Football In Kansas: Yards per carry and HAVOC – How Madison’s Bryson Turner and Kingman’s unique team chemistry have yielded big seasons

By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas

8MI: Madison looks to break through; Turner with astronomical yards per carry

Madison head football coach Alex McMillian came to school one morning in the fall of 2018. McMillian heard conversation about the previous day’s eighth grade middle school contest between Lyon County League rivals Burlingame and Madison.

Burlingame featured physical back Colby Middleton, and Madison had speedy tailback Bryson Turner. Madison won the game, 76-72, a final score that is verified through Hudl. Burlingame head high school football coach Jeff Slater witnessed the contest as a fan. Middleton was bigger and faster than everyone and couldn’t be tackled. Turner used his speed and couldn’t be caught.

Junior high statistics usually aren’t kept, but McMillian, from what he heard, recalls Turner having around 700 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Limited video exists, but SIK has seen footage of one long TD run from Middleton and Turner in the game.

“I just remember thinking, ‘Holy smokes,” McMillian said.

Turner played little as a freshman on a depth-laden Madison squad. Last season, Madison finished 11-1 and lost to eventual state champion Little River in the state semifinals. Early on, McMillian played Turner in a JV game on defense and he dislocated his shoulder. Turner couldn’t play from Week 2 to Week 9. In limited action, Turner still averaged an astronomical 13 yards per carry: 27 rushes for 355 yards and four scores.

“I definitely knew what I had coming,” McMillian said. “And I don’t know if everybody else realized how solid of a player he was.”

Then, Turner won the 100-meter dash at the Class 1A state track meet in May. This summer, McMillian told SIK that Turner was an athletic marvel who would be “a household name quickly.”

That’s occurred in 2021. Turner, who excels in a variety of interests both on and off the field, has delivered an astronomical 19 yards per carry. Turner has 78 rushes for 1,485 yards and 29 rushing scores.

Kansas does not track yards per carry records, but SIK’s extensive research shows Turner has the highest yards per carry average in recent history (min. 50 carries).

The only comparable came in Smith Center’s legendary 2007 season when it outscored opponents 844-20 and set still standing Kansas records for scoring offense and defense. Braden Wilson, who became a multi-year fullback starter at Kansas State, rushed for more than 1,800 yards and more than 18 yards per carry.

Some states, especially Colorado and Alabama, to keep yards per carry on their respective record pages. For Alabama, North Jackson’s Lee Witherspoon holds the mark with 19.2 yards per carry in 2018. He is the only one above 16.2 in Alabama history. For Colorado, the 11-man record is 14.6, set in 1993. The smaller classification mark is 12.3, set in 1999.

McMillian calls Turner a “one of a kind kid,” a similar moniker used for Madison senior quarterback Casey Helm, who committed to Princeton.

“He can sing, he can dance,” McMillian said of Turner. “I just feel like whatever he does or whatever he picks up, he is extremely good at it. He’s just a super great kid to be around. Sometimes those all-star football players are too cool to go out and do certain things, and that’s definitely not Bryson. He takes pride in doing about everything he does and does it to the best of his ability. He’s extremely good at a lot of things.”

On Friday, No. 2 Madison (10-0) plays host to No. 1 Little River (10-0) in a marquee eight-man quarterfinal contest. This is the lone game across all classes that has a 1-2 matchup this week. Madison is 41-3 in the last four years with McMillian.

McMillian has always had a goal of winning a state title. However, the Bulldogs have not made a state final, including semifinal losses the last two falls. Madison, which forms a co-operative football agreement with nearby Hamilton, has incredible support for the program and arguably the best eight-man football facility in Kansas.

“This group of guys that we have, I don’t feel like they feel pressure,” McMillian said. “And I don’t know the exact reason behind that is, but I just think these guys are just out here having fun playing football.”

McMillian, though, has also measured success with how his former players turn out in life two to five to 10 years from high school. He called that the main goal.

“That’s the coolest part of this whole deal,” McMillian said. “Is just hopefully trying to make these kids better human beings and make them hard working and disciplined in doing the little things right, and hopefully that transitions to what they do with the rest of their lives.”

Little River has won 18 straight contests, the third-best current run in Kansas and tops in the eight-man ranks. Legendary coach Kevin Ayers is 188-43 in 22years, including 30-4 with the Redskins.

McMillian, a former Victoria assistant, crossed paths with Ayers when Ayers was at Wallace County. The two also coached together at the annual eight-man all-star game in Beloit last summer. Last year, LR beat Madison, 48-24, in the state semifinals. McMillian has texted Ayers good luck every Friday.

Little River has its veteran front and again plays two quarterbacks. LR has upped from 8.8 yards per play in 2020 to 10.1 this season despite graduating elite playmakers in Jayden Garrison and Graham Stephens. McMillian noted Madison has to clean up its penalties that occurred in the Bulldogs’ Round of 16 win.

“He is probably the best eight-man coach in the state of Kansas,” McMillian said. “And I am lucky enough to know him. … He’s an outstanding coach and an outstanding human being.”

Since 1990, Madison has two state appearances, both wins, in ’10 and ’11 under former longtime coach Fred McClain. The Madison football field is named after McClain. Helm is McClain’s grandson. McMillian, who coaches both the junior high and high school currently, first replaced McClain at the high school level.

Then, McClain got back into coaching. He coached his grandsons in junior high before stepping aside. McMillian kept on getting asked to lead JH. He wanted to be the last resort if Madison couldn’t find anyone. That was the case. Madison has junior high and high school practice together except for team periods. McMillian is in his second year with both programs. He really enjoys the seniors that get to be around the seventh graders and taking the leadership role.

“I know a lot of those junior high kids look up to the high school kids,” McMillian said. “We always just preach talking being a brotherhood and good leadership.”

Helm and Turner have been great leaders and ambassadors for the program and both excel academically. Normally, Madison is deeper at the skill positions, and McMillian, 49-13 in six years, has generally not relied so heavily on two ball carriers like this year. Helm has completed 64 of 88 passes for 1,235 yards with 26 scores against one interception. As well, key multi-year starter Drew Stutesman, a former first team all-state pick, has 50 tackles and two interceptions.

Helm focused on Iowa, Princeton, Kansas State and Texas Tech. McClain has east coast ties, but Helm’s family are Kansas State alumni. McMillian said Helm knew Princeton was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Last spring, Helm won the 1A shot put title in 55 feet, 4.5 inches. He also threw the discus 164 feet, 10 inches for another crown. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Helm committed to the Tigers for track and field.

“Extremely proud of him,” McMillian said.

Madison has six new starters on defense and hasn’t forced as many turnovers in the past. Still, the Bulldogs shutout both Hartford and Marmaton Valley, teams that reached 100 points in wins this season. In a relatively common occurrence for the Bulldogs during the past four years, Madison has won every game by at least 46 points, except a 66-50 midseason district victory versus Chase County. Last week, West Elk was inside Madison’s 10-yard line but Madison intercepted a pass on fourth down.

“We always stress bend but don’t break,” McMillian said.

Helm and Lane Darbro are at defensive end, and returning starter Kevin Heineken starts at nose guard. Stutesman is back at linebacker, and Braden Foltz also starts at linebacker. Gavin Isch and Trace Dannels are at cornerbacks, and Turner plays safety. McMillian gets asked “all the time” if this squad is better, worse or the same from last year. McMillian is uncertain of those answers, queries that could be further crystallized after Friday.

“What sticks out most with this team is that we are extremely competitive,” McMillian said. “Kind of everybody just knows their job, and they know their role within the team. When adversity hits, they are the first ones to say, ‘Hey my bad, we are going to go get this again.’ Where maybe that wasn’t always the case in some of those past teams. But these guys, they understand what their job is, and what their role is, and they don’t get too high, they don’t get too low, and that’s probably the coolest part about this team.”

Class 2A Kingman with impressive team chemistry, HAVOC defense

On Wednesday, third-year Kingman coach Tanner Hageman had a conversation. Kingman delivered 3-6 and 6-3 seasons in his first two years. The Eagles were a preseason KPreps 2A Potential Breakout Team.

“Before the season, we really weren’t sure what our team was going to look like,” Hageman said. “Because the senior class in particular, they don’t talk a lot. So I was really worried a little bit about the leadership that would happen, and to be quite honest, that’s been one of our strengths.

“The senior class really has come in with no ego, and the junior class is a little bit more vocal, and so some of the kids in the junior class have stepped up into a more vocal role, and senior class just goes about their business,” he added.

The melding has yielded a 9-1 season and nine straight victories. On Friday, Kingman travels to Thomas More Prep-Marian (8-2) for a Class 2A quarterfinal contest at Fort Hays State University’s Lewis Field Stadium. Both squads are top-5 in 2A scoring defense.

Kingman has delivered exceptional defenses under coordinator Dustin Beam and his 3-3 “Havoc” look. In the last three years, the Eagles have allowed just 14 points a contest. That is better than many traditional powers in that span, including Wichita Collegiate, which is 24-8 and allowed 17.5 points a game.

Kingman has senior running back/middle linebacker Colby Schreiner and junior middle linebacker Ty Birkenbaugh as the top defensive statistical players. Hageman said Schreiner is typically a really quiet kid.

“He stepped out of his comfort zone, being a lot more vocal,” Hageman said. “Being a coach on the field.”

Birkenbaugh is quite vocal, and Schreiner and running back/outside linebacker Geoff Holloway are the two senior captains. Adrian Ontiveros has also been vocal. Holloway is almost a three-year starter. Both Birkenbaugh and Schreiner were hurt some in 2020.

“Those are definitely the leaders of the defense, they fly around,” Hageman said. “They are fantastic communicators. I think that’s the biggest thing. We had some injuries on the d-line, and so we have had some young guys have to step into roles.

“We see those guys kind of coaching those young guys in the middle of games, which I think is pretty special,” Hageman added. “No one puts more time in the film room, and a lot of times they are kind of coming to us with different things that they see.”

Kingman led Cheney a good chunk of the season opener on a rainy night before the Cardinals pulled away for a 34-14 victory. Cheney is 10-0 and currently ranked second in 3A. Kingman is athletic with multi-sport athletes at many positions. Returning quarterback Nolan Freund has completed 121 of 214 passes for 1,977 yards with 17 touchdowns against three interceptions.

“We really started to put together some games and started playing at a high level both offensively and defensively,” Hageman said.

Afterward, Hageman thought “we may not be too bad.” Then, the Eagles delivered impressive district wins versus Garden Plain and Chaparral. Kingman beat GP again in the Round of 16.

“Even though we lost, we took that loss, and we really focused in on some details and some things that we were doing very well,” Hageman said. “And then against Chaparral, we just wanted to use our speed. They had a lot of size.”

Beam ran the 4-2-5 defense at Ellinwood. However, Hageman said Kingman “ran out of linemen.” Beam went to the 3-3 defense. Beam keeps a number of defensive statistics, including several non-mainstream statistics, including re-routes, double teams, de-cleats. Points are awarded for different categories. A hundred points gets a Havoc T-shirt.

“It’s been one of the best decisions that he has ever made is kind of transitioning on defense from a four-front to a three-front and now being this 3-3 stack team that has been really productive in a lot of ways,” Hageman said.

In the middle of the season, Kingman have a ceremony where they give out Havoc shirts. In particular, Jake Fischer has earned Havoc points for taking on double teams. Senior lineman Aaron Seimans is the lone key player above 200 pounds.

“Incredible wing span, plays with really good energy, and he’s just a really tough guy to block, especially at the 2A level,” Hageman said.

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