by Maggie Boyle Judi
When Art Burtenshaw’s San Juan Broncos took the field against nationally ranked Aztec New Mexico on a warm and picturesque September evening in 1994, the goal was most assuredly this: revenge.
The year before, the Broncos suffered their only loss of the regular season at the hands of the Aztecs, and the returning players wanted very much to avenge their beloved coach of the thrashing.
Coach B, as his players always called him, was able to communicate his expectations in a unique way. “He had a hard time yelling or getting angry,” recalls his son.
He once famously told his players, “You guys are playing yucky.” It was the harshest thing he ever said in the locker room. He preferred instead to praise, encourage, and befriend.
He was more than just a coach. “I remember players knocking on our door with chips and soda in hand and asking if they could come watch a big game with my dad. They came in and rearranged the couches so that you sat on the couch with people cheering for your team.” Imagine Utah fans on the right, BYU on the left.
“They played hard for him because they new he cared about them. There was always an open door policy at our house for players.”
And so the Broncos used that as motivation to meet coach B’s expectations and overcome a 14-7 deficit, a fumble and an interception. On the first play of the fourth quarter, quarterback Cordell Shumway pitched the ball to running back Will MacFarland (who had 350 all purpose yards to himself that game) who then completed a 60 yard pass to wide receiver Brad Burtenshaw.
Burtenshaw also helped in the yardage total that night with two kick-off returns of 60 and 30 yards each. The underdogs of San Juan earned their revenge by outplaying the arguably bigger, better, faster, nationally ranked Aztecs of New Mexico. It was a team effort that solidified the rest of their winning season and eventually landed them in the state championship game.
Fast forward 20 years to yet another gridiron setting, and a play that has been viewed on YouTube over 1.2 million times.
As time expires in a 4A playoff game between the Spanish Fork Dons and relative newcomers Maple Mountain Golden Eagles, it looks as though it’s all over but the shoutin!
Spanish Fork is ahead 14-11 with the ball, one more play to call and only 3.7 seconds left on the clock.
The QB takes the snap, and begins zigzagging in the backfield. Thinking his team has secured the win as the game clock ticks down to zero, he stops the zigzag, looks at the clock, sees the zero, and thinks the game is won.
But coming at him fast are two linebackers from the opposite team who are not about to give up. The two players, Jason Blanthorn and Brandon Beebe, reach the QB almost at the same time, Blanthorn slaps the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and Beebe scoops it up and dances into the end zone.
Unlike basketball, time expires in football only when the play is over, and so Maple Mountain wins the game in wild, miraculous fashion and a viral video is born.
The victorious head coach is Brad Burtenshaw, no stranger, of course, to great comebacks. Of the win, Coach B-shaw said, “I was just overwhelmed and proud of those two kids. The things that video doesn’t show are the most important to me. Both of those players are kids that have been told their whole lives that they are too small, too slow, not quite good enough to play (4A football).”
To get from one football game played in 1994, to another played 20 years later in 2014, is a story of the metamorphosis that sports can afford a kid from player to coach.
The thing about sports is that often a person learns more from the losses than the wins. In his four years playing for his Dad with the Broncos, the team had lost at state three times.
The toughest of those losses came in his senior year at Rice Stadium in what was known at the time as the Ice Bowl because of the brutal cold that day.
The Broncos faced a tough Kanab Cowboy defense that left them scoreless through much of the game. In the last 30 seconds, with a score of 9-6 and a chance to win, the Broncos threw an interception and lost again.
Burtenshaw recalls, “I remember going in the locker room and just sitting there. I didn’t want to take my uniform off, because I knew it was the last time. My dad hugged and consoled all of us and tried to help us recover from the loss.”
After some time while most players had changed and left the locker room, Brad was still in the corner, in the same position head in hands, fully suited up in blue and gold.
Coach Monty Lee approached, put his arm around his player and said, “When my sons grow up, I want them to be just like you.”
Brad says, “I made a quicker recovery knowing that even though we didn’t win the championship, I felt like I was doing something right.”
Brad left San Juan County in 1995 for the University of Utah, where he became the first athlete on scholarship at a D-1 school from San Juan High since Jimmy Ray played for Utah State University in 1989.
He learned a lot there, particularly hard work, from three-a-day practices in 90+ heat, and playing in and winning two bowl games. The Utes defeated Fresno State in 1999 and USC in 2001.
Brad’s own coaching philosophy now mirrors that moment in 1994 when Monty Lee took a moment to shed light on the positive in the midst of disappointment.
“I believe coaching is in my blood,” states Coach B the Second. “I love seeing young people make good decisions, and lead successful lives…. Football is just the vehicle to do that….
Hopefully I can help them with those things along the way.”
That is how his dad influenced his coaching, and Brad adds, “That is the kind of coach he was, and I want to be like him.”
In 2002, amidst health problems and wanting to be closer to their children, Art and Debbie Burtenshaw left San Juan County and moved to Ogden.
At nearly the same time, Brad was signing a contract to coach at Morgan High. Art signed on as head coach at Ben Lomond.
Both schools were in the same region at the time, which turned father and son into rivals. Well… kind of.
“He wanted me to win,” says Brad of the rivalry. “He always hoped for me to do well.”
March 8, 2005 dawned without Art Burtenshaw. The legendary coach died of a heart attack in his sleep. He was 51 years old, the father of five children, grandfather at the time to two and beloved coach and mentor to many more.
Art’s death was Brad Burtenshaw’s worst loss. And one, of course, that he would learn a lot from. Brad would eventually leave Morgan taking his wife Kelly and their four children to Spanish Fork and the head coaching position at brand new Maple Mountain High School.
An added bonus was building a brand new football program from the ground up. Literally.
“When I got there, they were still building the field,” remembers Brad, “and the principal told me we didn’t even have a weight room.”
In his first season, he started nine sophomores and went 0-9.
“We learned a lot that year and have since gone to the play-offs four of the last five years,” said Brad.
It took all he had learned from San Juan High School, his Dad, Monty Lee, three a day practices as a wide receiver for the Utah Utes, and his position as assistant coach in Morgan to take the fledgling Golden Eagles to where they are today.
“My dad never had the opportunity to see me as a head coach” says Burtenshaw of his newest venture. But he feels like maybe though his team had a little extra help in their miraculous win this season, because the game was played on October 28, Art Burtenshaw’s birthday. He would’ve been 61.
Says his son, “I just kind of felt like he was looking out for me on that night.”
It seems to be true, Art has been there for his son these past 20 years. You might even say that Coach Brad Burtenshaw will always have a permanent assistant. They call him Coach B.