The last time Tom Minnick had Snow (Utah) College’s football team across from him, he was watching his Arizona Western squad give up 17 fourth-quarter points in a 31-10 loss.
Now, after taking over at Garden City Community College, Minnick will face Snow in his debut for the Broncbusters, who host the Badgers at 1 p.m. Saturday at Broncbuster Stadium.
“I just got hired here and now I’m playing a good football team Game 1. What did I do scheduling them Week 1?” Minnick said with a laugh earlier this week. “We scheduled somebody really good.”
Saturday’s matchup will be the best matchup — on paper — of Week 1 in the NJCAA, with the Busters entering as the No. 3-ranked team and the Badgers No. 6.
“I’m a competitor,” Minnick said, explaining why he put Snow on the nonconference schedule, even though the Busters already were going to face Butler, Hutchinson, Iowa Western and other potentially high-ranked teams this season. “I’ll play East Mississippi each and every game, just because it’s fun playing them.”
Minnick also wanted to try to fill out Snow’s season schedule. The Badgers were part of the Southwest Junior College Football Conference that is now defunct, after all of the Arizona junior colleges dropped their football programs — including Minnick’s former program, Arizona Western.
That left Snow on the outside as an independent football program — the Badgers have just eight games scheduled this season.
“I was helping them out, because of the fact I don’t want to see them drop football,” Minnick said. “You never want to see schools drop football.”
No good deed …
“They’ll compete really well, and they’re going to give teams problems,” Minnick said.
Snow went 8-3 in 2018, before losing to Iowa Western in a bowl game.
“They know us and we know them,” Minnick said. “They might be a little different with a different defensive coordinator. Offensively, they’re the same. They have the same type of guys. They play hard, and they’re never going to give up. That’s why nobody in this league wants to play them.”
So the test is large for the Busters, who are sophomore-heavy but have a new staff and new faces through the program. But the positive is that Minnick brought his long-time offensive and defensive coordinators — Mike Orthmann and Jerry Dominguez, respectively — with him to Garden City.
“That’s one of our strengths coming into this league,” Minnick said of his coordinators. “And then a couple of former players are coaching, one on the offensive line (Will Harris) and running backs (Jimmy Peyton), so those guys have been around me and they know what I want. I can leave them alone and they can coach.”
That meant the coaches could focus on building the team in the offseason.
“We’re happy about this team,” Minnick said. “We’re a sophomore-dominated team with all the transfers from Arizona Western, transfers here and the transfers from four-year schools.”
One of those transfers is Ali Gaye, the three-star defensive end who is committed to LSU. The Busters did take a hit up front when Demarcus Elliott committed to play at Indiana, however.
“He’s a good football player and a great kid,” Minnick said of Elliott, a Garden City High School graduate. “He’s a great leader and bust his butt in everything he did. I knew as soon as he left, it was gonna hurt us a bit.”
But the defense took a step forward in fall camp toward filling in that gap, with Darius Johnson at nose, Jordon Riley at defensive tackle and Ryan McClain at defensive end. The linebacker core probably has the most experience, with Ryan McClain, Willie Hampton and Krishon Merriweather.
On offense, Nate Cox, a transfer quarterback from Louisiana Tech, will helm the Busters. Jadon Hayes and Ellis Merriweather are in the backfield, and Dominique Watt and Deandre Wallace are on the outside.
Minnick was particularly complimentary of Watt, who returns to Garden City this season after being a receiver on a extremely run-heavy Buster team a year ago.
“I think (Watt) could be one of the best football players in the country,” Minnick said. “He’s probably one of the top two in my 25 years of coaching …
“All they have to do is throw a screen in the national championship game and they win the game because he’ll take it the distance — but they didn’t do it.”
Minnick said getting Watt the ball is a priority this season.
“The good thing is, when you get him the ball, the other guy on the other side is 6-4 and he’s faster than Dom,” Minnick said. “He can fly, too.”
Speed is the biggest advantage the Busters have over Snow, Minnick said.
“Probably any team that plays them has them on speed, but they’re older, they’re more mature,” Minnick said, mentioning that many Mormons play at Snow and they go on missions and then return to Snow to play a couple of years later.
“You’ve got to be ready for them when they come in here,” Minnick said.