Before we head into week four of high school football, week three delivered the exciting finish to top. New London came from behind to beat Killingly in the final minute and the Whalers were all smiles. Though, for the Whalers' new head coach, every day on the field is a reason to be happy.
Johnny Burns grew up in the neighborhood next to New London High School. When he was 7 years old, he’d sneak through a hole in the fence to watch the Whalers varsity football games. When he was 10, he’d sneak in to play pickup games. When he was 14, he joined the team. Now, 23 years after graduation, Burns is coming home.
"When I walk around the locker room, I walk around and I feel almost ghosts at times,” said Burns. “I can see where my coaches would sit... Places where so many memories are."
The decision to take over as New London’s newest football coach didn’t happen quickly and it didn’t happen without sacrifices. Burns gave up a full time job as a social worker and now works as a security officer in the high school.
"They're kind of in the program as soon as they hit school,” Burns says of starting the school day with his players.
His team wouldn't have it any other way.
“He won two state championships here so playing for a guy who knows what it’s like to be a whaler,” said Whalers quarterback, Owen George. “He can lead the way so we can learn how to be Whalers just like he was."
But this isn't the program burns left when he graduated in 1995.Burns is the third head coach in four seasons. They haven’t won a state title in 10 years. But that desire to win feels just like the old days.
"You'll probably have to pry me off the field one day,” said Burns. “If I can be the head coach here that helps football mean much more that football, then that's what I'm after here."