Seven years ago this week, the Edinburgh football team was preparing for its first game under a new head coach, Bill Unsworth.
Jason Burton was a senior running back and linebacker on that Lancers team. Tonight, he’ll lead Edinburgh out onto its home field for another season-opener — this time as the team’s head coach.
Four first-year head coaches are leading the seven area football programs this fall: Burton, Chris Coll at Franklin, Brett Cooper at Indian Creek and Scott Marsh at Roncalli.
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Burton, at 24, is by far the youngest of the four.
The relatively small age gap between Burton and his players hasn’t been an issue; the tougher transition, he said, came when he started working as an assistant for Unsworth right out of high school.
If anything, it’s working to his advantage now — especially since, like many of his players, Burton played both ways on a small Class A team.
“A lot of these kids kind of watched me play growing up,” Burton said, “so they kind of have that natural respect factor because they know I’ve been in their shoes and been through what they’ve been through.”
“We’re still very respectful and we’re still very disciplined with him,” senior lineman Tavian Cosby added. “We take criticism, we take his coaching; our team has done really well with him.”
The Edinburgh seniors said this transition to a new coach has been more natural than the last. Not only was Burton coaching the current upperclassmen when they were in middle school, but he also runs a system more similar to Unsworth’s, which these Lancers learned in youth football.
“With coach Burton, we’re all kind of familiar with all of his packages and stuff,” senior receiver and defensive back Dillon Simpson said.
In the spring, Burton coached the Lancers to a sectional title in baseball, and he said that experience helped strengthen his belief that he could also win on the gridiron.
But if that happens, Burton said he has no intentions of leaving his hometown anytime soon no matter how well the program fares.
“I love the community,” he said. “I love these kids — and I can relate to these kids, and I think that goes a long way.”
Community also was a draw for Coll, who has ties to Johnson County dating back to his college playing career at Franklin College. He was the Grizzlies’ team MVP in 1989, when he played for Mike McClure — now an assistant athletics director at Franklin Community High School.
He had spent the last 11 seasons at his alma mater, Tri-West, guiding the Bruins to a Class 3A state title in 2014. Not many teams could have lured him away; the Grizzly Cubs may have been the only one.
Regardless of how Franklin will fare on the field this year, Coll already can say he has no regrets about the move.
“My youngest son (junior defensive back Clayton Coll) has fit in well,” the coach said, “doing well in school, so yeah, I feel pretty good about it.”
Cooper doesn’t have Coll’s experience; Indian Creek is his first stop as a head coach. He does, though, have his own links to the area, having served as an assistant at Greenwood from 2010 to 2012.
He has wasted little time putting his own stamp on the program — the Braves have new uniforms, a new playbook, new everything — and he said he thinks he’s been able to get up to speed on the field thanks to a productive summer with his squad.
“One of the good things about Indiana is we have those 12 days in the summer where we can get an idea in helmets and shoulder pads,” Cooper said. “Obviously, there are still some moving parts and things that are still up in the air, but we’re closer than I would’ve thought initially.”
For the players, the learning curve was steep; Mike Gillin had been Indian Creek’s coach for 16 years, and the current Braves knew no other system. They’ve managed to adapt.
“It was a little bit of a shock,” senior quarterback Taylor Voris said. “My class, we’ve been all together since first grade, and we’ve always run Gillin’s playbook. But we’ve been able to transition from one playbook to another; it’s been pretty good.”
The Roncalli players have at least some familiarity with Marsh, who was the defensive coordinator for last year’s Class 4A state championship team under longtime coach Bruce Scifres.
So far, the biggest change the Rebels have noticed during the preseason is a faster pace.
“It’s definitely been a change, but coach Marsh brings a new energy,” senior running back Patrick McManama said. “Practices are always upbeat. With coach Marsh, we’re on the go all of the time.”