Thunder Ridge football has only been around for 11 seasons. Back in 2008 when Kensington and Eastern Heights consolidated to create the new district, the football team enjoyed almost immediate success. In the first seven seasons of play, the Longhorns went 58-16 with two state championship game appearances and the 8-Man DII title in 2011.
However, anybody that has played high school football for the current version of the Longhorns has not tasted that kind of success until this past season. For three seasons from 2015-2017, the Longhorns compiled a record of just 3-23. After the struggles, Joel Struckhoff, who was one of many leaders on the state championship squad and the all-time leading rusher in Kansas 8-Man History, took over the program and the culture seemed to change immediately. The Longhorns went from winning three games in three seasons to winning five games in 2018.
Part of the group that will always be known for laying the foundation the second time around are 8-Man All-Stars Brandon Grauerholz and Landon Gering.
Grauerholz saw tremendous improvement in the new system as he was used as a weapon in multiple facets of the game as he tallied 1,653 all-purpose yards in his final season, with 874 yards and 10 TD on the ground and 412 yards and 6 TD receiving. He also had a stellar year on the defensive side of the ball with 66 tackles and 6 INT. For his efforts, he was an honorable mention All-State back and was also a 1st Team All-District RB & DB. Grauerholz discussed what the change at the top meant for his success.
Gering also saw improvement in his senior season. Although he was used primarily as a blocker at tight end, he did have three touchdown catches in 2018. On defense, he registered 49 tackles with a team high eight sacks and two fumble recoveries. He was an honorable mention All-State pick this past season and also 1st Team All-District TE and DL. Gering is the second member of his family to play in the 8-Man All-Star Game, as his brother Jordan played in the game in 2016. Landon also discussed leadership and what it meant to be a part of the success in 2018.
Grauerholz and Gering will both be playing for the DII West All-Stars this Saturday in the 34th Annual 8-Man All-Star Games at Trojan Field in Beloit. The DII game begins at 10:00. Fans are encouraged to attend the games, but if you can’t make it, listen to the DII game on KD Country 94 and www.8manallstars.com this Saturday with pregame coverage beginning at 9:30 a.m.