Coach Jerry Burkhart and his son, Haustin Burkhart, are known for their prowess on the football field. During the past six years, Coach Burkhart has put three state championships, two trips to the semi-finals games and a trip to the first level of play-offs under his belt. Haustin Burkhart has racked up a few honors of his own, including 95 rushes for 1398 yards (average 14.7 yds per rush) which resulted in 30 touchdowns as well as completing 101 passes out of 155 attempts for 1903 yards and 34 TDs in the 2008 Richland Springs Coyote season of 11 games.
The Burkharts are modest about their football accolades, and it isn’t their football expertise and awards that they prefer to talk about; it is their ministry as Christians who share their faith daily. “Ever since we put God first in our program…well, that’s the reason we have the record we have," Burkhart said.
Coach Burkhart was saved (baptized) when he was in the sixth grade, but admits he didn’t feel saved, and he didn’t live his faith. It wasn’t until he met and later married, Bonnie Turner, he learned about living a Christian and God-directed life. He credits wife Bonnie with leading him to the point of rededicating his life to God, but it wasn’t until 2004 when Burkhart attended a Fellowship of Christian Athletes convention and heard Coach Jim Tressel of Ohio State speak, that he understood. His faith must be integrated with his athletic program. “I thought he (Tressel) was on to something.” Burkhart wanted to be a part of that something, but he wasn’t sure how. He came home to Richland Springs and began sharing a daily devotional and scripture with his football team. When he forgot the devotional, the team reminded him. Teaching young people to put God first in their lives became one of Burkhart’s goals, and positive things began to happen for his team.
Today, Burkhart tries to teach the whole person, not just the athlete. His goals include teaching character and improving his own skills as a Christian coach. “We teach our kids to tell the truth and know it’s part of your past, but if you tell a lie, it becomes part of your future,” Burkhart states as he quickly adds that Rick Pitino of the University of Louisville coined the phrase and not him. Burkhart is known to say to his players, “I want to know that you’re going to heaven. I want to know about your salvation. If you died today, would you be a winner and would you know where you were going?”
Burkhart comments he had dreamed of becoming a youth minister, but he also wanted to coach football. Then he realized he could be both through his athletic program.
As Burkhart relates stories about his players and the life problems they face, tears roll down his cheeks. His concern—his love— for young people is obvious. He doesn’t need to say the words. Burkhart believes all teachers must learn to “read” kids and establish a working relationship with them by showing interest and concern for their personal well being.
Perhaps Burkhart is best known for teaching high school students, but recently he has become known for his teaching of adults. Attracting close to 100 coaches yearly, the Richland Springs Six-Man Coaching Clinic began in Burkhart’s head. Now, coaches come for miles to learn not only how to teach defensive and offensive six-man schemes, but also how to teach character to young men and women and how to become Christian coaches. Burkhart also started a “Coaches Outreach Bible Study” which meets once a week and is a program for coaches and their wives. He repeatedly credits his wife for her leadership and for making him a better man. An emotional man, he tears up when he speaks of her and of his son, Haustin. “It’s been remarkable to coach my own son. He doesn’t realize how proud I am of him. It’s something special to coach your own son.”
Coach Burkhart’s son, Haustin, a senior, plays spread back on offense and lineman on defense for the 2009 Richland Springs Coyote Football Team. He glows when he speaks of his love for passing the ball, scoring, and hearing fans screaming for the Coyotes. He fails to mention he can run as fast as lightning, clocking in with a .51 in 400 meters and a low 4.5 in the forty. Young Burkhart has no idea what his personal stats are. He’s too busy trying to save souls and sees himself as somewhat of a failure because he was not able to get every single player (there are 28) to attend church camp. Like his father, this young man is adamant about the role his faith plays in his life. He prays daily and regularly leads his team in prayer.
According to Haustin Burkhart, the 2009 Coyotes will be successful (they are picked # 3 in the state rankings) because “God blessed us with people who want to play. We’re all one, and we’ve played together since Junior High. We all like each other. We have good chemistry.” He doesn’t rule out the training that he and the other players have received, including the nights his father invites him into his study to watch game films for hours at a time. Although his father has helped him to know and understand the game of football, Haustin admits it hasn’t always been easy playing for his father. “It’s harder because he expects more of me.” Then, he quickly adds: “(My father) wasn’t living in a Christian way when I was really young, but now his faith is really strong, and he’s comfortable with it. I’d like to be more like him.”
When pressed, Haustin reveals his secret ritual before a game: He and his dad ride the 10 miles from their home to school together, talk about the upcoming game, and listen to their favorite song, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.”
Both men are not shy about how they feel about football and life. Coach Burkhart: “I’m obsessed with football. I’m obsessed with sharing my faith.” Son, Haustin Burkhart: “(Football) is a passion for me, but the most important thing in my life is leading people to Christ, and I’d rather know that my whole team is going to heaven than to win a state championship.”
Football, Faith, Obsession and Passion equal a Dynamic Duo—the Burkharts.