Behind a powerful ground game headlined by senior running back Cole Bush, Burrell is off to a 5-0 start. It is the Buccaneers' best record through five games since 2004, a season in which it had an undefeated regular season before losing in the Class AA semifinals. Averaging 38.6 points per game, the Buccaneers own the highest-scoring offense in the Allegheny Conference by a wide margin. Burrell already has beaten four conference foes -- Shady Side Academy, Valley, Kittanning and Summit Academy -- but the Buccaneers will face their toughest challenge when they face visiting Freeport (4-1). The Yellowjackets and the Buccaneers have had three common opponents, with Freeport's lone loss coming against Valley, 9-8. The Yellowjackets have the conference's top defense statistically, giving up 11.6 points per game. "It's going to be a very intense game, very emotional." Burrell coach Kevin Horwatt said.
All it takes is a quick look at the WPIAL rushing leaders to see where the Burrell offense begins and ends -- Cole Bush. Through five games, he ranks second in rushing yards with 1,048 and leads all players in scoring with 19 touchdowns for 114 points. Bush's success certainly isn't a surprise -- he rushed for 1,032 yards and had 24 touchdowns last season -- but coach Kevin Horwatt noted that Bush's significant improvement stemmed from dedicating more time to training and football, especially after quitting basketball. Bush's contribution goes far beyond his running, as he rarely comes off the field -- he's a running back, a linebacker on defense and the punter on special teams. Bush's ability to play multiple positions makes Horwatt's job easier. "As a coach, it's nice to be able to have someone that versatile," Horwatt said. "You can plug him in any situation and [at] any position."
Cole Bush stands out not only because of his talent, but also because he, quite literally, stands out -- at 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds, Bush is a large player on a predominantly small Burrell team. Of the 41 players on the roster, 30 are shorter than 6-0 and 30 weigh less than 200 pounds. As the Buccaneers' record indicates, the size issue has not gotten in the way of success, and it has been far from a problem for coach Kevin Horwatt. "We don't really breed big kids," he said. "You learn to adapt and find out what their abilities are and shape things around those abilities."
It's not uncommon at all to see siblings and relatives on the same roster of a high school football team, but Burrell has the rare combination of a head coach and cousin -- in this case, Kevin Horwatt and his cousin, junior center Tyler Horwatt. "It's a very nice opportunity to be able to coach him," Horwatt said. The family ties go deeper than that, as Horwatt noted he has a coach (John Tomiczek) on his staff who coached him, his father and all his brothers.
Being the head coach at Burrell has special meaning for Kevin Horwatt as he graduated from the school and played football there. He played quarterback for the 1995 team that had a 9-1 regular season and went on to win a WPIAL Class AA championship under coach Tom Henderson, who now works as Horwatt's offensive coordinator. Horwatt, in his second season as head coach, said that "it's kind of nice" to be able to coach at his alma mater.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com