By Evan Freedman and Justin A. Rice
DORCHESTER — Fitting players for helmets and shoulder pads during a preseason practice in the Burke High School gymnasium recently, Byron Beaman looked more like the hip-hop star Mos Def than a high school football coach.
“Not only am I a good football coach but I’m one of the most stylish people in the city; not cause I say so but because people in the city say so,” the 42-year-old joked with his players while he was rocking stylish leather boots, camouflage cargo shorts and a worn-in fitted gray designer T-shirt. “Just follow my lead and coach will show you how to do it.”
But Burke’s new head football coach—the only new head football coach in BPS this season—isn’t all about flashy fashion. There’s plenty of substance there too.
“Don’t worry about the facemask,” he tells the players as he plops the helmet on their head. “Just worry about how it fits. I can change the facemask.”
Beaman hopes to turn around a program that won just once in 2010 by trying to find a core group of upperclassmen along with some impressive underclassmen. But that proved to be more difficult than he thought it would be as the team forfeited its first contest of the season last weekend at English because they didn’t have enough players.
Now the Bulldogs believe they are prepared for this afternoon’s clash at Charlestown at 3:30 p.m.. Beaman called this week a “turning point” for his program, saying that his few senior players will look back at this moment as the start of something big.
“We are resurrecting our program,” Beaman said after the English debacle, which was recorded as his first official loss. “We should be okay for this week. Our numbers are still low; it’s a difficult situation, but we’re still excited. We’ll turn this around.”
There were multiple reasons for the forfeiture, including a uniform snafu, a lack of players, and the inability to agree on a date to reschedule. Although the logistics are challenging, Beaman emphasizes that his kids are charged up.
“We’re going to fight and press on,” he said. “It doesn’t take 50 players to win a game. It just takes 11 who work hard and are committed.”
The players that are sticking around seem to be buying into that message.
“Coach has us working hard every single day,” senior tight end and lineman Shaylim Blackwell said before the season. “We will play hard for each other.”
Beaman acquired his “tough but approachable” style from his college coach at Western Connecticut State University and from years of working with young people.
“One size does not fit all,” he said. “Some kids need tough love, some kids need you to put an arm around their shoulder and some kids you have to give a full-blown hug. Once people know you care about them you get a lot more out of them.”
In college he played quarterback, which led to a semi-pro career with the Boston Bandits and later a place in both the New England Football Hall of Fame and the National Minor League Hall of Fame.
The former Hyde Park High All-City quarterback has extensive knowledge of the City League. During his senior season in 1987, Hyde Park lost the City Championship title to West Roxbury by a touchdown.
Beaman also served as the O’Bryant assistant coach for the last four years. He had his eye on the head coaching job at Burke, and when that spot opened up, he jumped on it.
“I told myself if I ever had the chance to go to Burke, I would,” he said.
He also has plenty of experience relating with students off the field. Working as a student engagement specialist in BPS for nearly the last decade, Beaman is now branching out by starting his own nonprofit to do similar work.
“He’s young , youthful, he relates to us,” sophomore lineman Tyreik Silva said.
Beaman has some surprises in store offensively, as he may use an option style like the one he honed in his playing days. It may be a spread and/or shotgun offense, as he tries to use the defense’s aggression in his favor. He says he admires the kind of offensive schemes run by the service academies such as Army and Air Force.
Beaman’s goal for the season is to be competitive with the players he has.
“This is true iron-man football,” he said. “We have lots of kids who aren’t taking plays off on either side of the ball.”
Because of Burke’s small enrollment, the squad gets some relief by teaming up with the Community Academy of Science and Health, known as C.A.S.H. However, a number of quality players didn’t make grades.
“Turning around a program starts in the classroom,” Beaman said. “That’s what we build on.”
Beaman’s defensive line coach, Kevin Bowes, said Beaman takes an approach similar to former University of Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who famously said, “Those who stay will be champions.”
“If you guys can hack it you will have success but you have to commit,” Bowes said. “[Beaman] has a lot of energy and emphasizes effort; which I love.”