Andover Central’s Ashton Barkdull, Drew Daniels eager for senior season

By Joanna Chadwick

The goal for Andover Central senior running back Ashton Barkdull this season is to put up more yards. He had 803 rushing yards on 109 carries as a junior, and while that’s an average of  7.4 yards per carry, with a talented and experienced offensive line in front of him, he expects an even better season.

“I’ve been running behind these guys since seventh grade,” Barkdull said. “They get better and more outstanding every year. I’m really excited.”

That line is loaded with seniors — Drew Daniels, Andrew Mann, Nate Peak, Dawson Howard and Isaac Sheeran.

But what makes this line so good?

“I’d say the physicality and us being underestimated,” said Daniels, who is 6-foot-2, 275 pounds. “Our center and right guard are pretty small and people underestimate them a lot. They’re like dogs — they’ll fight no matter how much they get pushed around. Me and the left tackle, we don’t care what happens; we just want to do our part, and we all know that we’ve got each other’s backs.”

Barkdull added: “They have great chemistry. I know the way they like to take on their blockers… I know how they play, and they know how I play and run the ball. I know how each of them are handling their defender, and then I do the best I can…. We trust each other to make it happen.”

Andover Central’s offense will include quarterback Kai Kunz, who transferred from Kapaun Mount Carmel for his senior season.

Barkdull has embraced the running back position with a motto of, “if you run hard and hit people as hard as you can, it will hurt you less than it hurts them.”

It’s a phrase he picked up from his early playing days when his dad told him that if he runs harder, it won’t hurt as bad.

“As a running back, you can go any where on the field,” he said. “There’s a spot you’re supposed to go, but if it’s clogged up, you have to make the decision super fast and make cuts. I like how all the pressure is on you.

“Sometimes I see the field and don’t even realize it. I’m just running. Everything is going so fast. If I scored a touchdown, I didn’t realize that I did this, this and this. Everything goes by so fast… It’s just my body telling me where to go and when to spin and when to juke.”

Barkdull adapts and learns quickly, which was showcased in the spring when he randomly decided to try pole vault. Two months later he won the Class 5A pole vault title and plans to do track in college.

Daniels entered high school having played quarterback most of his life, but due to a growth spurt, he was moved to line. Ian Carpenter, who was an All-State lineman at Andover Central, took him under his wing.

“I was thinking if quarterback didn’t work out, then I’d go to running back or wide receiver or tight end,” Daniels said of his freshman season. “We were at a summer competition, and … they put me at right guard. I fell in love with that position.

“Ian Carpenter … introduced me to playing O-line and got me comfortable playing the position. He taught me everything I need to know.”

Andover Central has high expectations, especially after getting upset by Arkansas City in the playoffs.

“I’d say, state wide, that we’ll be underestimated again,” said Daniels, who will play at defensive end, as well. “We graduated a lot of seniors. We always come out as underdogs. We’ll try to fight and do the best we can.”

Barkdull added: “Losing that game was a heartbreaker, especially because two weeks before, we beat them 35-7…. Everybody remembers that feeling. We don’t want to feel it again.”