Rob Busmente knows the Sterling football program inside and out.
A 1992 graduate of the school, Busmenete just finished his 25th year on the football staff, and his seventh as the program's head coach. He's also a social studies teacher at the school.
"At heart," he said, "I think I'm just kind of a small town guy."
At the helm of the program, Busmente has turned the Tigers into perennial contenders. Sterling has been to the playoffs in five of the past six seasons, including a trip to at least the quarterfinals in 2015, 2016 and 2019.
Busmente was voted the 2A coach of the year by his peers as part of the All-State teams. Now, he has been selected as the 2019 Denver Broncos high school football coach of the year.
Rob Busmente bio
Years as head coach: Seven (47-25)
Years at Sterling: 25
Previous stops: Sterling volunteer assistant (1994-96); Sterling assistant secondaries and wide receivers coach (1997-2000); Sterling defensive coordinator (2001-12); Sterling head coach (2013-present).
Question: What does Sterling mean to you? It's pretty rare that someone graduates from a school and spends their entire career there. So how important is Sterling in your life?
Rob Busmente: Well, I think some of it was the desire to come back. When I was finishing up my degree at Western State, there was going to be job availability because I knew some of the teachers in the school, in my department, that I was going into were going to be retiring. So I knew there would be an in there. Plus I was already familiar — the coaches that were on the staff, minus the head coach, were my high school coaches.
So there was that familiarity and just something about the school and even just the community as far as just kind of what fits a little bit of my personality. I've done some traveling around the world and things like that. But at heart, I think I'm just kind of a small town guy. You know, I kinda like the secluded part of being in a small town and just minus some of the hustle and bustle of some of the big cities. I like going and visiting the big cities and things like that. And I have lots of friends there and they're fun to visit. But it's just something about small town with me that that was a draw I think.
I had the opportunities that were available plus the relationships that had already had with people in the building. I knew it would be a pretty smooth transition.
Q: Do you ever draw on your experience as a player at Sterling and link that to your current players at all?
Busmente: We mostly try to draw on experiences. We kind of focus on the failures that we had as players, as far as trying to let our kids know that as coaches we've been in your position. We haven't always done everything right and done everything perfect, and have had to learn through the trials and tribulations of areas where we failed: how to be smarter players, how to work harder.
So those are some of the things that we usually try to drum on as far as our experiences as former players. It also helps that I have other guys on my staff that also played here, so they know that some of the support that you can get from the community and how much they can kind of glue to sports. It's always kind of nice to share that wisdom with those kids and let them know the things that they represent.
Q: What made you want to get into coaching?
Busmente: It was my, I guess my junior high school. There was a class that we took and we had to do like a career path thing as an assignment that they gave us to where we had to do some researching. I knew that I enjoyed social sciences, like history and government and those things as a student. I loved playing and I knew that somehow I probably wanted to be involved in the game in some way. And I knew that being able to go and play at the next level was a long shot. That's a low percentage kind of thing. And knew that playing professionally probably wasn't in the cards, but coaching was the avenue that I could go in.
So it allowed me to pursue a couple of things that I liked. And I was inspired by honestly my coaches I had in high school. My head coach, Pat Busteed, was a social science teacher and he was the head football coach and he was able to be good at doing both, so it was just something that I knew where my interests lay. And the idea of trying to give back to the game and give back to the community as far as the school was just a draw for me back then.
I just kind of stuck with it as I went through college and pursued that degree. And now I'm here.
Q: What kind of coach would you say you are? What do you think your players would say?
Busmente: The thing that we've always tried to instill is that when we push you to be your best and to pursue your best it is not just because we're coaching who we think you can be, but also because we're trying to instill the life lesson from this through the game of football.
Most importantly, I would hope that they would say at the end that us as coaches cared more about them, the individual, you know, we loved the player and not the jersey number and their personal relationships with us was our main motivator for what we are doing here and what we're trying to accomplish.
And, looking at a big picture thing, winning championships and winning titles and everything, it's important and it's a goal that you set out. But in the overall big picture of things, we want people walking out of here to be better men and be better equipped to be husbands and fathers in their own right when their time comes. And hopefully we pointed them in the right direction so that when they look back, I hope that they look at us as coaches as those positive influences and inspirations to them.
Q: What kind of impact has football had on your life? Why do you think it's important for young men to be involved in football?
Busmente: Well, I think it's the ultimate team sport as opposed to other things. I mean, there's other sports out there that require teamwork, but I just feel that football is that ultimate team perspective to where they have to learn that reliance on others and develop the trust and sacrifice, as far as everybody combining for the greater good. And I just think it helps teach and reinforce those lessons: There's going to be lots of things that we are going to be expected to do on our own through our own work ethic and through our own focus and drive. But support systems are huge in anybody's life. When you have those things in place, your chances of success increase.
We kinda try to use that as the team perspective. We try to make sure that we all understand that everybody in the room is important and everybody in the room has a part in what we're doing because without each other, we're not going to be able to accomplish the things that we have. We have to have the trust in the people in the room to be able to accomplish our goals and understand that everybody's going to sacrifice a little part of themselves for the greater good.
And that's what it takes to be a good family man, to be a good husband and things like that. Some of those lessons that you can teach through the game and hope that they carry into their life.
Q: So kind of switching gears into your season this year, what did you expect at fall camp? I mean, did you see a championship coming, or the potential for one?
Busmente: We felt coming out of our summer team camp and then kind of progressing into the fall that we had some tools, some pieces in place to where if we could get everything going in the right direction and take care of things that we could go and make some noise, as a conference team and as a playoff team. You set goals at the beginning with the team and one of the things they do write down, you know, "Let's, let's win the state championship." And then we have to go back through our lessons through the week and ask ourselves a question: Are we doing those things that are helping us accomplish our goal, if that is indeed what it was.
As the season started to progress the kids just started to get more comfortable with schemes and more confident in their abilities. And we had some things just kind of go our way and things were looking positive and just started trending that way.
We just kinda rode that that wave there towards the end and fortunately we're able to make plays and take advantage of opportunities that were given to us. We were fortunate to put the things together and have everything fall into place. We got everybody focused in on that one goal and everybody never really wavered from that and then focused in on the success of the team. And it just carried us to the end.
I guess in the beginning, I don't want to say we were 100% sure that this was where we were going to be at the end, but that was the direction we were trying to point, and we were trying to do everything we could to just make sure that we could look ourselves in the mirror at the end regardless of what happened and say that we did what we had to do to try to accomplish that goal.
Q: So a lot of coaches always say you learn a lot more from a loss than from a win. If that's the case, what did you guys take away from the Scottsbluff game? [Sterling trailed 28-0 at halftime, and lost 36-13 in Nebraska.]
Busmente: We knew that they were a tough opponent and they had lots of skill, size, speed, and we knew that it was going to be a tough task.
As the game was going through the first half, things weren't going the way we wanted them to. We had given up some tough plays and we were having trouble being consistent on offense. But as we went into the second quarter and halftime, we just tried to make the deal with our players about, "We can't go out there with an attitude that we've quit, that we've given up," and "We got to continue to battle."
That was one of the signs from our team — in that first half, it was early enough in the season that they were kind of teetering on that line of letting mistakes and unfortunate things that happened in the game get the better of them attitude-wise, to where they would kind of get down and lose focus. But they never really did, even in that game. They thought about it in the first half. You could kind of sense it and you could kind of feel it.
But then from that point on in a lot of the games when things would go bad, there wasn't a lot of head-hanging and finger-pointing and woe-is-me type attitudes. They just kinda continued on and just kept playing the game and kept trying to make plays. I think that was one of the games that really taught us that resiliency matters and perseverance matters.
Q: Ultimately, you guys do end up putting together a string of wins winning that state title and it's the first for the program. What was that like? What was the feeling like, and what did that mean?
Busmente: It still feels a little bit surreal and I'm not even a hundred percent sure that it's totally sunk in with everybody. We had to stay an extra night in Pueblo because they closed the roads, and then we got back Sunday and had a celebration in the gym. And then the next day the guys went to basketball practice and they have a basketball game Thursday, they have a wrestling match Thursday and they jumped right into their next sport. We haven't really kind of sat and reflected on it.
But it was an amazing feeling on the sideline, mostly just watching the enthusiasm of the kids and their faces. When that the final buzzer went off, just the elation on their faces and the joy that they were feeling on the field with each other. And then when they let the crowd out and the families out, just seeing the joy that people felt, it was an unreal scene being out there among the people.
It meant a lot for those guys to go out and win that for everybody. Like we said, "You're always going to be the ones that they reference, no matter how many more titles Sterling wins between now and then, they're going to reference you because you were the first ones to accomplish that feat through the history. So it's something that you guys can definitely be proud of and take pride in the fact that you were able to do that."