HARRISONVILLE, Mo. – Driving south along U.S. Highway 71 it's easy to miss Harrisonville, but those that stop to appreciate that town quickly find out there is more than meets the eye. The town is rich with civil war history, but it is history that's being written by the Wildcat football program that has people in this community of 13,000 people outside of Kansas City buzzing.
The man in charge of re-writing the record books is coach Fred Bouchard, but he also has a lot of help from Kansas State defensive line commitment Zach Kendall and budding junior Michael Keck.
The school recently built a brand new stadium with a Field Turf surface and signs can been seen all over town promoting Wildcat football. Kendall, who committed early to Kansas State over offers from Arkansas, Colorado State, Kansas, Ball State and Tulsa, said it's hard to explain to outsiders what it's like to play at Harrisonville.
"I just can't say it's from the stadium," Kendall said. "My freshman year we didn't have the field or the stadium and we were using the junior high lockers, but still the people came out to support us. People would be standing in the back of the stands because it was so full and it looked like a parking lot up and down the street.
"We have a great community, and when we're not even playing games people will come up and saying positive things to us. I see people all the time in Wal-Mart and they come up and tell me about how great we played last week and how excited they are about the next game.
"It's really special down here."
Bouchard said a big reason things have been special the past few years for the Wildcats has been the play of Kendall.
Kendall, who is 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, plays defensive end for Harrisonville, but most likely will shift to defensive tackle or offensive guard in college.
"Zach is a great player for us," Bouchard said. "He's a really hard worker that has long arms and an even better body. You're not going to find too many guys built like him that are ready to step on the field and play pretty quickly in college football.
"Zach is one of those guys. I think he can contribute quickly on the next level."
Kendall agrees with his coach that his frame is something that stand out above the crowd, but he also pointed out that he gets pushed every single day in practice by his teammates – including a pair of 6-foot-5 offensive linemen that also have some mass on them.
"I'm a pretty big guy," Kendall said. "I run 4.7, 4.8, so I have some pretty good speed. I have really long arms, and that's one of the things the coaches really noticed about me. I also go up against the best offensive line in the state.
"Jason Wiseman really pushes me. I've played varsity for three years and I can truly tell you the games are easier than practices because I don't have to go up against guys like Jason. He's a big reason why I'm where I am today."
And where he will be at after next year is at K-State.
"Bill Snyder is an awesome head coach," Kendall said.
"Last year, I think was a fluke. They went to 11 straight bowl games before that, and they have a great coaching staff. Joe Bob Clements was my recruiting coach, and he's a great guy. I actually went up there to a practice the other day during three-a-days and watched him coach. They all know what they're talking about."
In the end, Kendall said despite the offers from other programs he felt like he belonged at K-State.
"It just felt like the best fit," he said. "I got the right vibe from everybody, and the coaches won me over. Bill Snyder was also the only coach that stressed academics first with me. When I talked to him, he made it clear that I'd be a student athlete, and he told me about the president of the university and how he knows everybody on the team by their first name."
Kendall is currently ranked as the No. 15 player in the state of Missouri and a two-star player. But watching him in practice on Tuesday and viewing game and highlight footage from his junior season it's easy to project him higher than some of the top 10 players in the state and as a solid three-star prospect.
But he's not the only Division I prospect on his team.
Junior weakside defensive end/outside linebacker Michael Keck earned all-state honors last season and could be even more heavily recruited than Kendall was.
"We timed him electronically at 4.63 seconds in the 40," Bouchard said. "That's trucking for a big kid that's 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. He's been timed hand-held in the 4.43, 4.45 range. He started for me when I was a freshman and he's No. 10 in our class. This kid is something special."
Indeed he is. Based upon sophomore film evaluation and Tuesday's practice session, Keck will be one of the top recruits in Missouri next season. His frame is still somewhat thin, but he does have the building blocks there to easily add good weight and keep his speed.
"Coach Clements at K-State told us that they'd offer Michael the earliest that they can, and I've already had a good visit with coach (Gary) Pinkel at Missouri about him," Bouchard said.
"Zach is a great player for us, and he'll be a great player in college, but Michael has a different speed and nose for the football than anybody else out there. He's a big kid that runs really well."