The competitive spirit in Brayden Dillow was telling him that he and his Chanute Blue Comets could overcome any obstacle. Muscle memory took over in every effort to fight off the opposing offensive lineman’s gap technique, but the Pittsburg Purple Dragons rushing attack kept eating up huge chunks of yards down the stretch.
It was just as challenging for Dillow as an offensive lineman, though he, Jacob McDonald, Collin Hutson, Nolan Werner, Garrin Golay and Elijah Keever were able to remain poised to help the Blue Comets score three offensive touchdowns and to get within a one-score Pittsburg lead in the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Pittsburg ultimately won the game on Sept. 13, 2019, by a score of 41-27 – the closest margin Chanute had lost to Pittsburg in six years. The ultimate beneficiary of the burly offensive linemen, Pittsburg starting running back Shay Mahnken racked up 203 yards and four touchdowns on 13 rushes. It also helped that Mahnken was a 350-pound bench presser and a 500-pound squatter.
Still, there was a silver lining in the loss: the fact that Chanute was able to compete with an arch-nemesis and a typical powerhouse. But Dillow, 17, remembers the details.
“They’ve got some really athletic defensive ends and their defensive tackles, I felt like those were really good matchups, and I felt like we were able to be really challenged and show us how good we could have been,” Dillow recalled. “It was their physicality. When I play Pittsburg, it’s always how physical they will be; they’ve got some really strong players that aren’t afraid to hit or getting hit, they are always a physical team.”
Lessons learned from the Pittsburg clash led to Chanute winning a defining game over Labette County that cemented Chanute winning the SEK and moving to 7-1. The Comets advanced to the State Sectionals for just the seventh time in CHS history, before finishing the season with a 9-3 record, their best record since 2013. Dillow would go on to earn All-SEK first-team as an offensive and defensive lineman, as well as All-State honors for the first time in his high school football career.
The standout lineman took this momentum and ultimately trained and excelled in wrestling. Dillow won a State Championship in Salina on Feb. 28 and CHS won the 4A State wrestling championship for the first time in school history.
“(Wrestling) definitely helped me out. I’ve been able to use my technique in wrestling and that’s helped me adapt to football and what to do in certain positions,” Dillow said. “On my cardio days, it has helped me stay in shape.”
Wrestling has prepared Dillow to have an exceptional off-season even in the most trying circumstances due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For starters, the senior and the rest of the football team have been keeping tabs on each other to ensure everyone is working out and getting in their repetitions. Returning players Eric Erbe, Ryker Donovan, Garrett Almond, Jackson Coombs and Dillow were typically found at the Chanute Community Sports Complex throughout the course of the year preparing to have another exceptional football season.
As such, student-athletes are always at the forefront of team success as well as Dillow’s development process. But as a senior Dillow knows that his maturation and development process can also be attributed to head wrestling coach Andy Albright, head football coach Clete Frazell, and assistant football coach Bradley Campbell.
CHS football practice
Football training camp started up the second week of June. Dillow and the Blue Comets’ day starts with 7 am weights before non-contact drills, more strengthening and conditioning, as well as agility and speed development sessions. Football drills start around 10 am.
Specifically, the CHS football team has been working on passing and running attacks. On Mondays, Dillow and the rest of the offensive linemen have been toiling away on blocking schemes and learning plays. Quarterbacks have been working with running backs, running backs have been readying for the run game, and wide receivers have been running routes and polishing up on blocking.
On Wednesdays, players participate in seven-on-seven drills with no pads.
Frazell is preparing to have another fruitful season, and he said he is excited to get things going, though the landscape isn’t what it once was due to the Kansas State High School Activities Association implementing guidelines for COVID-19.
“It’s really good. As a coach, you understand that everybody else is in the same boat, but it causes a little bit of panic when you can’t get out there and do the things you know you need to do to get better and get prepared for the season,” Frazell said. “It’s been really good to get out there. It’s made me feel really comfortable and relaxed knowing that we are getting in work now. During the COVID period, when people weren’t allowed to go to school or do anything, it’s just hard because you are not in contact with your athletes, and you can’t communicate. So it’s been awesome getting back to doing football stuff. And it makes you appreciate more after that layoff.”
Doing all that he can do to make sure football activities can continue at the school, Frazell, assistant coaches Kent Frazell, Devon Crabtree, Kurt Sizemore, Luke Hall, Rusty Emling, Kip Keeley and Bradley Campbell have been cleaning the equipment every 15 minutes during each weight room session, disinfecting the entire room with a bottle of antibacterial solution, and encouraging everyone to wash their hands as often as possible and use hand sanitizer. Coaches have also told student-athletes to stay home if they aren’t feeling well.
While these procedures are in accordance with the KSHSAA and local health departments, the shutdown of Cherryvale and Fort Scott high schools a few weeks ago has put a little more sense of urgency in coaches to provide the safest environment for the Blue Comets.
Frazell has taken note of his players.
“You can tell the ones that worked during the COVID phase because they stepped right into strength and conditioning and didn’t skip a beat,” Frazell said. “And there were some that struggled a little bit, but I think the ones that I coach in football, for the most part, they seemed like they were ready to go. They seemed like they’ve been doing work and following the home workouts that I was sending. I’m just excited for the season and I think the kids are, too. We’re just planning for it and hoping it happens. It’s going to be a rough fall if there is no football.”