By Brett Marshall
When Cody Bernbeck played quarterback for the Garden City Buffaloes’ football team his senior season of 2011, little did the 2012 graduate realize what would be in store for him in his teaching and coaching future.
The same held true for Asa Gottsponer, who played on the Buffs’ team and graduated a year after Bernbeck in 2012 as well as for Mitch Moore, a 2013 graduate, who snapped the ball to Bernbeck in the 2011 as the starting sophomore center for the Buffs football team.
Today, not quite a decade later, the three former teammates have found their way back to Garden City High School and are now assistant football coaches on the Buffaloes staff, helping their former head coach and now boss, Brian Hill.
The trio of players – quarterback Bernbeck, center Moore and cornerback/kick returner Gottsponer – is mentoring the current group of Buffaloes at the positions where they excelled and then moved on to play at the college level.
“I remember Mitch and I when we were quarterback and center and how we had a certain relationship because we talked all the time about things to look for,” Bernbeck, now the freshman head coach and varsity quarterback coach, said recently. “We worked on snaps all the time, and we worked on helping each other recognize what defenses were doing and how to block those schemes to better understand what was going on up front.”
Moore, now one of the offensive line coaches, said the return to GCHS has been an incredible experience. When he returned to Garden City upon graduation from Missouri Southern, he had yet to find a full-time teaching position. Now, he’s teaching physical education at Bernadine Sitts.
“Cody and I would talk about all the little things that need to be done right,” Moore said when discussing subjects with the current crop of Buffalo players. “Little things matter. You need to step in the right direction, and six or 11 inches can make the difference. Little problems turn into big problems when you don’t things the correct way. If you do the little things right first, your technique will not be poor and you won’t get embarrassed out there.”
Gottsponer, for his part, is the defensive whiz of the three, and says it has been quite a ride to be reunited with his former teammates as they move into the career world of teaching and coaching.
“Things really haven’t changed here with the program,” Gottsponer said. “The program is getting better the longer we have young kids coming up through the youth programs. That’s how you build a successful program, from the ground floor.”
Gottsponer played college football at Dodge City Community College before moving on to the University of Kansas where he earned his degree in health and physical education. Bernbeck’s career trajectory started with a year of football at Butler Community College before returning to Garden City Community College to play basketball for one season. It was then off to Wichita State University to complete his education degree in Pre-K through 12 in physical education and health.
Bernbeck and Gottsponer spent one year teaching and coaching in Lakin before accepting positions in USD 457. Gottsponer now teaches at Kenneth Henderson Middle School.
“I think we all know each so well, that it just makes our coaching that much easier,” Gottsponer said. “We trust each other and we know how the others think. We challenge each other with ideas when we need to, but the biggest thing is we communicate so well together and with the rest of the staff.”
Moore confirmed that the friendships developed during their high school days have carried on to their current positions of teachers and coaches.
“We’re genuinely friends, and I think we can be honest with each other and not be afraid to tell somebody when they have a bad idea or we need to do something different,” Moore said. “It’s fun to see these guys every day. I didn’t know I was going to coach when I first got out of school, but now you’ve just got to run with this.”
Bernbeck said it seems hard to imagine that the trio is now in their third season working together on the GCHS staff.
“In the summer of 2017, Asa and I knew we were probably going to be coaching together,” Bernbeck said. “Then we found out later that summer about Mitch. It’s amazing how it has worked out, to be reunited as our paths have crossed again in our lives.”
For Hill, bringing back former players to now coach on his staff is something he had wanted from the time he was hired in 2010 to lead the Buffs’ program.
“First and foremost, they’re great young men,” Hill said of his three protégés. “I’ve told all of my kids that I’d love to give kids opportunities to teach and coach in their hometown. It’s a cool thing. It’s a connection to the past, connect the dots to the teams of earlier years.
“They can talk about where the program was when we took over. They can do a good job of talking to the young kids to explain what I’m looking for.”
The fact that all three were teammates is not lost on Hill.
“They worked out, played together. There’s that natural bond and do such a good job of communicating,” Hill said. “For them to be coaching at their alma mater and have their alma mater do well. This was always going to be their program and I wanted them to look back on it as being the building blocks to what we’re doing here.”
Each of the three also proved their worth when they donned the Buffalo uniform – all were starters, from a single season to three-year starters.
“I had Cody for one, Asa for two and Mitch for three,” Hill said. “All went on to play college football for higher levels. That fact gives them credibility with our young kids as well.”