The first time I witnessed a Richland Springs football game I wasn’t working at the Bulletin yet, not did I have any clue where Richland Springs was even located.

The year was 2003 and my dad and I had developed a tradition where — when I was able with my work schedule — we’d catch any sort of football playoff game we could that was reasonably close. At the time I was working in Waco which, as most of you know, is not much of a drive from Gatesville.

It just so happened, a six-man state quarterfinal game between Richland Springs and Calvert was on the only game within what we felt was reasonable driving distance that fateful, so off we went to Gatesville.

While this wasn’t our first six-man game, it was clearly a six-man contest the likes of no other we’d seen before. Growing up about halfway between Interstates 35 and 45, that brand of six-man football isn’t quite in the same league as what’s played further west. 

And in watching Richland Springs defeat Calvert, 48-26, that night, my dad and I discovered something else we hadn’t realize about six-man football to that point — they DO actually play some defense.

The architect behind that smothering defense, the team and the dynasty that soon followed, was head coach Jerry Burkhart. 

On Thursday, Burkhart announced that after six state championships, a 135-5 record and a 45-game win streak that the Coyotes will carry into the 2013 season opener, it was time to move on from Richland Springs. Burkhart has accepted the head football coach position at Gordon High School.

Burkhart, along with May head coach Craig Steele, were the only holdovers left from my first football season at the Bulletin back in 2004. Coaching changes occur all the time and nothing should surprise me, but I was floored by Burkhart’s announcement — particularly considering the dynasty that has been built in the tiny town just 30 minutes south of Brownwood.

I don’t know Coach Burkhart as well as I do some of the coaches in the area, but he was always appreciative of any coverage we could provide. He was always willing to be the subject of an interview, or set up any interviews I was working on as we attempted to give the Coyotes as much as coverage as we could — which in retrospect probably wasn’t enough reflecting on their gargantuan accomplishments.

When I witnessed my first Richland Springs game back in 2003, I couldn’t have told you who the coach of the Coyotes was or would I have known the man if he walked into my living room. A decade later, Jerry Burkhart is a household name to anyone who follows six-man football.

Truth be told, I liked six-man football back then. Having the opportunity to cover Richland Springs periodically over the last nine seasons, I’ve grown to love it. Aside from the Brownwood Lions, there’s no team I’ve seen play more games. With all due respect to all the other schools in our coverage area, there’s six-man football — and then there’s the Richland Springs Coyotes. And with a state record six state championships in nine seasons, the Coyotes have the hardware to back it up.

Winning one state championship at the 5A level with hundreds of male athletes comprising the program is considering a career highlight for most coaches. But to leave a program with more state championships than losses on your resumé — especially when you’ve had anywhere from a grand total of one to two dozen boys in your program on a yearly basis — that’s a staggering achievement for which there are no words.

Burkhart credits God, his coaching staff, the administration, the school board and especially his players for the success of the program — and the Coyotes have had some memorable players. From Tyler Ethridge — who rewrote every offensive record imaginable — to Denim Reeves to Chance Bush, Richland Springs has dominated the six-man football all-state teams and player of the year awards for the last decade.

Still, success cannot be achieved without someone a leader pushing forward in, ultimately, the right direction. What Burkhart accomplished in Richland Springs in a decade of dominance will likely be never duplicated — especially at the six-man level.

Burkhart feels he is leaving the program in good hands with new athletic director Shawn Rogers, who has been an assistant at Richland Springs the past eight seasons. 

The Coyotes will likely head into this football season ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls again and could very well become the first-ever team to fourpeat in six-man football history. Burkhart, as well as all Coyote fans, hope that dream becomes a reality. But if, or perhaps I should way when, it is — at least for me — it will have a little different feel to it.

Best of luck Coach Burkhart in your future endeavors, and best of luck to the Coyotes in your never-ending quest to build on the most impressive legacy in Texas six-man football history.

 Derrick Stuckly is the editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sundays. He may be reached by e-mail at derrick.stuckly@brownwoodbulletin.com.