Growing up in two rural communities in northern Whatcom County, Simon Burkett and Casey Bauman have shared the playing field too many times to count – football, baseball ... you name it.
But it wasn’t until they were both starting quarterbacks their sophomore years in high school – Bauman at Nooksack Valley and Burkett at Meridian – that they actually got a chance to speak to each other.
It would be nearly another year and a half before the duo actually started to get to know each other. Bauman said he learned Burkett has “great taste in music,” while Burkett learned that Bauman liked to have fun off the field, though he can get “a little heated” on it.
While the rest of us were shoveling out following last February’s winter storms, two of the more talented quarterbacks Whatcom County has ever produced began carpooling to Seattle to hone their craft with Jake Heaps and a number of other former college and pro quarterbacks.
They continued carpooling into May and over the summer, when the duo went to regional passing camps, including the Northwest 9 in late July and early August in Kirkland, where they were rated the second- and third-best high school senior QBs in the region.
It was during those hours in the car, training and rooming together that Bauman and Burkett realized they shared much more than a love of playing quarterback on Friday nights and apparently the same taste in music. They started to form a friendship that would transcend Pioneer purple and white and Trojan black and gold.
“He’s a great person,” Bauman said of Burkett. “We’re good friends, and we like to talk and text all the time. I have nothing bad to say about him or the school he goes to, and he has nothing bad to say about me and the school I go to.”
I played a little defense as a junior, and there was this one time he tried to hurdle me. I’m pretty tall, so that didn’t go too well for him. I did intercept him once, too, so that was pretty cool.
Nooksack Valley quarterback Casey Bauman on facing Meridian quarterback Simon Burkett
Added Burkett, “It’s been great working with a guy like Casey. He pushes me to be better on the field, and off it we can kick back, relax and build a friendship.”
The friends will find themselves on opposite sidelines Friday at Meridian – and again in three weeks at Nooksack Valley – when the third-ranked Pioneers face the fifth-ranked Trojans in a 1A Northwest Conference battle.
“On the field, I always want to beat Simon,” Bauman said, “but off it, I’ll always be rooting for him.”
Success through different methods
Just because Bauman and Burkett grew up in the same area and play the same position doesn’t mean they’re mirror images of each other.
In fact, if you get them next to each other, you’ll immediately notice the difference in Bauman’s 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame and Burkett’s 6-2, 163-pound build.
“Casey’s been a full-grown man since he stepped on the field as a sophomore,” Lynden Christian coach Dan Kaemingk said. “He’s the picture of what you see when you close your eyes and think of a quarterback.”
Tall and strong, Bauman’s also got a howitzer attached to his right shoulder – “He throws a great ball,” Nooksack coach Robb Myhre said.
Though he also has a strong arm, Burkett is better known for his his accuracy under pressure and his ability to avoid it.
“It’s hard enough to get close to him,” Kaemingk said, “and when you do, he’s still going to make you pay.”
Burkett also “makes good decisions and is fundamentally sound,” according to Meridian coach Bob Ames, and he’s extremely effective running the ball.
They each bring some different aspects to the table.
Nooksack Valley coach Robb Myhre
“I’m bigger, but he can make all the moves,” Bauman said. “He’s so fast, and for him to throw the ball the way he can and run the ball, it’s pretty crazy. He’s a special player.”
Many opponents have said the same about Bauman.
“He doesn’t run like a deer like Simon, but he’ll run with power,” Myhre said. “Once he brings that ball down and decides to run, he’s hard to bring down. I’m a fan of watching Casey play. I’m a fan of watching Simon play – I’m just not a fan of watching Simon play us.”
Finding common ground
As different as their styles are, Burkett and Bauman have gone through many of the same growing pains.
But that’s to be expected with both claiming starting roles so early in their high school careers.
“He was a little string bean when he came to us,” Ames said of Burkett. “But as a freshman, right away, we knew he was going to be special. Getting hurt set back his development a little, but he learned a lot from the experienced guys we had.”
Bauman, also has had to grow on the job, Myhre said, as the Pioneers did not have much experience to put on the offensive line in front of him.
“He ended up taking a lot of sacks, so he started to bring the ball down quickly,” Myhre said. “As a junior, he started to improve, and this year he’s even better. This year I’ve seen him make several plays where he’d start to scramble, but rather than lock the ball down and get up the field, he kept his eyes open and found an open receiver.”
It’s pretty rare that you have two quarterbacks of that quality playing against each other, especially at smaller schools like Nooksack and Meridian.
Meridian coach Bob Ames
Bauman and Burkett said being able to share those experiences and how they look at the game with each other has helped helped each improve.
“Being with someone that’s like you and has a football mind like you, it’s a lot of fun to pick their brain and just talk football,” Bauman said. “It makes you look at things from a different perspective. He tells you how he approaches different things on the field, and it gives you a different way to look at things.”
Building bonds that last
It wasn’t long, Burkett and Bauman said, before they found they connected beyond football and began building a lasting friendship.
They found they had similar personalities and liked to have fun away from the game. On the field, they shared similar leadership qualities.
“It makes you realize there are some pretty cool people out there,” Bauman said. “We’re good friends. We can talk about anything, and we do. If one of us couldn’t play football anymore, we’d still be good friends. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know him and spending time together.”
And this isn’t a friendship that’s likely to fade away next year after their high school playing careers end.
They know they’ll be seeing each other at least once a year for the next four years, as each has already committed to play football for a Big Sky Conference school – Bauman for Montana State and Burkett for Eastern Washington.
“I was excited when he committed,” Bauman said. “I was already committed to Montana State – it was so awesome. I was so happy for him. Playing in the same conference for the next four years and both of us from small Whatcom County schools, that’s pretty special.”
Burkett echoed those comments, saying, “Even if I weren’t going on to play, I’d be happy for him. I’m sure he’d feel the same way if he wasn’t moving on.”
Before they become Bobcats and Eagles next year, there’s still plenty to be played for this year.
Last fall the Pioneers and Trojans split their regular-season meetings before Meridian eliminated Nooksack Valley in a tie-breaker. Bauman and Burkett ended up sharing co-Player of the Year honors in the 1A NWC.
This year figures to be even better.
“It think they’ll be the biggest games in league play for us,” Burkett said. “I’m sure it will be real competitive environment out there.”
We’re different types of quarterbacks, but we learned a little bit about game from each other. You see our stats, and they’re almost exactly the same, which is funny.
Meridian quarterback Simon Burkett
Bauman added, “Every game we play is very important this year. We just want to play our game and do the best we can. I’m not over hyping playing anybody.”
Excuse the rest of the county if it enjoys this one just a little bit – it’s not very often you get to see two NCAA Division I-caliber quarterbacks go up against each other on a high school field, especially at schools as small as Meridian and Nooksack Valley.
“Simon and Casey have been competing against each other since they were little kids,” Ames said. “It’s cool to see them ... traveling with each other and getting to know each other. They’re good friends, and it’s going to be fun watching them compete against each other the next couple of weeks.”