WICHITA — Every year at the Jayhawk Conference football media day, head coaches discuss the strength of the league and the rest of the teams.
Every year — like every coach in every conference in the country — the coaches say the Jayhawk is the best conference in the nation and every team can beat every other team on any given Saturday.
Almost every year, they are mostly bending the truth, if not outright creating "fake news." That may not be the case this season, as the coaches once again boasted about the Jayhawk Conference on Friday’s media day on the campus of Newman University in Wichita.
The league boasts the defending national champion Garden City Community College Broncbusters, of course, and six of the top 22 teams in the final 2016 NJCAA rankings. And that left out recent conference heavyweight Hutchinson.
And the eighth team, Fort Scott, will have first-year head coach Kale Pick, the former Dodge City High School standout and KU quarterback, at the helm. Pick also spent the 2015 high school season on Garden City High School's staff as a quarterback coach.
“The league is incredible,” GCCC head coach Jeff Sims said, just after it was announced his Busters were the conference coaches preseason No. 1 team in the Jayhawk. It was the first time the Busters garnered the honor since 2001.
It was not too long ago Garden City, Dodge City and Independence were more likely to be the final three teams in the preseason poll than in the top three like they are this season. Garden City is No. 1, then Dodge City and Independence, respectively, followed by Hutchinson in fourth, Butler fifth, Highland, Coffeyville and Fort Scott at the bottom.
Just three seasons ago, the Pirates of Independence were winless, and went 4-25 from 2013 to 2015. Then, Jason Brown — who briefly served as GCCC’s offensive coordinator under Sims — took over the program last season and after a 1-4 start, the Pirates won their last four games, with wins over Highland, Hutchinson, Butler and Coffeyville.
The Pirates are no longer the team other coaches were fibbing about, calling them competitive when they were the conference doormat in recent years. As evidenced by their ranking of third in the poll, the coaches expect the previously moribund Pirates to be great.
Add in the fact that most, if not all of the coaches, expect each team to be more talented and have more depth than perhaps any season in recent history, and the Jayhawk Conference race appears that it will be an entertaining one.
That progression is due to the change in the Jayhawk Conference roster rules made in the offseason, the coaches said. Gone is the 20 out-of-state player limit, and the active roster limit was raised from 63 to 85.
“The size, the speed, the depth, those are the main differences,” Coffeyville head coach Aaron Flores said of what he expects to improve. “Hopefully, one or two injuries is not going to end your season.”
That pretty much covers it.
“I hope people outside of our conference really understand what they’re watching when they’re watching our football games,” Highland coach Aaron Arnold said. “We will have guys on our roster who are twos and threes on our depth chart who could be playing in the Big 12.”
For the fourth consecutive season, Arnold’s Scotties were picked in the bottom half of the conference at the outset, despite Highland finishing in the top half of the conference in each of the previous four seasons.
“We're picked again in the bottom half of the conference despite finishing in the top half again,” Arnold said during his time at the podium of the press conference. “Hopefully, we can prove everybody wrong once again and continue to gain some respect.”
For his part, Sims downplayed the Busters’ top ranking.
“There’s no way at this point of the season we’re the No. 1 team in the conference,” he said. “Knowing where my team is at, and hearing what you guys (other seven teams) have returning, we’re not there, yet. But, we don’t play all seven of you guys to open the season, either.”
The Busters and much of the rest of the Jayhawk Conference begin training camp on Tuesday, with GCCC opening the regular season on Aug. 24, when Ellsworth, Iowa, visits Broncbuster Stadium.