Garden City Community College has a brand new head coach, with a brand new coaching staff — outside of one returner — and a brand new administration.
No matter. The expectation is still to compete for a national football championship.
The Broncbusters, under first-year head coach Tom Minnick, were picked third in the preseason NJCAA poll, receiving one first-place vote. East Mississippi topped the listed at No. 1 — fresh off back-to-back NJCAA championships, the latest coming over Garden City in 2018 — and Iowa Western is No. 2.
“It’s the same thing,” Minnick said of the high expectations, referencing the expectations he had for his program at Arizona Western during his 11-year stint there, prior to coming to Garden City this year. “I’ve been to three national championships in the last seven years. In the last three years, (Garden City has) been to two and the same with (Arizona Western). We just rotated teams — Garden City, East Mississippi and Arizona Western. It doesn’t bother me.”
Now, will those expectations, and the pressure of opening the season at home versus a perennially tough team in Snow College (Utah), bother his team?
“It’s my first game here, it’s a lot of (the players’) first game game here,” Minnick said. “Are they going to fold? Because you just never know with 18-, 19-year-olds.”
The Busters host No. 6 Snow at 1 p.m. Saturday at Broncbuster Stadium.
Minnick and his staff — which includes two of his long-time assistants, offensive coordinator Mike Orthmann and defensive coordinator, Jerry Dominguez — worked through fall camp to make sure the Busters are ready for Game 1.
And step one of that plan was getting a fractured team to gel. Minnick replaced Jeff Sims, who is now coaching at Missouri Southern State University, just as the Arizona junior college league was falling apart. Arizona Western announced shortly after Minnick’s departure that the school would be shuttering its football program.
That left a lot of Minnick’s former players up for grabs, and he brought a sizeable chunk of those players with him to Garden City. Then there were the Garden City returners from a 2018 national runners-up campaign. Then, there are transfers from other two-year colleges and transfers from four-year colleges. And finally, there is a group of freshmen brand new to college football.
The easiest part likely was maintaining the expectations for the players who came with Minnick from Arizona Western, since they already knew his program — it was just a matter of change in location, Minnick said.
“We had to get the guys who were here and the transfer kids on board with how we do things compared with how they did things last year,” Minnick said. “Once that was done, they bought in because it’s different, but they saw why we do things and why they shouldn’t be doing things the way they were doing it.”
Minnick also said that leaders have emerged from the returning Garden City players and the transfers from elsewhere, as well.
“They could have thrown in the towel and said, ‘I’m going someplace else,’ but they stuck in there, so they should be commended for that,” Minnick said.
“You want some leadership to come forth, and I think we’ve got a lot of it. We’ve got a lot of sophomores, and are they all leaders? No. But there are some who have stepped up and taken on that role.”
After getting the team to gel, competitions for starting spots were able to heat up, and Minnick said all but a few starting spots were decided going into Monday’s practice this week.
“We’re happy about this team,” he said. “We’re a sophomore-dominated team with all the transfers from Arizona Western, transfers here and transfers from four-year schools. We’ll have a chance to be pretty good, and that’s all you want is a chance. I know there are some good teams in this league and we’ll compete with them and stay in games.”
But their first big test is non-conference opponent Snow, which finished 8-3 in 2018 and took No. 3 Iowa Western to the brink in a 19-17 loss in The Graphic Edge Bowl Feature Game. The Busters are ready for the challenge.
“I think the kids are just ready to hit somebody different,” Minnick said Sunday, after the final day of fall camp. “I think they’re ready. We’ve still got a long week of practice in front of us to get ready for Snow.”