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Honoring 1966 Kelly Award recipient Dave Bens at his celebration of life were Burros Mark Gritton. Ernie Bell and Steve Cordle. | Courtesy Photo

Steve Cordle – A study in perseverance

By Bruce Auld
News Review Correspondent

I thought I was done with football.  Then Mark Gritton suggested this article.  It is an example of overcoming self-doubt, recovering from severe play related injuries, enduring rigorous and relentless training and daring to ask for another opportunity to play football.

California State University, Fresno (Fresno State) head coach, Jim Sweeny, allowed Steve Cordle (BHS 1977) to “walk-on” as a defensive back and later said, “Steve Cordle, pound for pound, is the best football player I have ever coached.”

Standing 5’10” and weighing 175 pounds, diminutive for a football defensive back, Steve Cordle was signed in 1982 by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.  In his six weeks with Seattle Seahawks, Steve saw service on the practice field going one-on-one with Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent. Being cut by the Seahawks led to a thirty-five year career as a classroom teacher and championship coach. (Steve Cordle)

Steve was born in Ridgecrest in 1959 and lived on station for eighteen years.  “When I was a junior, I pulled my dad aside and told him I was thinking about quitting football.  We were two games into the season and I wasn’t playing.  Dad hesitated and looked down at me and said, ‘One, you are not quitting and, two, get better.  Work harder and earn your playing time.’”

During the 1975 campaign, Steve, playing strong safety, heeded his Dad’s advice and was one of 70 players.  “With three backs (Mark McDowell, Steve Blanche, and Kenny Charlon) gaining over 1000 yards rushing each, the guys beat everyone in the Golden Leaque except ever troublesome Antelope Valley, then advanced to CIF where they outclassed Nordoff and Gahr before losing to Sonora in the quarter-final game.” (Denny Kline)

Steve, a team captain, suffered a severe hamstring injury during the 1976 campaign and played only in the opening game.  Plagued by numerous injuries, the 1976 Burroughs went 4-4-1. After graduating from Burroughs, he went south to Orange County to play for the Orange County Community College (OCC) “Pirates.”  In his freshman year at OCC, he spent most of the season with athletic trainer Leon Skeie recovering from a broken shoulder and a nagging hamstring injury.  Leon never gave up on Steve and through his expertise and inspiration, Steve saw considerable playing time in the late season.

OCC teammates Mike Musso, a linebacker, and Tim Bienek, the center, were instrumental, maybe brutal, in developing Steve as a high-level football player.  As he got faster and stronger and the injuries subsided.

Walking-on at Fresno State, Steve became “pound-for-pound” a real football player worthy of a NFL try-out.  At Fresno State, Steve was named to the NCAA Division I Mountain West Conference All-Conference Second Team in 1980.  In 1981, Steve was the Sports Illustrated Player of the Week against Oregon, All Mountain West Conference, All West Coast, a Kodak All American and played in the East-West Shiner Game.

Steve earned his BS in Business Administration from Fresno State, his teaching credentials from Point Loma College and a Masters Degree in Computer Education from Fresno Pacific College.  For thirty-five years, Steve taught and coached at the high school level.  At Washington Union High School, Steve was the defensive coordinator in the Cougars 1983 CIF championship season.  As head coach, Steve’s 1992 team were the CIF Valley Champions.  In 1996, Steve moved to Central High School as an assistant coach.  The Bears won the CIF Valley Championship in 2018 and the State Championship in 2019.

“How you administrators got that string of of talent to come to the desert is beyond me. We were lucky to have Coaches Bernhardi, Lillywhite, Higdon, Bens and Vejtasa, all inspirational.  They were great teachers and coaches.  Just as inspirational were teammates, Brian Carle and Kenny Charlon.  Competitive, tough, humble, kind and hard working.  They were big brothers on campus watching over us.  Gentle giants.  In my coaching career, I have learned that those players are invaluable.”  (Steve Cordle)

To my current knowledge, the only two Burros playing post Burroughs football are Brock Mather and cousin Bryce Moore.  Brock will make his Division I debute on September 3 against Dixie State.  Cousin Bryce Moore will compete in his senior season at Missouri Valley.  The first game of the season will be played on August 27 against Peru State College.  Both Brock and Bryce are defensive backs.

Finally, Burroughs stadium boasts two new modern goal posts.  Here are my thoughts on the Burroughs former antiquated “H” style goal posts.  Burroughs stadium was completed in 1959.  When the new, “slingshot” goal posts were available in the late sixties, the Burroughs goal posts were relatively new, thus not replaced.  Equally dangerous were the light posts in the Burroughs stadium, which were just feet from the field of play.  Those were moved from the field to the stands during the most recent campus modernization, yet the “H” goal posts remained, likely the last remaining “H” style goal posts in the nation.

The new goal posts are made possible by the generous donation orchestrated by Hansel Phelps Construction Company, including several additional contractors working on the China Lake earthquake reconstruction projects.  Also donated are team benches and soccer goals.