Just like any college football coach during fall camp, Jeff Sims is trying to get his herd of players all moving in the right direction.
It seems herding Broncbusters is not all that much different than cats.
“It’s up and down,” Sims said of the Busters’ progress through the first week-plus of practice, ahead of the Busters’ Aug. 24 season opener against Ellsworth, Iowa. “Look, I’m dealing with 18- and 19-year-olds. They’re young men who a lot of them are away from home for the first time. There’s a lot of things on their mind other than football.
“One day you get a stellar performance from a young man, and the next day he’s wanting to go home, the next day he loves you, and then the next day he’s breaking up with his girlfriend. There’s a lot of ups and downs, and it’s a matter of working through those things to be ready for Week 1.”
Last year, Sims had the luxury of having a dozen or so returners from the previous season to help lead the way in fall camp. But with nearly the entire offense and defense gone from last season, that leadership is hard to come by.
“We were older last year. We’re a very talented, young team (this year),” Sims said. “There’s a lot of talented, young guys out here, but they don’t even know if I know what I’m talking about.”
Perhaps a returner who red-shirted last season can help relay the message that Sims may have an idea, considering the 2016 NJCAA championship. One of the players who has stepped into a leadership role so far during fall camp is Heston Lemata, the mike linebacker who sat out 2016 after losing his position battle to Alex Figueroa.
“At times, probably Heston Lemata has done the best job of leadership right now,” Sims said of the American Samoa product. “What probably helps Heston is he doesn’t speak English very well, so he has to lead with effort. Because of that, he flies around and he leads with effort and gives a great example.”
Lemata potentially may be one of the starters on a defense tasked with trying to follow perhaps one of the best junior college defenses in history — the 2016 Busters.
“Right now, I’m trying to do my best,” Lemata said. “This is what I love, football. Delshawn (Phillips) from last year, he made me get better to where I am right now. I’m trying to be like them from last year.”
Lemata said he used his red-shirt season trying to learn from Figueroa and the defense that allowed just 9.1 points per game and was repeatedly deemed by opposing coaches the best junior college defense they had ever seen.
The biggest thing Lemata learned is how to prepare to play at a high level.
“Everything we do is game speed,” he said. “We hustle to the ball. Everything we do is game speed. That’s what I try to tell the freshmen.”
There’s that effort that Sims is looking for, which was lacking on Wednesday this week when Sims re-started practice after lackluster beginning in one of the first truly hot days of fall camp.
“They responded horribly,” Sims said of the 90-degree temperatures on Wednesday. “It went from 70 to 72 degrees and we melted like a snowman, so it was horrible.”
That was the down — to be expected.
“There’s a reason you end up at community college over Kansas, Kansas State,” Sims said. “But when you’re in high school, nobody tells you that you have to change. They (players) didn’t lay in bed dreaming about coming to Garden City. They wanted to go to Kansas State, Florida State, but they’re here, so now we’re trying to change their habits so we can be successful.”
Sims hopes that up comes at 7 p.m. on Aug. 24 at Broncbuster Stadium.