PITTSBURG — To say the Pittsburg Middle School football team was dominate this past two seasons would be an understatement.
Throughout their 13-game winning streak spanning over two seasons, the Purple Dragons outscored their opponents 582-62 en route to becoming one of the best teams to don the purple and white at the middle school level.
“I would say that their work ethic is what sets them apart,” PMS head coach Bryan Mahnken said. “They’re just willing to work and do whatever it takes to get better. We always ask them if they want to be good or great, and they really do want to be great. They don’t want to just be mediocre, and it’s been like since I’ve had them.”
With a high work ethic and a willingness to get better, the Purple Dragons embraced the challenge wholeheartedly.
“In junior high football, if you have some fast kids, it makes a big difference,” Mahnken said. “With our weight program, the kids always seem to stay in pretty good shape. We talk to them about trusting the training up in the weight room and we tell them that it carries over onto the field. They just have a lot of confidence when they get on the field."
Mahnken said the attitude of the team speaks to the kids' character, and was what helped them make the jump from good to great.
“The kids make my job a lot easier,” he said. “I also have great coaches to work alongside with as well. I’m very fortunate to have coaches who have experience coaching at the high school level, which is huge. At the same time, the talent of the kids make it easy. Plus, the kids are smart too. Add that with everything else, and it makes my job a lot easier.”
Pittsburg typically had no problem moving the football down the field with an explosive offense which put opponents away early.
Running backs Grant Roelfs and Caiden Barber combined for 21 rushing touchdowns and 172 yards this past season.
Quarterback Cooper Hayden threw for 10 touchdown passes, with his favorite targets Braden Benson and Austin McKechnie being on the receiving end of nine of those touchdowns.
Another contributing factor to the Purple Dragons’ success on offense was the work of the offensive lineman Ashton Miller, Blaine Dunstan, Cale Farrington, Andrew O'Doherty, Chris Nickelson, Tyler Sutton, Gavin Deal and Brock Bowman.
“Fortunately, we were able to run and throw the football this season,” Mahnken said. “Cooper Hayden at quarterback threw for a lot of touchdowns and we had receivers who could catch the football too. We also had three or four running backs we could put in there who could run and block well. We also had a great set of offensive line, which makes it a lot easier as well.”
The PMS offense was matched only by its defense which scored many points of its own and allowed just 42 points last season.
The stout defense started with a solid defensive line which included Braden Benson, Tyler Sutton, Chris Nickelson, Brock Bowman, Blaine Dunstan and Gavin Deal.
Behind them were linebackers Grant Roelfs, Caiden Barber, Austin McKechnie and Andrew O'Doherty, as well as defensive backs Cam Jefferson, Jonah Hunziker, Matt Smith and Cooper Hayden.
Others who played a role in the team’s success was Jerrek Meadows, Ian Sullivan, Seth Gann, Brandon Freeman, Bryan Rueda, Keaton Reed, Matt Barnes, Frankie Cheney, Homer O'Ferrell, Tavion Nelson, Timmy Weller, Todd Murry,Michael Strickland, Trystan Walker, Caden Smith and Nico Jorge.
“I always say our defense is our best offense,” Mahnken said. “Our defensive coordinator Rob Johnson puts us in some unbelievable situations. A majority of the teams we played against finished with negative yards this season and we had a couple of big breaks in some games. Our defense just runs to the football and we always have several hats around the ball to make a tackle. They are just very aggressive.”
In addition to having a commitment to excellence on the field, the PMS football team also held itself to a higher standard in the classroom and in the community.
“We want the kids to be great students and great citizens first, and then we want them to be football players,” Mahnken said. “If you can put all of those things in front of being a good player, it will all carry over onto the football field. Our kids do a great job of combining those things to be great kids and great football players. We expect a lot out of them and we’re strict in a lot of areas. We’re strict with their grades and in their discipline, but they’ve bought into that and they make sure they’re doing it right.”
With ninth grade just around the corner for the kids, they are all primed for big careers at the high school level as the next wave of Pittsburg Purple Dragons.
“The future for these kids is very bright,” Mahnken said. “My son is a sophomore this season at PHS, so I’m looking forward to this group helping that team when he’s a senior. That’s a big deal to me personally, knowing that these kids will be helping my son down the road. I think they’ll be successful next year as freshmen and the next three years after that.”
— Jordan Buckamnneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.