When the Gar-Field, Woodbridge and Osbourn Park head football coaching positions all were vacant in early 2001, the latter job seemed like a consolation prize. The team had gone 11-59 the previous seven seasons and had not reached the playoffs since 1988.
Less than two years later, after Woodbridge and Gar-Field players have handed in uniforms, all of a sudden Osbourn Park does not look like such a project. In fact, there is a buzz about the Yellow Jackets, owners of a 10-1 record, including the first wins over Woodbridge and Gar-Field since the late 1980s and hot off their first playoff victory in the 27-year history of the school.
How did Osbourn Park, which last had a winning season in 1993, get so good, so soon?
For starters, Coach Brian Beaty, a longtime Woodbridge assistant hired in February 2001, came in and got his team's attention by declaring: "We're not going into this to be a .500 ballclub. We're setting the bar high."
"His attitude about the whole thing made us realize that we were starting something," senior quarterback Doug Suliga said.
Confidence was not the only thing being built. Plans were under way for close to $100,000 in improvements to the athletic facilities, including a new playing surface and other ruffles and flourishes that made the Yellow Jackets want to validate the expenditure.
"It reassures us that people do have higher expectations and are willing to go to great lengths to help us, so it pushes us harder," senior lineman Clark Lanzendorf said. "They spent all this money on us, so we should repay them by winning."
Last year, Osbourn Park also eased its restrictions on students who did not post a 2.0 grade-point average. Previously that was a requirement to participate in athletics, but now anyone who does not reach a 2.0 has to attend study hall for three hours a week to retain eligibility. Beaty has said that might have encouraged some students to try out for football who might not have otherwise, and thanks at least in part to the mandatory study time for struggling players, the team suffered no academic casualties this fall.
Last year, the school also started an advanced physical education course, which enables students -- not just football players -- to lift weights and condition during the school day.
"That's been huge for us," Beaty said, estimating that the majority of the current junior and senior football players have taken the class. "That was definitely something I thought we needed to do to compete, without a doubt. Some of the other schools already have it, and if you're going to try to play on that same level as them, you better match what they're doing, and do a little bit more."
The Yellow Jackets, who returned 15 starters this fall, seemed to take to the workouts, both in and out of season. At times last summer, the weight room was a wait room -- Lanzendorf said attendance was so robust that he often had to wait to use a piece of equipment.
Beaty installed the single-wing offense last season and since has diversified it with a passing attack to take heat off senior running back Roland Hilliard, who ran for 1,534 yards last season in 10 games and 1,341 yards this season in 11. The players also have grown more comfortable with Beaty's adapt-on-the-run defensive style, resulting in seven shutouts.
"In other football teams I've played for, you'd come out in one defense, and you'll run that defense no matter what [the offense gives] you," senior linebacker Willie Alston said. "With Coach Beaty, he'll let us adjust for the play. A pre-snap read almost, and that's put us in place to make a lot of key plays."
Not to mention put fans in the stands. Principal Timothy L. Healey touts the games over the speaker system at Osbourn Park, trying to drum up support at a school that draws students from nine middle schools.
"The whole season has been a tremendous boost for school spirit and school enthusiasm, and I think it's important that kids get a taste of that," Healey said, pointing out Osbourn Park also won volleyball, boys' cross country, girls' tennis and golf Cedar Run District titles this fall. "I'm trying to play up to the kids that these aren't things that happen every day. These are special things to be a part of and have a good time."
The word is out, and whether this is a one-season deal -- there are 24 seniors on the Osbourn Park roster -- or a new reality remains to be seen.
"From our principal to administrative staff to boosters to football parents, everything just kind of clicked," Beaty said. "You don't fool kids. They know when everybody's on the same page, and they know when they're not.
"All I know right now is that Hylton still has their equipment out, and we still have ours out, and the kids are doing good things not just for themselves, but for the community and the people who come after them."