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From the Bench: The Numbers Don't Lie as Bridgeport Football Program Produces Decade of Dominance

By Jeff Toquinto on June 28, 2020 from Sports Blog via Connect-Bridgeport.com

Perhaps because I was around for most of it, I did not really give it a second thought. Sure, I knew it was impressive, but to see the numbers in front of me made me pause.
 
There it was on Adam King’s Facebook page. The Bridgeport High School Assistant Football Coach succinctly demonstrated a complete decade of dominance by the Indians’ program.
 
The numbers were simple – 117-14-1.
 
That is not a locker combination. It is not a code to launch nuclear weapons. It certainly is not the amount of times I asked a girl out, the times they said yes along with getting punched out after asking. Those numbers would not look that good.
 
What King did with some simple math was show you the record of the football team during the past 10 years. In the 2010s, it could be argued Class AA belonged to the Indians (Martinsburg is sole occupier of the Class AAA football honor).
 
Think about those numbers? The Indians won 117 games in 10 years: an average of more than 11 per season. The team lost less than two games a year and, of course, there is the infamous tie against Wheeling Park due to weather in a year where both teams went on to win state titles in their respective classes.
 
“It’s surprising when you hear about it or see it in print,” said Coach John Cole, who was a little taken aback when told of the numbers.  “Not that it was easy to get there, but there’s a lot of reasons for it. Part of it is we’re lucky to live in this community and this staff, myself included, is lucky to coach here.”
 
Cole was around for the entire decade when he began as an assistant before taking over as head coach three years ago. In fact, his time goes back to his playing days in the mid-1980s and he has been part of the program since the 1990s.
 
As for the numbers here, we begin in 2010 and with the Indians in Class AAA. It would be the only year the Indians did not make it to at least the semifinals of the postseason. That year, they battled a tough Martinsburg team into the fourth quarter behind a herculean effort by Corey Wagner – who gained the most yards by far that season against the Bulldogs – in what eventually turned into a 31-7 setback.
 
Thinking that’s proof of what BHS struggling in Class AAA? That is a statement with little merit. In 2009, which is not in this blog’s category, Bridgeport lost to South Charleston 28-25 in the ‘AAA’ semifinals in what was clearly a matchup of the state’s two top teams.
 
As for the decade in question, the Indians final year in 2011 in ‘AAA’ was not a failure. In fact, the Tribe found themselves once again in the Class AAA semifinals where current Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Switzer led George Washington Patriots to a 21-14 win to advance to the championship game.
 
Back to the numbers. The Indians had four state titles – all in Class AA – during the decade. The first in 2013 started a run of three straight. The last was in 2019 when the Indians were virtually given no chance to win once they got to Wheeling Island Stadium and then captured the school’s 10th crown.
 
So, what happened in the years they did not make it to Wheeling Island? Five times the team made it to the Class AA semifinals. The other year, in 2010, they made it to the quarterfinals where they fell – as mentioned above – to Martinsburg.
 
It is fair to say that this decade did produce some major college talent. More than one player signed with West Virginia University, including more than one that ended up starting for the Mountaineers. Perhaps that is what made them deadly. The discipline and buy-in combined with talent proved to be a recipe for success.
 
Cole was quick to talk about that recipe and pile praise where he felt it was needed.
 
“It starts with the kids, I think, and I think any coach, from Coach King on the staff now back to when Coach (Wayne) Jamison was here, would tell you it starts with the kids and their families,” said Cole. “The families want their kids to be successful in the classroom and into college and that translates into all sports.
 
“If you have the family motivating the kid to be the best they can be, that’s a good starting point,” he continued. “We’ve had that for a long time and I think parents see in sports like football that the success and failures they endure on the football field translate well into college and into their adult lives on how to handle things and move ahead.”
 
The other thing Cole was quick to point out was something so many people know about, yet so few emulate. A lot of programs talk about “a system,” but can any legitimately match what Bridgeport has done? I am not just talking about this decade. I am talking about more than a half a century of winning.
 
No one can say that in the state in football. It is absolutely numbing to think this team has not had a losing season since before I was born.
 
Why? The system is not a window dressing term. It is real. Cole said it immediately.
 
“The other big thing is the system. The kids and the families buy into it and they buy into it long before they get to us,” said Cole. “The system looks easy, but for it to work you need two things. You need to do it for a long time. The second thing you need is to have a defense to support it, which we’ve had with our 4-3 defense. It’s a blueprint that goes back to the late 1960s and Coach Jamison.”
 
That does not mean the blueprint will not be or has not been tweaked. All one needs to do is go back to the start of the three-peat. The Indians went to a shotgun, power pistol formation that looked revolutionary. And from a BHS standpoint it was, it was the same scheme – just in different clothes.
 
“We were still running the ball almost exclusively. Most of the players, from power iso to the sweep, were the same. We just had a shotgun and more options. The fundamentals were the same, but you have to adapt sometimes and do things different,” said Cole. “People may not remember that Coach Jamison ran some option football out of the stick-I. That was his counter play when he felt he had a quarterback to do it like Tommy Brown.”
 
There were two more reasons Cole spelled out. And he was quick to point to those responsible.
 
“The weight room, with how we play the game, is a big thing because we typically don’t have the athletes other programs have. You have to give (former) Coach Bruce Carey credit for starting that and making it a priority,” said Cole. “He knew it was already a sign of the times because the WVSSAC was allowing it in the offseason, so he got the ball rolling. That has simply been huge.”
 
There was one other thing – and it is one Cole said people overlook. The coach pointed to the Bridgeport administration.
 
“Ask any program, the support of the administration is crucial,” said Cole. “We’re not often told no when we need something.”
 
Cole spelled out a four-step process. And why it may not work in other sports, it certainly works for the Indians football program.
 
One would be hard pressed to find a program, particularly in Class AA, that had as dominant of a decade as the football team anywhere else in the state. However, if you look under the roof at Bridgeport High School roof, you might just find one in the baseball program.
 
Check back soon to a look at their incredible decade as well. The numbers there are eye-opening too.
 
Editor's Note: Top photo, by Joey Signorelli, shows Anthony Bonamico knocking the ball away to secure the Class AA state title on the game's final play with a win over Wayne. Second photo shows Carson Winkie during last year's title season, while Dante Bonamico celebrates a score during the 2014 title season. In the fourth photo, Dylan Tonkery avoids the defense in 2015, while Brett Hathaway, who led the Tribe to the 2011 Class AAA semifinals, is shown in the bottom photo. Bottom four photos by Ben Queen Photography.


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