Turnovers win championships

Safeties coach Donald McNeal tossed numerous ideas around in his mind over the summer, looking for ways to inspire Bastrop's defense.

Using the Miami Hurricanes' turnover chain as a model, McNeal settled on a turnover belt.

Bastrop head coach Adrian Burnette bought into the idea — literally, but more about that later.

What seemed like a good idea at the time has turned out to be more like a stroke of genius.

Every time the defense forces a turnover, a defender is handed a professional boxing/wrestling-style championship belt as he trots off the field. The belt is awarded for an interception or a forced fumble that leads to a turnover. In the event of an unforced fumble, the defender who makes the recovery earns the right to wear the belt until the next series.

"I wanted to establish a culture of champions," McNeal said. "Everybody knows defense wins championships. Our offense is beautiful to watch, but they can't win us a championship. If we want to get a ring, the defense is going to have to win it.

"When I started thinking about the belt, I was just trying to find a source of motivation."

McNeil's plan has worked to perfection as the defense has embraced the idea wholeheartedly.

Before each game, the belt is placed in a clear case behind the Rams' bench.

Complete with a Ram head logo, the red and white striped belt features a gold center plate proclaiming Bastrop as the Undisputed Turnover Champion. Also written in raised letters: "Don't Compete. Dominate."

"Nightmare on Ram Street" and "Never Sleep Again," are posted in red on blue sideplates.

"It's something the kids are excited about," Burnette said. "It's really brought a lot of excitement to our defense and our team."

Offensive players are showered with glory after scoring a touchdown. It's just the nature of the game.

The belt has given the Rams' defensive players the opportunity to bask in the spotlight. Besides being presented with the belt after a turnover, defenders are serenaded with "The Champ Comes Home," by the Ram Pride Marching Band.

"Now it's about instant gratification," Burnette said. "If you make a big play on defense, you might make the (TV) highlights and get your name in the paper or somebody might talk about it. The belt has given defensive players the opportunity to be able to get a reward on the spot in front of everybody."

Just as McNeal and Burnette had hoped, holding the belt has quickly become a source of pride.

"It brings competition," Burnette said. "Now everybody's thinking, 'He got a turnover, now let me get one.' I believe our defense has started running a little faster and hitting a little harder. They are going for the strip, and going for the interception.

"I believe there is only one way to play football, and that's 100 mph. I don't want them thinking, 'What happens if I don't make the play?' I want them thinking, 'I want the turnover and the recognition that comes with the belt.'"

Being more involved with the offensive side of the ball, Burnette hasn't noticed just how much excitement the belt has created on the sideline.

"I know we have the belt, but I literally haven't seen anybody wearing the belt," Burnette said.

Rest assured, the belt is being put to use.

"Everybody wants the belt," strong safety C.J. Mullins said. "It's kind of like a basketball player trying to get a rebound. Everybody is going after the ball to get the rebound. We're all going after the ball to get the belt."

Mullins has now worn the belt a team-high four times after forcing a pair of fumbles in Friday night's 58-0 homecoming victory over Menard.

"You can't get an interception every time, so sometimes you have to strip it," Mullins said.

As Burnette said, Mullins' defensive teammates noticed when he draped the belt over his shoulder.

"I'm going to have to get two or three turnovers to catch up with C.J. now, and we have a tougher opponent this week," said free safety Jaden Davis, who picked off passes in back-to-back wins over Airline and Union Parish.

Mullins and Davis have taken the competition a step further by forming their own "office pool" with Jabez Thompson and Robert McDaniel.

"We have all put up $20. Whoever has the most turnovers at the end of the year gets the money," Davis said.

As big of a success as the idea has been at Bastrop, Davis expects to see other teams borrow — or put their own spin on — the idea in the future.

"I look for other people to start having their own belt," Davis said.

Mullins' goal is to become the permanent owner of the current belt.

"Whoever gets the most turnovers at the end of the year gets to keep the belt," Mullins said. "That's an $800 belt."

Burnette, who paid for the belt out of his own pocket, says Mullins has some misinformation.

"I paid $650 for that belt," Burnette said. "I seriously doubt I give it up at the end of the year."

Regardless of who ends up holding the belt, it is serving its purpose.

"The coaches got the belt for motivation because defense wins championship," Davis said, "and great defenses cause turnovers."

NEW IDEAS: Burnette has shown a willingness to try new ideas throughout his 1 1/2-year tenure as head coach.

Last year, the school began selling tailgating spots in the east endzone. The fans clearly bought in (pardon the pun) as the area was packed for Friday night's homecoming game. Though the game was a blowout, there was a good turnout.

"Tonight's crowd signified two things: (1) the community is coming together and (2) the support is coming back to the program. People supporting the program and the community coming together — that's what it's all about," Burnette said. "I really appreciate the people coming out."

In another new twist, fireworks were set off as the Rams ran onto the field Friday night.

"That's something we put in to add a little fun. The kids were excited about it," Burnette said. "We're constantly trying to come up with new ideas to give our fans a good experience. Every year, we hope to get better and better."