It was the longest bus ride of his life. It was also the quietest. When John Burroughs’ senior linebacker and offensive lineman Bear Caminer sat with his teammates and rode away from the Edward Jones Dome after last year’s crushing last-second loss to Richmond, not a word was said. There was just the sound of the bus and the road. “Last year the bus ride back to school was silent,” Caminer says.
It was hard being at school the next week. There was no mention of the loss, no mention of how close the Bombers had come to hoisting another state title. The mood was unsettled. It was as if everyone was still hurting too much to open the wound. “No one would talk about the game,” Caminer, 18, says.
This year was different in every which way for the Bombers. Well, almost. Burroughs (13-2) lost yet another heartbreaker in the Class 3 state championship game. This time it was Logan-Rogersville (15-0) that walked off with the title with a 21-14 win last Saturday.
But the fact they even got to that point is how things were different. Last season, the team knew it had a talented core of seniors that could lead it to the dome. It was just a matter of making it happen. After watching those seniors graduate, the Bombers came into the fall with a new coach, Gus Frerotte, and a new identity. They were a new team that had to find its own path and had to do so while no one gave them a second look. Not the media, not the fans, no one except the guys in the Burroughs’ locker room had any inkling of what this team was capable of doing. “All season we played without expectations,” the 6-foot, 205-pound Caminer says. “All season we talked, it was us against the world.”
Without the burden of pressure, the Bombers spent the summer grinding through two hour practices every day for five weeks. They spent the offseason working harder than before to give themselves a chance at something special. They opened the season with two solid wins and were hammered by rival MICDS at home. If anyone on the outside had been buying into what Burroughs was doing, the MICDS game made it hard to believe. But a funny thing happened to the Bombers. That loss sparked them. “That was the moment we really committed to being the best possible team we could be,” Caminer says. “That was the defining point in the season.”
They rattled off 11 straight wins and not one of them was a tight ball game. They rolled into the Edward Jones Dome with Champagne wishes and caviar dreams. The Bombers got there because they were selfless.
Caminer moved from playing mostly defense as junior to going both ways as he took on offensive line responsibilities. It was a new position for him and one he trained diligently to prepare for. Every day for breakfast he would scarf down five eggs, four waffles and two cups of fruit in an effort to get bigger. And Caminer doesn’t even like breakfast. He spoke of the selfless play of Sam Hefler who went wherever the coaches needed him on any given day. Whether it was running back, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line or linebacker, he did what was asked.
That’s why the Burroughs made its second straight title game appearance, because it did whatever it took to win. They just came up one play away in the end. But the bond this band of Bombers formed will stay with them until they’re 6-feet deep. “We played to keep practicing another day (in the playoffs),” Caminer says. “We played to get an extra week together. We wanted to be back on the field.”