You've heard the saying, ‘It's hard to tell the players without a program.' This year in Coffeyville, you might have a hard time even finding the program.

To say there have been some changes made in Coffeyville is like saying Ben and Jerry like ice cream.

A new, state-of-the-art stadium will welcome the Red Ravens when they open the 2001 season Saturday against NEO. Once Red Raven fans make the switch from Ise Athletic Field to 8,000-seat Veterans Memorial Stadium, they'll look to the field and for the first time in 27 years, they won't see a Foster patrolling the sidelines.

Between Dick Foster, who coached the Red Ravens from 1975-88, and his son Skip, who took over in 1989 and ran the Ravens until he resigned after last season, Coffeyville went a combined 209-62-4, winning two national championships and 11 conference championships. The Ravens also went to 17 bowl games in the Fosters' tenure.

That means that new Red Raven coach Jeff Leiker will have some big shoes to fill.

"Jeff is very, very happy to be back in southeast Kansas," said Red Raven linebackers' coach Sean Cherico. "He's from Independence, he played ball at Independence Community College. He coached out at Garden City, but the big thing is, he's just putting in the mindset of all the players going out, have fun and compete. We'll see how everything works in from there."

Leiker, who compiled a 33-11 record while winning two Jayhawk Conference championships in four seasons at Garden City from 1992-95, comes to Coffeyville after a three-year coaching stint at NCAA Division II Fort Hays (Kan.) State.

Even though the Red Ravens went 4-5 a year ago, the cupboard wasn't left bare by any means.

Muhammad Abdulqaadir added his name to the long line of fine Coffeyville tailbacks last year. As a freshman, Abdulqaadir rushed for 1,158 yards, averaging 8.0 yards per carry with 13 touchdowns. He also established the Red Raven single-game rushing record with a monster 381-yard performance against Fort Scott.

Even with those numbers, the Ravens didn't just fall asleep when recruiting tailbacks. They brought in three Division I transfers, Brandon Jacobs (Auburn) Shermar Bracy (Arkansas) and Damien Nash (Missouri).

Quarterbacks Will Martin (40-for-122 for 610 yards) and Courtney Abbott (13-of-40 for 105 yards) split time at quarterback last season, while Eddie Jackson (24.7 yards per catch) is the top returning wide receiver.

The Ravens will be strong up front, with three returning starters in center Joe Zogg, guard Ryan Lilja and tackle Ira Horyna.

On defense, the front line will be a Coffeyville strong point. Defensive tackles Dustin Denault and Matt Burghart will be pushed inside by redshirt tackle Atiyyah Ellison, who has committed to Missouri. Defensive end Mondre Dickerson has committed to Tennessee.

Ron Veal, a transfer from Iowa State, sophomore Bodahn Kobuszweski and redshirt Jeremy Wallace lead the linebacking corps. The top incoming freshman at linebacker is Gerald Frierson from Jersey City, N.J.

The Raven secondary will be young, with no returning starters. Redshirt Marcus Stiger and free safety Brooks Myers are the top candidates in the defensive backfield.

Despite a losing record a year ago and an almost unheard-of three-year dry spell without going to a bowl game, the Ravens are ranked 19th in the preseason NJCAA coaches poll and were picked third in the Jayhawk Conference behind Garden City and Butler County. With a strong recruiting class and the new $7 million stadium, Coffeyville feels the program is back on the upswing.

"The biggest thing is the city of Coffeyville backing the college and putting a facility in that's first rate. Every time I go up there, my jaw almost hits the ground," Cherico said. "I'm in almost total awe of the situation that we have. We have the facilities. Now we need to put ourselves back on top, year in and year out. That's what we're striving for."


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