Mulvane quarterback Gus Strunk doesn't talk like a high school senior. He sounds more like an assistant coach when he breaks down what the Wildcats do well, what they need to improve on and his strong relationships with teammates.
"You have to understand kids," he said. "They respond to different things. If you're going to be a leader, you have to know which kids respond to what — if a kid needs a pat on the back or a kid needs to be yelled at to perform. You do that, and you lead by example. That's how you get them all to believe in you."
But even the poised Strunk had a moment where he was a high school kid again when asked how Mulvane (6-4) will handle playing host to Topeka Hayden (9-1) in the second-round of the Class 4A playoffs at 7 on Saturday night.
"No, no, we ain't going to roll over," Strunk said emphatically. "We've already played what was the then-ranked No. 1 team this season when we played Andale. We didn't back down to them.... That No. 1 ranking, that don't really mean a lot to us. I understand they're a good team, but so are we and we'll try to prove it."
Such a heated, passionate response is exactly why Strunk's teammates follow him.
"He has that right attitude and that competitive edge that help him be a good leader," offensive lineman Zach Burkhart said.
"He is the type of kid, that when I played — a long time ago — he's who I would want to play for," Mulvane coach Dave Fennewald said. "It's his competitive nature, how he always believes in his teammates, constantly encouraging them, trying to get them to play at the next level. With Gus back there, he has faith in them, he will try to find a way to win a football game, and he has the athletic ability to make a difference."
Strunk certainly has the ability to force not only his teammates but opponents to take notice.
He runs an explosive offense that has scored 358 points and has 1,899 passing yards and 472 rushing. He's completed 60 percent of his passes and thrown 22 touchdowns.
The ability to score is key for Mulvane, which has given up 322 points, including 40 or more in the Wildcats' losses.
Strunk credits the offensive line — including Burkhart, a 6-foot-4, 285 pound center — with giving him time to make a play. If he's got time, he can find receivers Jordan Springer (627 receiving yards), Brandon Ward (512) or Ty Redington (516).
"Our offensive line, the last couple games, (the defense) can't get to me," Strunk said. "And it's hard to stop an offense that goes four wide."