Major implications on the line for Maranatha, Madison

By: Conor Nicholl for
Sep 26, 2019

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Maranatha Christian Academy coach Bryan Burdette grew up in Parsons. He coached on staffs at Southeast-Cherokee, Frontenac and Galena. Seven years ago, Burdette took the head football coaching position at MCA, a school that hadn’t played football before 2006, according to Kansas Football History. The Eagles finished 0-7 in ’12, the last year before Burdette.

In southeast Kansas, Burdette had more “kind of smashmouth-type kids.” He ran the Wing T, hardly ever threw the ball and worked on controlling the clock. In Burdette’s eyes, MCA had athletes that just wanted to play football and had a different mentality than the SEK players. Some had limited previous football experience. Burdette decided to use Wing T concepts and philosophies to create more of a spread passing look.

Burdette went 6-1 in his first season against all Missouri schools, including three junior varsity programs. After a 1-8 season in ’14, MCA formed a co-operative agreement with Leavenworth-Immaculata and posted 1-7 and 2-7 marks. In ‘17, MCA had just 12 to 13 players available and finished 2-7 in 11-man football.

Last year, Maranatha changed to Eight-Man, Division I - and quickly became one of Kansas’ best offenses with 46.9 points per game, No. 14 in eight-man football. The Eagles enjoyed a four-win improvement to 6-3.

“Football was something that was kind of new when I first came here,” Burdette said. “And people have really caught on to it, and I’d just like to thank them for coming out. We have a great place here, and we feel really blessed.”

In ’18, receiver Brock West finished as a finalist for eight-man player of the year by the National Athletic Association of Private Schools. West delivered 60 catches for 1,204 yards and 29 scores, including eight against Chase County to tie the eight-man state mark.

West and quarterback Nate Burdette, the coach’s son, headline a senior-heavy roster with multiple four-year starters. Many of the Eagles didn’t play until seventh grade football.

“Physically, he’s got great hands,” coach Burdette said. “He’s got great speed. He will go after the ball. He can catch the ball about anywhere you throw it to him. This is a really, really, really, really tight knit group of seniors. They do stuff on weekends together.”

This year, Burdette has completed 24 of 33 passes for 604 yards with 11 touchdowns against one interception. He has rushed 19 times for 208 yards and five scores, and West leads with 14 grabs for 367 yards and seven TDs. In his career, Burdette has thrown for 3,826 yards with a 66/34 TD/INT ratio, and rushed for 17 touchdowns.

In Week 4 last season, Maranatha scored on the game’s first play and led entering the fourth quarter, though lost 32-22 in a key District 3 contest to Madison. The Bulldogs hadn’t been scored upon before the win.

“Maranatha, they are kind of a surprise team last year,” Madison coach Alex McMillian said. “We didn’t really know what to expect going into the game. They didn’t really play anybody. We didn’t have a lot of tough competition. … Going back and watching the tape last year, I wasn’t very pleased with how we played. I think we are a little bit older, more experienced. We kind of know how to compete on Friday nights a little bit better.”

This year, Madison (3-0) plays host to Maranatha (3-0) in another critical contest. Madison is ranked fourth in Division I. Maranatha has a total score of 164-0, Madison 184-8.

“That was a game that we grew up,” Burdette said. “We came out and that was the most physical game that we probably played, at least last year to that point. That game kind of taught us that we could be physical as well.”

While Madison has a great tradition, McMillian, in his fourth year, has led a big turnaround. The Bulldogs are 2-7, 3-6, 5-4 and 9-1 in the previous four falls. McMillian has created an excellent dynamic between the players and town.

He presented at the KSHSAA coaching clinic this summer on “rebuilding team culture and pride.” Each Thursday, Madison does a pride run in town. The team stands in front of the community, and the squad hands out award stickers. The players shake hands with the community.

“It’s just a very neat town and a very neat experience to be a part of Madison football,” McMillian said.

Madison averaged 46.6 points a game last year and permitted just 11, third-best in eight-man football. Similar to MCA, Madison returned five offensive and six defensive starters, though none weigh more than 200 pounds.

“They are all like linebackers and tight ends it seems like,” Burdette said. “But they are very solid across the board. They are very sound. They do good stuff. Their kids are really athletic, and you don’t want to be standing around during the play. You have got to go after it. They are going to come after you. They’ve got speed. Their special teams are exceptional.”

Even in the blowouts, McMillian has been pleased with his team’s improvement. In Week 2, Madison defeated Waverly, 57-0, though McMillian said the squad “didn’t block well,” had a lot of penalties and had trouble communicating.

Last week, Madison improved in those facets in a 63-0 win against Hartford. Madison has yet to turn the ball over and has forced double-digit turnovers. Sophomore linebacker Drew Stutesman has five interceptions. Practice-wise, Madison does a turnover/tackle circuit every week. Anytime the Bulldogs drop a pass, fumbles or throws an interception in the practice, the players do five push-ups.

“From a team standpoint, we are more physical as a team this year than we were last year, and it definitely showed against Hartford,” McMillian said.

Madison has junior quarterback Ryan Wolgram, junior fullback Hunter Engle, senior fullback Colton Fife, and senior running back Nasun Wasson, all returning starters.

“It’s nice having good numbers, and just being able to keep the running backs fresh,” McMillian said. “And so far it has worked out pretty well for us.”

Coach Burdette has been impressed with Nate’s and West’s decision-making and leadership. In the past, Burdette saw his son usually just throw the “long ball.” Now, he’s finding the receiver underneath and stepping out of bounds on a running play instead of taking a hit.

“Being smarter,” coach Burdette said.

Last week, Maranatha defeated Colony-Crest, 60-0, though the Lancers heavily focused on West, and held him to limited targets, two catches for eight yards and no touchdowns.

“He’s a great kid,” coach Burdette said of West. “Some of the things that stand out about him is just his desire to do good, his desire for our team to do good and our team to excel.”

However, 6-foot-4, 165-pound senior Drew Utech, who returned to the game after he hadn’t played since his freshman season, delivered three catches for 123 yards and two scores. After the game, West told coach Burdette that MCA “showed that we have more” offensive weapons.

“He was really sincere in that,” coach Burdette said. “I really think Brock is blessed. I think he could play anywhere. We have a few kids that I think could play anywhere in the city.”

In addition to Burdette and West, Nic Higginbothem is a four-year starter on the offensive and defensive lines, senior Logan Gourley is a four-starter at center, and a partial four-year starter on defense. Senior defensive lineman Jack Porter has started all four years on defense, and most of the time on offense.

“Maranatha is a very good football team,” McMillian said. “They throw the ball around better than about anybody in the state of Kansas in eight-man.”

Senior running back/outside linebacker Gabe Wiley has been a partial starter all four years, and a full-time starter the last three. Wiley is second with 18 carries for 117 yards and three scores. Gourley is hurt, and freshman Isaac Brown is starting at center.

Sophomore Jayden Oquendo (6-2, 275) starts on both lines and was a starter on defense as a freshman. Senior Caleb O’Neal is at outside linebacker and leads with 25 stops.

“Our kids took some lumps,” coach Burdette said. “But they learned to continue to work hard and not worry about that kind of stuff, but just do the best that they can do, and they were really impressive those first couple of years how hard they worked and played throughout the entire game. … I think they are reaping the benefit of sticking it out.”


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