Undefeated Gardner-Edgerton on quest to go from worst to first

Trailblazers face defending state champion Blue Valley North

Jim Cunningham
November 09, 2018 - 6:07 am

Gardner-Edgerton USD 231

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One of the teams remaining in the Kansas 6A football playoffs is undefeated Gardner-Edgerton, which failed to win a single game in 2017. 

The obvious difference for the school in southern Johnson County is Ryan Cornelsen, the Trailblazers' new head coach, who comes to the Metro from Hutchinson. Gardner-Edgerton, ranked No. 5 in the state, plays No. 6 Blue Valley North, the reigning state champion, Friday night.

Cornelsen is an unassuming man who has had more than his share of success in 15 years coaching football and track at LaCrosse, Hays and Hutchinson. His overall record as a head football coach is 126-40. His Hutchinson team was 6A State Runner-up in 2014.

Then Cornelsen and his wife decided it was time for a change of scenery. The job at Gardner-Edgerton opened up.  

"I thought it was a good fit for our family," Cornelsen said. "I came up and applied, and I accepted the position."

One of Cornelsen's keys to turning around a program is convincing the players to develop a habit of working on the fundamentals.

"You've got to get them to believe that it's about the process and doing the little things right, day to day, in the classroom, on the practice field and in the summer," Cornelsen said. "The product will take care of itself if we do the process right."

Cornelsen had a good teacher growing up. The school district sports complex in Liberal, about six hours southwest of Gardner, is named for his father, Gary. The elder Cornelsen coached the Liberal Redskins to four state championships in football and an astounding 24 state championships in girls and boys track and field. Ryan Cornelsen played for his father in high school and ran track at Fort Hays State.

"Most of what we do I picked up from him, and then different places along the way, how hard he worked, how he treated kids and got the most out of them," Cornelsen said.

The 10-0 Trailblazers know Blue Valley North will be a difficult opponent. North is on a seven-game winning streak, a span during which they have averaged just shy of 54 points a game. The Mustangs' senior quarterback, Graham Mertz, may be the most recruited player in the country. Mertz is committed to Wisconsin, and he's received offers from a score of programs, including powerhouses like Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson.

"It's a tough matchup for anybody and it's a tough matchup for us," Cornelsen said. "Offensively, they can score a lot of points really fast, so we're really excited to be here. Our kids will come out and play hard."

Regardless of the outcome, Gardner-Edgerton's football program has changed the atmosphere at their school. Excitement has not been so high since the current players were in elementary school.

Kickoff for Gardner-Edgerton and Blue Valley North is at 7:00 p.m. at Gardner. Other 6A playoff games in Kansas include Shawnee Mission East-Olathe North, Derby-Topeka, and Manhattan-Lawrence Free State.

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