Football season opens soon; Jayhawk teams are ready
By TONY JIMENEZ
Special to The Telegram
It shouldn't have been all that surprising if 500 or so football players from around the Jayhawk Community College Conference had a little more bounce in their step on the morning of Aug. 3.
At eight small towns across the state — from Highland in the northeast to Fort Scott in the east to Garden City in the west and at five other sites in between — two-year school teams opened pre-season practices and are now at the halfway point. The season opens Aug. 24.
Freshmen nerves were a bit more on edge. Sophomores had a been-there, done-that attitude, each aware how their status as a second-year player meant more was expected. And coaches? Color them cautiously optimistic. On Tuesday, four schools got a nice shot in the arm when the National JC Athletic Association released its pre-season poll. The Top 20 rankings included No. 5 Butler, No. 6 Hutchinson, No. 12 Coffeyville and No. 17 Garden City. Hutchinson and Butler followers can break out the magic markers and circle Oct. 26 on their calendars because that's when the powerhouses meet — in El Dorado on the final Saturday of regular season play.
Since 1998, Butler has won 21 games in a row over Hutchinson, winning twice last season (40-7 in regular season play and 26-16 in the Region VI championship game). On paper, Hutchinson seems to have the personnel to snap that streak. The Blue Dragons have eight returning starters (three on offense and five on defense) while Butler has three total. Hutchinson is coming off a second place finish in the Jayhawk Conference, having advanced to the Region VI championship game for the third consecutive time and won a fourth straight Salt City Bowl in 2012. "Our team is a tight knit unit," said Hutchinson Coach Rion Rhoades. "They have developed good chemistry quickly. Our (pre-season) camp has been very competitive, which is making everyone better."
Butler, however, has been the king of the Kansas hill for what seems like an eternity. Last season, the Grizzlies won conference and region titles and played in the NJCAA championship game, falling to Iowa Western (27-7). "But," said Troy Morrell, who enters his 14th season as head coach, "we are not as far along as years in the past due to so many new faces. We are inconsistent right now. We need to learn how to execute play after play. We have very inexperienced players who have not had live game reps in college football.¬ "
(Last season's record and pre-season updates)
1. Butler (11-1) . . . Make no mistake, there has been and will be a lot of teaching done on the practice field in August. Butler has been low on experience in several years past but it has responded and played well when it counted most — in games.
2. Hutchinson (9-3). . . Coach Rion Rhoades has been working with his players to clean up individual assignments and to improve execution in all three phases of the game. The Blue Dragons are poised for a big season. The big question is, "How big?"
3. Coffeyville (6-4) . . . Sophomores have stepped up and there is more size, speed and depth on the field, which has made for some spirited Red Ravens' workouts. Team chemistry has been good but Coach Aaron Flores is striving for more consistency.
4. Garden City (7-4) . . . Workouts have gone well, players buying into first-year Coach Matt Miller's system. There is lots of talent and leadership at hand. Getting constant attention? Team chemistry, with new players at new positions learning new schemes/ techniques.
5. Fort Scott (4-5) . . . If things continue at the same pace, the Greyhounds should be more competitive and much hungrier with a very good mix of out-of-state and in-state players. Battles between the offense and defense have been something to write home about.
6. Dodge City (0-9) . . . In the dog days of camp, the intensity has started to wane some, but players are chomping at the bit for a starting spot and the roster is taking shape. Players are starting to understand their roles on the team under first-year Coach Gary Thomas.
7. Highland (2-7) . . . Collectively, the Scotties have had a good attitude, better leadership, more accountability and been punctual — attributes they didn't have a year ago. Expect this team to be improved in many ways in year two of Coach Ryan Held's era.
8. Independence (4-5). . . The Pirates, who are coming together slowly, have a long way to go with the season so close. That on the heels of a sub .500 campaign in 2012. There are six returning starters and that experience is a big plus now and will be in games.