Located along U.S. Highway 36 in north central Kansas lies the small town of Mankato. Mankato is home to just under 900 people, as well as Rock Hills High School and the well-known Buffalo Roam Steak House. The small town is just 16 miles south of the Nebraska border.
It’s more than likely that if you’re passing through the small town on a Friday night in the fall that you will think of Mankato as a ghost town. Why? Because almost every individual in the community attends the Grizzlies’ football games, whether they’re home or away, the town's support is what helps thrive the team and has done so in their 6-1 start thus far.
The 6-1 start is pleasing for junior Zane Colson, but Colson believes their is still work to be done. Rock Hills will play Southern Cloud (Miltonvale/Glasco co-op) in the second to last game of the regular season. The Warriors enter Friday night’s game with a 2-5 record, but Colson and the Grizzlies think they’re a much better team than their record shows.
Rock Hills competes in 8-Man Division II football, the smallest classification in the state that competes for a KSHSAA state title. The Grizzlies are trying to reach the playoffs after missing out a year ago and coach Brock McMillan has his team geared up for a deep playoff run.
Colson has been everywhere on the field for the Grizzlies, whether it’s on the offensive side, defensive side or even on special teams, Colson is everywhere. His numbers will prove so, as he leads the Grizzlies in total rushing yards and tackles on the year, while coming in second in total receiving yards. Colson has rushed for 929 yards on 98 carries and 15 touchdowns, while catching 10 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Colson has a great chance of surpassing the 1,000 mark on Friday night against the Warriors. He has been playing since his freshman year and already has 2,171 career rushing yards with 32 rushing touchdowns with next year left. He also has 546 career recieving yards. The junior has 3,323 all-purpose yards in his career. Defensively he is equally as good if not better over his career. He has 83 tackles this season, with 14 of those coming for a loss. That gives him 258 career tackles as a junior.
Dereck Gillett has passed for 691 yards and 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his junior season. The future is bright for the Grizzlies, as the second leading rusher on the team, Rylee Whelchel has rushed for 443 yards and is just a sophomore.
While Rock Hills High School is serving around 75 students this school year, Colson says his junior class is the smallest in the school and has only eight students. Colson has also excelled in wrestling in the fall and track in the spring. Since Rock Hills does not have it’s own wrestling program, they co-op with Beloit High School where he qualified for state wrestling at 145-pounds. Colson was one of only three sophomores who made it at the 145-pound class in 3A. He won the 15 and under national championship in Kearney, Nebraska last school year at 157-pounds. Colson says that he plays baseball in the summer, but the lack of bodies available to play during the spring at Rock Hills makes it impossible to have a team.
Colson and the Grizzlies will look to win their second consecutive game on Friday night against Southern Cloud before taking on district leader, Beloit St. John’s-Tipton next Friday.
This feature is presented by Central National Bank of Mankato. Visit us online here.
Q & A w/ Colson
1) What is it like playing 8-man football?
Playing 8 man football is I don't know its normal to me because that's all I've ever known that's all I've grown up too. My older brothers played 8 man and even my dad played 8 man so I would just say its normal it's a little different playing on a smaller field compared to a 11 man field but its not to bad. We also don't see a lot of field goals most teams alway just go for 2.
2) What's one thing most people don't realize about 8-man football?
I would say 1 thing most people don't realize about 8 man is probably how much faster it is then 11 man. Ive been to 11 man games and 8 man both and just the whole speed of the game is slower in 11 man even when 11 man teams push the pace its still probably average in 8 man the whole tempo of the game is just faster its not a whole lot of throwing most of the time depending on your quarterback but mainly smash mouth football and try to run the ball and beat down your opponents.
3) Have you always lived in Mankato? If so, what was it like growing up there?
Well I go to school in Mankato but I actually live on a farm about 12 miles from Mankato and I live about 2 miles from a small town called Ionia with a population of about 15-20 people. But Ive spent my whole life here and made many memories in Mankato which will always be my home. I would say Ive had a great experience growing up here where everyone knows your name and knows your family. We all get along in this small tight knit community, where everyone is willing to lend a helping hand.
4) Your team is 6-1 right now and your only loss was to Pike Valley in OT, so what did you learn from that loss?
I would say the one thing we could take away from this loss was to be humble, Pike Valley is great team with some good athletes. I think we have some great potential on our team, and that the biggest part of taking down a team like that is you have to play as a team and play like a well oiled machine. It was just nice to see a big physical team that we hadn't really gotten to see all year.
5) How do you feel about your team going into Friday's game vs. Southern Cloud?
I think we have a good chance at winning the ball game as long as we play how we should and take care of business. Even though Southern Cloud doesn't have the best record I don't like to underestimate any team, anyone can win on any given night. But I think we are a bigger and faster and more aggressive team but we he to come out and show it.
6) Do you like the way 8-man goes about with the district play? Because 2-1A, 3A and 4A all go the last three games of the season as their district.
Yeah I would say its good to me I think it kinda spreads it out lets recover from week to week if you don't have to play district games every week so I'm pretty happy with the way we do our district play.
7) What are game days like in Mankato?
Well game days in Mankato you can just tell there is a different atmosphere in the air everyone in town knows its game day. We start out every morning with our team breakfast which lets us come together to start the day and enjoy the morning with each other but starts to get us focused for the game. The school day goes by fast mainly because we are all so tremendously hyped for the game. In which the comes the end of the school day leaving us with a couple hours before the game where come together to hang out and get focused for the game at hand and understand our assignments.
8) Your team missed the playoffs last year, but you're in a great spot to make it this year. How do you feel about your team and how they've came together this season?
You know I would say that our team has come together so well this season nothing can bring down a team faster then a bunch of individuals who are out to make themselves look good. Our line has come together really well this season and makes a amazing blocks all game long. They allow me to bust into the wide opening where it then is my job to get it to the end zone. We have good fullback who blocks well and runs the ball hard and our quarterback does very good job of throwing the ball and making quick decisions on the field. Our team has become a family on and off the field.
9) You're approaching the 1,000 yard rushing mark on the year, do you worry about your stats after the game or do you not care as long as the team wins?
I mean yeah its nice to have all the big stats and let everyone know how good you are but to me its not all about that. I play for the fun of the game and for those guys working their butts off for me up on the line, or blocking or making tackles wherever. anyone can have decent stats but to have a a great record takes a team. I'm just happy for the opportunity I've been blessed with this year to play with these guys and that I've been able to do whatever I can for them.
10) Describe your play on the field. Are you more of a quiet or vocal leader?
I'm definitely a vocal leader, I find it easier for our guys to be able to read plays on defense or offense if I can get what's going on out on the field out while the play is happening or even while its developing.
11) You’re second on the team in receiving yards, do you like running with the ball or catching it more?
I love to run the ball definitely. I just love the feeling breaking a couple tackles and busting a long run to the end zone. Or just making a crucial 1st down after a 4th and 2 I just love to hit people.
12) Talk about your defense, as well. You lead the team with 83 tackles. What makes you so tough on the field?
My dad just always told me to hit them harder then they hit you and it wont hurt so Ive tried to always adopt that into my tackling. Plus a great defense is the best offense. I just try to have a nose for the ball and find out where its going and hopefully my guys are behind me so we can make some stops. Nothing is more of a momentum killer then to be stopped on offense.
13) Do you plan on playing football after high school? If so, do you have any recruitment going on?
I would love to either go on to play football or wrestle definitely, I love football and at the moment I have a couple of small schools interested and a couple larger schools but nothing to serious I just want the opportunity to show what I've got in the big leagues.
14) Do you play any other sports at Rock Hills?
I play baseball in the summer, but I run Track during the spring which my events are the 200, 4x100 and pole vault and 400, its not my favorite sport but I do it, I wrestle also which is definitely my favorite right along beside football I wrestle in a coop with Beloit High School.
15) What's it like playing for coach McMillan?
Its a great experience, he's taught me a lot from the time I started playing for him as a Freshman. He is great man to look up to, he has had much patience with me over the years and I cant thank him enough for that. I'd also love to send a shoutout to our other 2 assistant coaches Mr. Railsback and Mr. Miller they are tremendous coaches and helped me and our team out so much along the way.
16) What do you do in your free time?
I love to hunt in my free time and fish I feel like its a great way to stay outside and enjoy nature and be relaxing. I also like to hang out with friends and family.
17) What's one thing most people don't know about you?
I would say one thing most people don't know about me is my love for music, I absolutely love to sing. It calms me down when I'm stressed out about things and helps me focus when I need it too.
18) Favorite food joint in Mankato or near Mankato?
I would say my favorite food joint in Mankato is totally Bob's Inn they have some great burgers and pizza and lots of other food.
19) How many students attend Rock Hills?
There is roughly around 70-75 kids that go to my school we are definitely not a very big school.
20) How many will be in your graduating class?
In my graduating class as of right now there is 8 of us, we have the smallest class in the school. Hopefully we will pick up some more next year.