When Ken Brinkman took over the North Harford football program 15 years ago, he wanted to generate the same "Friday night lights" excitement he experienced as a player in western Pennsylvania to the Pylesville campus. Guiding the Hawks to the playoffs for six of the last seven years certainly helped.
Big crowds turn out for every Hawks home game and it will be no different when they take on C. Milton Wright in a rare Thursday night game this week. Both teams are 3-0 in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Chesapeake Division. The Hawks (5-2) and the Mustangs (6-1) need the win not only to stay on top in the division but to stay in the running for a playoff berth in a tight Class 3A North regional race.
Brinkman played offensive guard at South Allegheny High School and at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He hadn’t planned to coach high school football, but when he got to Edgewood in 1994, he decided to coach the junior varsity and “the rest is history,” he said. He was the Hawks' offensive coordinator in 1997 before becoming head coach the next fall.
Brinkman, 41, teaches weight training classes at North Harford. He spends much of the rest of his time coaching, not only with the Hawks but with his 10-year-old son Austin’s rec football, basketball, baseball and AAU basketball teams.
As this week’s Coachspeak guest, Brinkman talks about his team’s success, the rest of the season and the unique small-town atmosphere at Hawks home games.
Your team lost two of its first three games, to Hereford and St. Paul’s, but has won four in a row, including convincing wins over Friendly and Aberdeen. What’s the main reason behind the current success?
You take your hats off to a very good Hereford team and a very good St. Paul’s team. We played well against Hereford, and we had a chance to win that one. We made some changes after the St. Paul’s game in our scheme and some personnel, moving guys around. From there, there have been some changes we made in different positions and going back to some older things that we’ve done offensively and defensively and simplified things. Our kids have really bought into it.
If you were to receive a "Mike Preston Report Card" on your team’s performance at this point, what grade would the Hawks get overall, and which unit would get the highest grade?
I think overall right now a 'B.' The way we started the year off, probably around a 'D,' but we’ve been able to come back and string together some wins against some good opponents. Offensively, the last few weeks, an 'A.' We’re averaging over 35 points a game. Our quarterback, Nick Hammer being a first-year starter, really matured over the last four, five weeks running our option offense. On defense, we’ve given up a few big plays, but overall, we’ve hung in there. If we can eliminate some of the big plays -- I think over the next few weeks, we’re going to have to do that.
What does your team have to do to win its last three games and clinch the UCBAC Chesapeake Division championship and a regional berth?
I think we have to continue what we’re doing. We’ve done a great job holding onto the ball. Offensively, winning the turnovers. Defensively, avoiding big plays. That’s been our Achilles heel in some of our games where it’s a tight game and we’ve had to fight back, but our offense is doing a good job scoring points when we need to. So, avoiding the big plays defensively and controlling the game, slowing the game down and not giving C. Milton Wright and Fallston the ball.
What is unique about the atmosphere surrounding North Harford football, being such a rural area and the only game in town on Friday night?
It makes for a great atmosphere. Our parents, our End Zone Club, our community really bought into the program. In the last 8-10 years, especially since 2005 when we made the playoffs for the first time in 32 years -- and we’ve been there every year since except for '08 -- the community and the school have been very supportive. It’s a great atmosphere to come out and watch a game. Our parents and our students travel very well when we’re on the roa, too, and it makes it very exciting for the kids. When I got there, I thought let’s bring a little of that western Pennsylvania atmosphere and they’ve filled our stadium week in and week out and our kids really enjoy the environment.
What is your coaching philosophy and how did it develop?
A little bit of high school and a little bit of college mixed in. Early in my career at North Harford, trying to build a lot of excitement and a lot of yelling, a lot of enthusiasm and trying to be that motivator, create energy on that sideline and getting the kids excited. Even the guys who come back say, “You don’t know how calm he is compared to when we played for him.” I’m a yeller, a screamer but yet I’m the first guy who’s going to hug a kid and tell him he’s done a great job. I’ll take them out, tell them they made a mistake and put them right back in. I just try to keep it positive for them, keep it light. It’s hard for them all day sitting in school and I want to make football fun for them. I tell people all the time if I didn’t have fun, I wouldn’t be here doing it so I want to make it fun for them also.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun