of corporate litigation. Then, as a mid-twenty something kid, he began feeling worn out beyond his years from the daily grind of a job that usually doesn’t score highly on ratings for work-life balance and happiness. As you may have guessed by now, Burnett did not shy away from making a change.
“I practiced law for a couple of years, but during law school and even when I first started practicing I always helped out coaching kids, and I loved it. One morning I woke up and said ‘I love [coaching],’ and the other job was just something I did to pay the bills, so I said why don’t I try doing what I love and see if I can still pay the bills.”
Thus the corporate lawyering world’s loss became a win for the Loudoun County teaching and coaching community. While it’s unlikely that Burnett will show up in a courtroom anytime soon to square off against his old firm (Uh oh, I probably shouldn’t have given him that idea), this Friday he will be back in Ashburn and on a different sideline from the one where he helped guide Broad Run to championships.
“You know [returning to Broad Run] should probably be a bigger deal than it is, but high school football is always about the kids. The kids I coached and loved a lot over there are gone, and [the Tuscarora players] are the kids I feel connected too now. For me, it’s all about coaching my kids.”
While Burnett’s focus may be less on the sentimental aspects of returning to Broad Run, the Husky’s leading rushers Noah Reimers and Mali Barker view the challenge of taking on the tough 4-1 Spartan team as a way to hopefully payback their coaches for all of the hard work they’ve put into building up the Tuscarora program.
“The coaches talk a lot about things we deserve as players. They put in all this work for us, they do tons of stuff around the school for us, they get the students involved in our games. They do a lot of paying back to us, they came over here and work with us every day, bust their butts every day for us, and this is a week where we really have to pay them back for that,” said Reimers.
“They spend endless hours coaching us, and we’d really like to get this one for them,” said Barker.
Tuscarora at Broad Run kicks off at 7 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 11