Brett Sterbach is the kind of running back a kamikaze pilot could appreciate, shouldering the load for Shawnee Mission West’s offense with no regard for his personal welfare.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Opponents who watch Sterbach on film see a 5-foot-7, 150-pound whisper of a tailback and probably assume he’ll go down easy and won’t pack much punch despite all evidence to the contrary.
Fans see Sterbach flash by in black and gold and wonder — sometimes aloud — how he manages to do the things he does on the football field.
Even Sterbach’s own Vikings teammates aren’t entirely sure how he’s weathered 288 carries so effortlessly – and with only one fumble – while racking up 1,945 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Of course, SM West, which has ridden Sterbach all the way to the Kansas 6A state championship game, also appreciates every churn of his legs as he plows through defenders for a few extra yards.
“Brett’s a guy who goes as hard as he can every play,” Vikings junior right tackle Austin Chambers said. “We love that about him. Us, as linemen, we see him busting his butt as hard as he can every play, and it makes us go even that much harder for him.”
Amazingly, Sterbach has done it all with a torn quad, an injury he suffered a week before the season opener Aug. 31 against Lawrence.
“I wasn’t sure I’d play at all this season, but the doctors told me I could play as much as I could tolerate the pain,” Sterbach said. “I said, ‘There you go. I’m playing — torn quad and everything,’ ”
It wasn’t until the final game in the regular season, a week nine matchup with SM Northwest, that Sterbach started running without that quad stinging with every step.
“Brett Sterbach is a crazy guy,” senior right guard/linebacker Max Bullard said. “He’s crazy, because he doesn’t care what happens to his body. He always gives 100 percent, and he runs like he’s 6-foot-3, 240 pounds. He knows it’s his job to move the ball down the field.”
It didn’t take long, of course, for teams to key on Sterbach, who has nearly 60 percent of SM West’s carries and touched the ball on more than 52 percent of the squad’s plays from scrimmage.
“He’s allowed our quarterback (junior A.J. Verdini) to grow up, and (Sterbach’s) carried us all year,” Vikings coach Tim Callaghan said. “We’re going to ask him to do it one more time.”
SM West’s opponent at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Washburn’s Yeager Stadium in Topeka will be Hutchinson, 10-2, which has won seven state titles in the last eight seasons.
The Salthawks beat the Vikings, 11-1, the last time Callaghan’s squad reached the 6A final in 2006, but don’t expect SM West to be intimidated.
“Coach always says, ‘Don’t give them a seven-point lead just because it’s Hutch walking on the field,’” Chambers said. “They are a high school team just like us.”
With help from Bullard and Chambers along with left tackle Aaron Brown, left guard Lee Spight, center Tanner Clark and Marquan Osbey, who rotates through at guard, Sterbach hopes to topple Hutchinson’s dynasty — for a year at least.
“I wouldn’t choose any other line,” Sterbach said. “They are huge contributors to my yards and stats, but they don’t get near enough credit as they should. I think we have the best line in the state, and we will prove that on Saturday.”
That will mean another afternoon of punishment, but Sterbach wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We need this state ring,” Sterbach said. “We’ve been talking about it ever since we were little kids playing peewee football saying, ‘I can’t wait until I’m a senior.’ Now’s our chance, and now we have to take hold of it.”
A win would end a 27-year title drought — not just for SM West but for the entire Shawnee Mission district — in the process.
“Twenty-seven’s a good number,” Sterbach said with an ornery grin, a not very subtle reminder that he wears the No. 27 jersey.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.