Story by Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com
Photo by Branson/Kim
The 2018 season was not kind to Branson/Kim. Winners of just one game, the Bearcats had one of the more difficult seasons in all of Colorado high school football. But those days appear to be long gone. Through the first five games of the 2019 season, Branson/Kim has yet to suffer a loss. And it's not like the team is scraping together games or have just gotten lucky. So far this season the Bearcats have outscored opponents 271-69. They've almost doubled the amount of points they scored a year ago and have a legitimate chance to end the regular season unbeaten. And everyone in the state is noticing. In recent weeks, they've cracked the top 10 of the 6-man state football rankings and are hoping to remain a fixture there for the remainder of the season. Head coach Brad Doherty has done a great job turning things around in just his second year at the helm but will be the first to pass on credit to the rest of his staff and to his players. But considering the remarkable turnaround the program has seen, Doherty has been named the Broncos High School Coach of the Week. The Broncos High School Coach of the Week is selected in partnership with the Broncos and CHSCA.
Brad Doherty bio
Years as head coach: 2 (6-7)
Years at Branson/Kim: 2 (6-7, 5-0 this season)
Previous stops: Branson/Kim assistant coach (2015-17); Branson/Kim head coach (2018-present).
Dan Mohrmann: Why did you initially get into coaching?
Brad Doherty: Well, I was asked by our head coach at the time when we started our football program to assist. I responded to the need. I also got into coaching to spend time with the boys and young men in our community. In addition to working at our school I'm also the pastor of the only church here in Branson. My wife and I have been involved in youth ministry and kids programs for many years and we noticed that we were connecting less and less with kids as their schedules got fuller and busier with junior high and high school activities, particularly sports and FFA. We both felt the best way to stay involved with the teens in our school was to be involved in their activities. I began helping out as much as I could with basketball and was asked to be an assistant football coach by our program's first head coach, Mr. Brad Caldwell. My wife and I also have three sons (one in high school and two in junior high), all of whom play football. Coaching is a great way for me to spend as much time with my boys as I can.
Mohrmann: What was appealing about the idea of coming into a new program?
Doherty: It was something brand new for our school. We've only had a football program for five years. So this was a brand new experience to start something new for our community, just to learn the game and to be around somebody that's coached for 30 plus years and be around a great group of boys.
Mohrmann: What do you think it's like from your kids' perspective to be coached by you?
Doherty: I'd like to think that my players feel respected and treated fairly by me and our coaching staff. I respond best to people when I feel respected by them — this is as true now as it was when I was a teenager. We also love to laugh at ourselves and each other.
Mohrmann: How much has your staff played into the turnaround you've had from last year to this year?
Doherty: I am currently the AD and head football coach for our school. After last year's very difficult season (1-7 record and only nine players), my one assistant coach from last year, Chris Martinez, and I realized we needed to improve our program to give the young men we've been blessed with the best experience possible. Last spring, our junior high football coach, John Cranson, encouraged me to cast a vision statement for our program. Working with him and Coach Martinez, we came up with the following statement for our program: "The Bearcat Football Program exists to develop young adults into student-athletes that strive for personal, academic, and athletic excellence." This captures our shared belief that our goal is building up young men of character and integrity, and football happens to be a tool we get to use to help accomplish that goal. The next step in the program improvement process was asking for help. Chris and I reached out to several men in our community with football experience and a heart for helping kids. We were blessed with the response. We added two new assistant coaches: Adam Lucero (a teacher at our co-op school, Kim) and Carlos Duran. I can't give enough credit to Coach Lucero for the guidance and inspiration he's been to the team. He has instilled a belief in the boys that they can accomplish great things if they put in the work. His experience playing college football and his exposure to great coaching staffs has brought an invaluable perspective to everything we do. Very early on in the process, I could very easily see his natural gifting as a coach and his heart for the team, so I gave him the reigns and freedom to run with the program. Several other men in the community also stepped up to assist during games as additional eyes and voices on the sidelines. With this level of commitment from men in our community, we had a great foundation of leadership going into this season. In 6-man football, just a few kids makes a huge difference. Last year, we only had nine varsity players. This made for challenging practices (not enough for a 6-on-6 scrimmage) and nearly impossible games where most of our boys had to play every down. This season we knew we had seven returning players and four incoming freshmen. The new vision and coaching staff helped generate some excitement and we added four new boys that didn't play last year. It also helps that those boys are pretty athletic! With 15 boys on the roster, we can run much more productive practices and have enough fresh legs on the sidelines to last the whole game. With the addition of a new coaching staff and more players, I've become more of a GM and less of a "head coach". I focus less on X's and O's and more on strategic and logistic functions for the team. My duties revolve around travel planning for games and practices, scheduling weekly team dinners and foosball matches at my house, getting game film for upcoming opponents, washing water bottles and making Gatorade, making sure the field gets painted, setting up video recording equipment, borrowing bleachers from our co-op school, checking eligibility and keeping all of "my boys" accountable.
Mohrmann: What's the hardest part about now having these expectations? You're 5-0, are you losing sleep at all over this winning streak; that it might come to an end?
Doherty: Well, hopefully if it will come to an end, it comes to an end before we get to the postseason. We don't want it to come to an end there. It's a good bunch of boys, a good bunch of athletes that have really bonded well. The challenge at this point is keeping them focused on the task at hand. Not getting caught up in the attention or rankings or if we may or may not show up on Colorado Preps or MaxPreps or wherever, but just taking care of their business in the right now. Keeping their heads where they need to be is kind of a challenge.
Mohrmann: How do they respond to that challenge of just focusing on the task at hand and not maybe taking a peek at these media outlets to see if people are giving them the credit that they need?
Doherty: I think they are doing it well. You know, we're still young. We're still the underdog, Yes, we cracked the top 10, but we're not near the top in everybody else's eyes. That kind of fuels the fire and we encourage them to not really take any of that into consideration. Those decisions are made by people that don't know them and only they know their desire and determination. We try to just keep it focused inward as much as possible.
Mohrmann: I've talked to players who have really enjoyed playing the 6-man game. How much fun is it or how challenging is it to coach the 6-man game?
Doherty: It's a blast. It is a couple of notches up from backyard football. The hits are just as hard and just as fast. And I think they may even be a little faster and harder because the field's more wide open. You have to be creative with your plays. You have to be creative with your defensive schemes. But you can't get away from the fundamentals. If you don't block, you don't win ball games. You don't tackle, you don't win ball games. You have to think outside the traditional box, but not let go of the fundamentals.
Mohrmann: I've seen 6-man games and they're often a scoring Bonanza except for the teams that have been playing you this year. What is it been about your defense that's kept every team from scoring more than 20 points?
Doherty: We have a bunch of boys that have embraced that dog mentality. They don't like allowing people to score. They take it personal. Not against the other players but against their own expectations. And it's their goal to keep everybody out of the end zone and they put it on the line. We hang our hat on defense and they've really embraced that. A lot of that came from our new assistant coach Adam Lucero instilling that fight in each of them, and they've risen to the occasion.
Mohrmann: You have three regular season games left and then the playoffs get rolling. What's in store for the rest of the season for Branson/Kim?
Doherty: We're really trying to take it one game at a time and stay focused. We have two home games and one more away game, I believe. It's really a matter of keeping the boys kind of looking at it one step at a time, not getting too excited about the postseason or about our conference. We’ve really tried to prepare every game like we're preparing for the championship. Whether it's against a Kit Carson or a Stratton/Liberty or one of the perennial powerhouses, that's what we want them to prepare for every practice.
Mohrmann: What's it going to be like going into next year for you now that the expectations have changed?
Doherty: There will be an expectation to continue the success. We will lose five seniors, which will be a challenge for us. But we will gain six freshman, several of which are pretty athletic and the kids that we'll still have from this year moving forward are a great core. I think we've got the tools in place to continue the success, but yes the expectation will definitely be there.