Cooper City’s Brandon Walker Focuses on Producing Excellence in Young Men
Brandon Walker has always wanted to be a coach.
He’s the son of a coach. He grew up in coaches’ offices. And he knew that one day, he’d be patrolling a sideline filled with his guys.
He initially thought that would come on Saturday afternoons in the fall. But after spending his first four years in the college ranks, Walker realized he belonged under the lights of Friday night football.
It wasn’t the lights, though, or the atmosphere, or the often innocent, joyful exuberance with which high school athletes play the game that drew him. It was the impact he could have on young men.
“It sounds cliche, but I want to prepare our kids to go off and if football isn’t part of the equation, to be successful outside of the realm of football,” Walker says. …“Whatever their goal is, my job is to foster that goal and make sure they meet that goal. That’s really what measures success.”
Success can be a vague term used by many as a foundation upon which a career is built. A hard-working American puts in the time each day because he or she wants to be successful. Walker has defined what success means to him. But in the world of high school football, how does he, varsity head coach, ensure it?
It starts with structure. Walker welcomes in freshmen with a regimented program, including a zero-tolerance policy for tardiness, study halls for all freshmen, bi-weekly grade checks, behavioral expectations and community service involvement.
“It’s really (about) being very detail oriented about what our expectations are,” Walker says. “I think a lot of times kids make mistakes or what we perceive as mistakes because they don’t know, because as adults or coaches we haven’t communicated those things to them clearly enough. We haven’t set boundaries for them to work inside.
“(We focus on) setting those boundaries, being clear with what their expectations are and then keeping them honest and keeping them committed to those expectations.”
The community involvement is especially important, because it teaches firsthand how players at Cooper City High School are unique within their town’s population.
“I tell them, ‘because you’re a football player, you are different,’” Walker says. “Kids say ‘I’m a football player, I’m not any different than that guy in math class,’ but you are. When you put an athletic jersey on, you are different. There’s a different level of standards that you have to follow.
“I’m a true believer in that kids really want structure. So you set structure for them, you set a standard for them and at the end of the day, you’re rewarded for doing the things that they’re supposed to do. And getting them to understand the rewards are them being able to go off to college and play sports, or being able to go off to college or being able to get the job that you want because you held yourself to a certain standard.”
That standard, be it punctuality, accountability, responsibility, or a combination of all three and much more, can be preached until students are asleep and teachers are blue in the face. But Walker loves football because it naturally imparts those values and skills to those who strap on the pads and hit the field each day.
“To me, football is part of the equation,” Walker says. “There’s things they’re going to learn playing football that are going to help them attain those goals. It may not necessarily equate to wins and losses on the field, but things like teamwork, discipline, hard work, those are the attributes that they’re going to be able to take to the next step of their life.”
Those wins and losses, which are often the ultimate denominator in football, aren’t always the most important takeaway from a season, or a career. Walker acknowledges that with the cyclical nature of coaching at a public high school, there are going to be lean years. He’s thankful that he coaches for a school and alumni base ardent enough about the Cooper City Cowboys that it will turn out to back its boys no matter the score.
“I joke all the time that in Cooper City, we could be 0-10 or 10-0 and you’d never know by the number of people that pack our stands because the support is constant,” Walker says. “Our kids and our fans are, in my opinion, the best in South Florida.”
Walker says he’s fortunate, because he built his program on what was already a solid foundation at a school that instilled important values and held its students to a high standard. It’s understood that if students don’t go to class, they don’t play. Walker didn’t need to teach this lesson.
But what about those lean years? A coach must win to keep his job, because there can only be so many down seasons before a change needs to be made. In order to keep those struggles at bay, Walker’s future crop of players needs to include some talent. And that often means keeping it from being poached by other schools.
The best way to keep homegrown talent at home? Contend consistently, and demand excellence.
“Our goal, and I say this all of the time is, we have to keep the kids that are in our program and give them a reason to stay, meaning we need to be successful,” Walker says. “When you’re successful, kids want to play there and want to be a part of what you have going on. …Give them a reason to stay at your school.”
It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day activities of being a high school football coach — the practices, the preparation, the film study, the offseason fundraising, and for some, the hands-on maintenance of the team’s equipment and facilities. It’s just as easy to get lost in the win-loss record, the next week’s opponent, the next year’s class.
But Walker hopes that, as he’s out to positively affect as many young men as he can as a head coach, that far down the road, he sees the results for himself when his former players come home.
“I want our kids to be able to come back,” he says, “whether I’m gone from Cooper City or I’m still here, and be proud of the young men that they’ve become, and for them to be able to say ‘coach I appreciate everything that you helped me do, and I know it wasn’t always easy but I’ve taken a lot of the lessons you’ve taught me and I’ve applied them to my life and I’m successful now.’
“Winning state titles is awesome. Getting to the top of the mountain as a coach obviously is what we want to do. But 20, 30 years from now, you’re going to remember state titles, but you’re going to really remember those relationships that you created with those players. That really, to me, is the most fulfilling part of coaching.”