SHERIDAN — “Give me something.”
The postgame huddles look a little different at Sheridan High School. Head coach Don Julian doesn’t talk much. He tries not to get too caught up in the game the Broncs just played.
Instead, Julian hands the baton off to his players. The “put-up game,” Julian calls it, something he picked up from former coach Rod Olson. After years as a collegiate coach, Olson founded the Coach of Excellence Institute and now trains leaders across the country. The put-up game puts the postgame speech in the players’ hands. What Julian asks for are positives from the night’s work.
It’s an immediate reaction to the competition.
“Until you watch the film, most of the time you don’t truly know what went down,” Julian said. “It changes their whole look on football, and it keeps me from being critical until I maybe go watch the film and grade a kid.”
Hands shoot up around the huddle at midfield. As the head coach points, players blurt out things they saw throughout the game that somebody did well. Sometimes it gets specific.
“Bryce Taylor’s interception,” a Bronc pointed out after Sheridan’s win over Kelly Walsh last week.
Other times, the put-up game allows players to acknowledge intricacies within the Sheridan system and more general observations.
“The offense committed zero penalties,” one player might point out.
Always positive, though.
“Pointing out other peoples’ great things shows true love and brotherhood within each other,” Sheridan quarterback Aaron Woodward said. “It’s not just thinking of yourself; you think of the entire team.”
Buying into the system and creating a culture within the program has been a crucial part of Sheridan’s success. Julian and Olson call it leading through relationships rather than leading via fear. The coaches give each player a role and show them why an investment in that role makes a difference. Each team member has some sort of ownership in that drive to success.
The staff has high expectations for itself and the kids wearing the pads — a championship mindset. After all, the Broncs consider Sheridan the football capital of Wyoming; their 25 state titles and counting are more than any other team in the state.
With those high expectations come greater responsibilities. Running back Kyle Custis pointed out the put-up game forcing him to focus more on his surroundings and not just his individual role as a ball carrier. Tunnel vision is gone.
“If I didn’t see anything, then the next practice I will,” he said. “It really opens my eyes and instead of focusing on what my job is mainly, I can look at the bigger picture and see how important everyone’s job is.”
At the end of the day, Julian’s built a program around togetherness. Film sessions feature their share of criticism; coaches gripe and point out mistakes. But for the Sheridan Broncs, Julian hopes they leave the field and the program better men than when they arrived.
The put-up game has grown with the success of the program. The coach said the compliments tend to carry a heavier meaning after a loss, but Sheridan doesn’t lose too often. The Broncs have won 82 percent of their games under the current coaching staff. This year’s senior class has a 33-2 record over three varsity seasons.
So the put-up game has shifted to practices. Every day, the players dish out compliments. And at practice, the kids don’t volunteer. Julian randomly selects players and asks about specific teammates; and if a player has nothing to say once, Julian said it typically doesn’t happen again. They’re forced to pay attention.
And just this year, Julian upped the stakes once more. Now he asks them what they did good for somebody else that day. The team has taken the put-up game beyond the sidelines.
“The kids realize everything they do is being watched,” the coach said. “I think anything we can do to raise the awareness of, ‘it’s not just about me.’”
Julian deflected credit for the idea of the put-up game and the tweaks the staff has made to it over the years. Just like he expects of his players, the longtime coach tries to be more aware of his surroundings in order to implement new elements into the program.
The Broncs have plenty of other special pieces to their puzzle, but the put-up game has been a longstanding tradition that encompasses the overall theme of what it means to be a Sheridan Bronc. They’re creating good people, good teammates, good football players.
They’re creating champions.