Like a black and white photo.
That’s how Burgettstown assistant football coach Shawn Kemper describes Mark and Rich Druga.
The people who have been around the Druga brothers probably can better explain their connection. It is a connection that started when the brothers grew up on Fannie Street in McDonald and continued to the various high schools they’ve made stops at during their coaching careers.
No school has felt their impact more than the Burgettstown community has since 2015, when Mark and Rich returned for a second stint coaching the Blue Devils.
It was a community desperate for a winner again.
“I thought it was time for a great challenge,” Rich Druga said of when Mark asked him to be on his coaching staff.
The two were at Burgettstown for three years, from 1998 to 2000, when Rich was in his first head-coaching job and Mark was a young assistant. The brothers then followed the same path to Ambridge and Carlynton before going their separate ways until 2015. Rich spent nine years and won three championships with legendary coach Bob Palko at West Allegheny. Mark was an assistant at Fort Cherry under Tim Garry before returning to Burgettstown as an assistant.
“Burgettstown, at the time, was as low as you could get,” Rich recalled. “I thought we could turn this thing around.”
Taking over a program with only one winning season since Rich, who was the head coach for three years, left after the 2000 season when the Blue Devils went 6-4, was quite a challenge for the Druga brothers.
“We had always hoped for the opportunity to come again,” Mark said. “Between him and Rob Bennett (Burgettstown athletic director and assistant football coach), it was the three of us coming back together. Building my staff was a no-brainer. I wanted to lean on (Rich), not so just for the X’s and O’s but on how to run a program.”
Mark leaning on his older brother started many years ago. The four-year age difference was just a number when their father, Ron, passed away when neither had reached 10 years old.
“(Rich) has been the driving force for me when it has come to football,” Mark said. “He has been a father figure for me, a huge influence in my life.”
Now, the two still depend on one another and the rest of their small coaching staff. A role reversal has Rich as an assistant coach, serving as the Blue Devils’ defensive coordinator, and Mark being the head coach.
The energetic duo have helped turn a lowly football program into a dominant one.
In the last year-and-a-half, Burgettstown has lost only one football game.
A last-play, game-winning 37-yard field goal in the first round of the 2017 Class 2A playoffs snapped Burgettstown’s 40-year drought without a playoff victory. A Three Rivers Conference title last year allowed Bennett to update a banner at the school that had been gathering dust for 41 years. An undefeated regular season last year was the Blue Devils’ first since 1974, and a home playoff win was the first in the program’s 101-year history.
The word winning is no longer foreign when talking about Burgettstown football.
“Words can’t describe it,” Mark said. “I’ve been in this community 22 years as a teacher. Rich started off here. What we’ve seen in our school, our town and just the excitement and pride, it has all been tremendous.
“Every day is a tremendous gift to have this kind of impact. I never thought that I would be fortunate enough to be doing this. It was a goal from junior high or youth league to coach. I can’t ask for anything more.”
Mark Druga also couldn’t ask much more from defensive performances steered by his brother.
During the Blue Devils’ last 18 games, which includes a 17-1 record, Burgettstown has allowed only 103 points, an average of 5.7 per game. Seven shutouts have been sparked by 25 interceptions – including 13 this year – and 39 sacks. Maybe the most impressive number is only one team – South Side Beaver last year in a game that spanned two days because of inclement weather – has scored 20 points against the Blue Devils’ defense.
“It’s about constantly being aggressive with energy,” Rich said. “Our kids believe that we attack. They have done what I’ve said from day one. Our goal is to fly to the football. If we make a mistake, oh well, at least we are going hard.”
A win tonight against Brentwood (6-0, 7-1) would move the win total to 18 over two seasons and give Burgettstown back-to-back Three Rivers Conference championships.
Kickoff at Hill Memorial Stadium is 7 p.m.
“The similarities are their energy and passion,” Kemper said. “They are both passionate and have big-time energy. One is always planning for the next thing to happen – it could be good or bad. Then the other says slow down, we are OK. Like a black and white photo. When nothing is blurry, everything is precise. It is clear. They counter each other really well.”