There’s one massive NFL-lineman sized difference between last year’s Garden City Community College football team and the one that opened fall camp this week in preparation for the 2017 season.
That’s the hole left by former All-American defensive lineman Jeremy Faulk, who is still in the middle of trying out for the New York Jets in the NFL. His absence is felt a whole lot more by the offensive lineman who don’t have to face him anymore in practice.
“I feel like it’s easier this year because I went against Jeremy Faulk all last year,” returning center Stuart Davis said, with a laugh. “He was an animal.”
Of course, Faulk was not the only player who contributed to the 2016 NJCAA title and then left for something bigger, but that does not mean the 2017 Busters are lacking for talent.
“It’s a lot of competition,” Davis said of the athletes head coach Jeff Sims and staff recruited to Garden City for fall camp. “We’ve got 22 O-linemen. We started off the spring with like eight — maybe. We were going both ways, so it’s a lot of competition.”
Much of that added competition is the new roster guidelines, which allow Jayhawk Conference schools 85 active roster spots, up from 63 previously allowed, and no out-of-state player limit, so no guaranteed spots on the team for anybody.
Add in that the Busters are attempting to defend their first NJCAA championship in program history, and that dreaded “P-word” is going to come up.
“It’s a lot of pressure, definitely a lot of pressure,” Stuart said. “But I think we’re going to live up to it.”
Before doing that, though, the Busters need to learn the basics. With about 130 players practicing this week, Sims splits the day’s practice into two groups. The first approximately 65 guys practice for about one-and-a-half hours, and then the next 65 hit the gridiron for the other 90 minutes.
“There are some guys that are doing well, and there are guys here that need to learn how to play college football,” Sims said after the completion of the first practice that included true football activities. “That’s not a putdown. It’s just, half our team are freshmen. They’re going from high school to college. They have to learn college football, they have to learn college tempo, and so we are moving in the right direction, and we’re doing our work.”
Some of that work is the basics.
For one drill, Sims lined up his wide receivers in a line and held a football down at the end of the line. He simulated snap counts and snapping the ball, and the wide receivers were supposed to remain unflinching on the verbal commands and then get off the line on the snap of the ball.
Sims pushed them over and over again, trying to get them to jump, and several did, prompting some up-downs.
“They know to look at the ball (for the snap), but what they don’t know, what happens is things are coming at them so fast that they forget to look at the ball,” Sims said. “That’s not something they have to think about (usually), but they’re getting so many things thrown at them.
“We’re putting pressure on them so they don’t forget the little things, and those fundamentals are there, so they can perform on the big things.”
In other drills, coaches were teaching players how to huddle correctly, how to call out the defensive “Mike” for the offensive line and how to run a route, catch a ball and turn upfield quickly — fundamentals.
The Busters are just 22 days from opening their season at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 against Ellsworth, Iowa.
“I remember when we first started 20 years ago, it was 29 or 31 (practices before the first game),” Sims said. “We used to think 29 was the right number you had to get in practice-wise. And right now, we’re down to 24 (days), and there’s three acclimation days. I understand why we’re doing it, but we have to get these guys to learn.”
The Wright stuff
GCCC assistant Dan McKinney resigned from his position as receivers coach late last week to deal with a family matter, Sims said, Wednesday. In his spot, the Busters have hired Leon Wright, a former All-ACC cornerback at Duke from 2006 to 2009.
“There’s nothing negative about Dan. He had some family issue he needed to take care of,” Sims said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, things happen in life … We’re fired up about and lucky we were able to hire Leon Wright of LSU. He coached at Princeton and Duke, and he’s a smart guy doing a lot of great work.”