When Billy Bajema decided he would return to the Oklahoma City area this year to coach high school football, he had plenty of options.
With nine years of experience as a tight end in the National Football League, becoming an assistant at an established Class 5A or 6A program was an obvious option for the former Westmoore and Oklahoma State standout.
Instead, Bajema chose to join former OSU teammate Rashaun Woods’ rebuilding project at Class 3A John Marshall.
“I like the idea of coming here with Rashaun because of what he wants to do with the program,” said Bajema, who spent time with the San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers, and Baltimore Ravens during his playing career. “He’s about not only coaching football, but trying to make a difference in their lives and that’s something I want to do as well.”
Bajema and Woods spent three seasons together in Stillwater, including playing significant roles in Cowboys’ offense during back-to-back bowl appearances in 2002-03.
Woods, a first-round pick by the 49ers in 2004 after a record-setting career at OSU as a receiver, inherited a John Marshall team coming off a 0-10 season in 2012.
“Back then, nobody came prepared or anything,” said junior offensive and defensive lineman Jeremiah Patton. “There wasn’t really any effort. Everyone was out here playing around. When Coach Woods got here, we started getting everything we need to be prepared. He’s showed us how we need to be to be successful.”
In 2013, the Bears improved to 4-6 in Woods’ first season and remained in playoff contention until a loss in their final game.
“As coaches, we’re excited about seeing how far these players can go,” Bajema said. “Physically they are capable, but they’ve got to continually learn the technique of football better. It’s a challenge to them and us, but we feel like the sky is the limit.”
Bajema will be coaching the offensive and defensive line alongside former Texas A&M and Alabama State offensive lineman Tango McCauley, who is a John Marshall graduate. McCauley spent six years playing in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League from 2003-08.
“Having these type of coaches out here, it’s pretty much everything I could ask for,” Patton said. “They’re helping make me a much more confident player because I know everything I need to be doing to be the player I want to be.
“We want to let every team we play know that John Marshall is here to be successful and work to get to the top. We want to show people that this isn’t that 0-10 team anymore.”