Burlingame, Chase County to kick off loaded District 2

By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Sep 23, 2022

Share This Story:

Ninth-year Burlingame coach Jeff Slater has led the Bearcats to eight consecutive winning seasons, including a 6-3 mark last fall. Burlingame finished fifth in Eight-Man, Division I with 17.3 points allowed a contest. The Bearcats graduated their pair of eight-man all-stars in Trever Quaney and Lance Noonan. They finished 1-2 in sacks and tackles for loss.

Burlingame had several known pieces returning, including senior dual threat quarterback Colby Middleton, who accounted for 33 offensive touchdowns and finished the year really strong. Matthew Heckman caught 12 passes, and gained confidence in the spring when he jumped 6-foot-6 and finished 1A high jump state runner-up. Senior Roman Bayless and Heckman start at receiver and defensive back.

Last year’s freshman group has enjoyed high success at every level. In third and fourth grade, they played a league title game in Kansas City. In fifth and sixth, they qualified for the Emporia league title. The nucleus went undefeated in junior high. Parker Haid, JD Tyson, Dane Winters and Timmy Roberts all saw plenty of playing time in ’21 and have improved this year.

Winters starts at running back, Roberts at tight end, and Haid at center. Defensively, Roberts and Haid start at end. Tyson and Middleton are at linebacker, and Winters at corner. Senior Jace Dewitt is a rotational linebacker.

“They have complemented our seniors really well,” Slater said. “We have good leadership from the senior class. We have some explosiveness, and some really big-time impact players in the senior class.”

Some of Slater’s offseason concerns were alleviated by seniors Tyler Lockwood (5-6, 165) and Jason Davidson, who have both started at offensive guard. Slater labeled his team “solid” in all eight spots. Lockwood starts at nose.”

“Kind of that senior light is on for them and has really stepped in and filled some roles that we thought were question marks in the offseason,” Slater said. “Chemistry is really good with the guys. It has kind of snuck up on me to be honest, too.”

As the fall has progressed, Slater has issued a line several times: “I feel like our ceiling is growing.” Burlingame, just outside the top-5 in Eight-Man, Division I, is 3-0 with all wins by the 45-point margin.

The Bearcats had a quality 54-6 home victory in Week 2 against Lebo, which opened the fall fifth ranked in Division II. Last week, Lebo defeated Madison, 30-26, and ended Kansas’ longest regular-season winning streak.

“I saw us getting better,” Slater said. “But I also saw our ceiling growing of what we are capable of doing, and now as we are into Week (4), I feel like the challenge is to get better each week, and try to get to your ceiling, which I think our ceiling is pretty high.”

Burlingame’s growth adds another layer to highly compelling District 2, considered the classification’s top district since the summer. The top-four teams reach the postseason. Burlingame, No. 2 Chase County and eight-man newcomer Lyndon are undefeated. Madison and Cair Paravel are both 2-1. Cair Paravel has also been better than expected and competed well into the third quarter against Division II No. 1 Axtell, on a current 16-game winning streak, in the season opener.

District play opens Friday with Burlingame at Chase County. This marks the first meeting since 2019 and just the third in at least the last 18 years.

“Lyndon we knew was going to be good,” Chase County coach Brody Vandegrift said. “Burlingame is always well-coached and is going to be good. Madison obviously (coach Alex) McMillian does a solid job every year with their group. And so it’s one of those where we just knew that nothing is going to be given to us in any situation during this whole district.”

Both teams offer multiple similarities, including an elite dual threat quarterback with Middleton and Chase County senior Mitch Budke, and similarly-aged, energetic head coaches who have already led their teams to historic success. Vandegrift and Slater see each other frequently in the offseason.

“The coaching brotherhood is a big deal,” Vandegrift said. “If somebody needs something – if somebody needs anything – you are willing to give them the shirt of your back to help them out. And coach and I are both that same way.”

Chase County went 8-3 in ’20, its best season in 30 years. Slater paced Burlingame to state semifinals in ’15-17, the school’s top showing since ’71.

“I have always looked at Chase County as ‘Man, those kids are tough,’” Slater said. “I remember watching the Budke kid play as a freshman and just how he carried himself.”

Chase County has a 68-0 win versus Frankfort, a 70-54 victory versus Division II contender Colony-Crest and 48-0 against Goessel, a Division I quarterfinalist each of the past two seasons. Crest has senior running back Holden Barker, who has exceeded 2,500 rushing yards since the start of last season. Chase County running back Brock Griffin missed Week 3 with a toe injury and is expected to play Friday.

“Our team has grit,” Vandegrift said. “They don’t quit. They don’t waver when it gets tough. They stick to the game plan. They ride things through. And I am telling you, the way that that senior group handles things – and even our junior class – the adversity, they don’t get down on themselves right away. They stay steady, and we just fight, we don’t ever quit.”

Budke is one of Kansas’ most well-known players. He exceeded 2,000 yards of total offense as a sophomore, and 2,500-plus as a junior. He has 665 rushing, 264 passing yards and 44 tackles in ’21. Senior Cal Kohlmeier has continued his impressive play with three sacks this fall, along with five catches for 107 yards and two TDs versus Crest. Kohlmeier is expected to become Chase County’s all-time sack leader this season.

Against Crest, Chase County took advantage of a bad snap and a blocked punt that both yielded points. Chase County has a senior-heavy team that returned all defensive starters. Freshman Wyatt Griffin stepped in for his brother and played well. Junior tight end Colin Monihen and senior Dom Cauthers have been solid at the skill positions, too.

“I know everybody says, ‘Oh, Mitch Budke,’ but we have got a bunch of dudes to look out for,” Vandegrift said.

Up front, Emiliano Zuniga is a returning starter at center. Zuniga is the line’s anchor and leads the communication. Senior Gavin Francis is at right guard and known for his pulling skills. Senior Jerrick Payton has stepped up and played left guard as a first-year starter; Vandegrift said he’s “done an absolutely tremendous job.” Payton can play various positions.

“You will see a huge improvement this week in Week 4,” Vandegrift said of his line. “We are going to change our attitude of our group. We are going to be a group of guys that gets off the ball, and we are going to take the fight to people.”

Junior Tucker Groh, a returning starter at wide receiver/defensive back, picked off four passes as a sophomore. He has three this season. Against Crest, Groh recorded three all-purpose touches, all for at least 57 yards and each for a touchdown.

“Groh has absolutely surprised all of us,” Vandegrift said. “He is a basketball player-kid.”

In Week 1, Chase County makes the 110-mile trip north to Frankfort, and Groh has two interceptions and caught a 42-yard touchdown. On the way home from Frankfort, Groh texted Vandegrift on the bus. Groh asked: Coach, what is the state record for interceptions in a season? Vandegrift didn’t know and asked if Groh wanted him to look it up.

Groh said yes. Vandegrift asked if he wanted the record. Groh said he did. Vandegrift said, “we’ve got to put some work in.” Groh responded, “Yes, sir.”

“To have kids figure some things out,” Vandegrift said. “Groh was a big impact for us last year defensively, but for the way he has turned it on, I mean, the kid made some plays defensively that I would have never told you he was going to (do). And it’s not his interceptions, it’s the way he fights through blocks and goes and tackles bubbles for a loss. He has tremendous speed. He is a 4.5 40 kid and just athlete, and just true athlete. Great hands, great awareness.”

Last season, Middleton completed 56 of 87 passes for 647 yards with 10 scores against seven interceptions. Burlingame committed 10 turnovers. Slater said the Bearcats “kind of saw glimpses” last year of what Middleton has shown this season, especially toward the end. Burlingame wanted to address the passing game in the offseason.

This year, Burlingame has yet to commit a turnover.

“Our offense, we are really doing some good things that I am really happy about and excited about that, that I feel like it fits our personnel,” Slater said. “

Sometimes, Burlingame has called a pass play, though Middleton has turned it into a run. Slater said the quarterback scramble has been one of the Bearcats’ best options. Plus, Burlingame simplified some passing game aspects.

“We feel like we have some serious weapons to attack people,” Slater said. “Where we can attack matchups in the pass game.”

Burlingame’s former defensive coordinator Nick Brungardt left and went to Highland Community College. Austin Masters, a former Burlingame player and former head junior high coach, moved up to high school. Slater and Masters both have offensive minds. Masters coached the current sophomores in junior high and has helped improve the passing game. Masters also worked with Burlingame in summer 5-on-5.

The coaching duo attended the Kansas eight-man clinic this summer where Jesse Vincent and Shelby Hoppes spoke. Both had developed high-octane passing attacks at Wheatland-Grinnell and Canton-Galva, respectively.

“We really liked what they were doing,” Slater said.

Middleton has completed 14 of 19 passes for 308 yards with eight scores against no interceptions. He has rushed 18 times for 237 yards and seven scores. In the past, Burlingame’s passing attack was more matchup-based with a route tree. Now, the Bearcats are more concept.

“We have kind of gone to, we are able to run this concept out of multiple formations,” Slater said. “And then all of a sudden, you have four or five concepts, and then you’re just really good at those, but you are able to get different looks out of it from formation. If you get one concept out of six formations, it’s six plays, it’s six different looks, you can add a motion here, but it’s still really simple for the kids. It’s rule-based, it’s a lot of rules.”


Use your Facebook account to add a comment or start a discussion. Posts are subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment.