JAYHAWK PREVIEW: Butler County Grizzlies

Since 1997, the only losses the Butler County Grizzlies have suffered are to conference-rival Garden City.

Take away a 3-3 record against the Broncbusters and the Grizzlies are 30-0 against all other competition the last three seasons, winning NJCAA national titles in 1998 and 1999, while finishing No. 6 a year ago.

Maybe that's why second-year Butler County coach Troy Morrell was not surprised when his Grizzlies, who lost twice to Garden City before beating Nassau, N.Y. 30-20 in the Canon Empire State Bowl last year, were picked second in the Jayhawk Conference preseason coaches poll behind the Broncbusters.

"With what we've got coming back, five guys who started for us last year, that's probably a good spot for us," Morrell said. "But like other coaches have said, you can't take stock in that right now. It's a starting point and sort of a motivation factor, I guess."

Motivation for the Grizzlies to get back to the Jayhawk Conference championship game for the fourth consecutive season starts with having to replace 17 starters from the 10-2 team of a year ago.

One key returnee, however, is NJCAA preseason All-American running back Ronald McClendon. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound back out of Independence, La., rushed for 919 yards and 15 touchdowns in 10 games as a freshman. He also ran two kickoffs back for scores and averaged an amazing 32.3 yards per kickoff return. It was recently reported that McClendon has committed to play at Ole Miss upon graduating from BCCC.

Sophomore Jermaine Green split time with McClendon for much of last year. Injuries forced Green (6-0, 220) to miss four games, but the native of Daytona Beach, Fla., rushed for 646 yards and three touchdowns his freshman campaign. He also has the wheels, as he finished second at the NJCAA national track meet in the 200-meter dash last spring.

The Grizzlies will be untested at quarterback. Cedric Stevens, a redshirt freshman out of Syracuse, N.Y., has emerged as the leading candidate.

One wide receiver, 6-6 James Terry from Homestead, Fla., is back. Used primarily as the third receiver last season, Terry hauled in 19 passes for 369 yards, and was on the receiving end of a 41-yard scoring strike in the conference title game.

The Grizzlies brought in some talent to fill the gaps at receiver. Transfer Jamal Wilson, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., came in from Wisconsin, while the BCCC coaching staff is excited about a pair of freshman Kansas receivers, Marion Cooperwood and Tremel Guillory.

The offensive line will be anchored by 6-7, 305-pound tackle Matt Lamatsch from Claflin, Kan.

Only two starters return on defense, tackle Jermaine Berry and linebacker Kedric Session. Berry capped off his freshman year with a great game in the Canon Empire State Bowl, sacking the Nassau quarterback twice and recording six tackles behind the line of scrimmage

A pair of transfers, defensive end Ryan Huffman and linebacker Chris Hogan, are expected to step in and make plays right away. Blaine Clark and Kijana Thomas, both of whom saw playing time a year ago, will play key roles in the secondary.

Morrell expresses caution at being picked as one of the top teams in the Jayhawk Conference.

"With a lot of new faces in the league, that always brings new surprises," Morrell said. "Some teams are going to get better, I don't think there's going to be any doubt about that, and it should make our league more competitive from top to bottom, which only will make everybody better."

If increased competition makes the Grizzlies better, they can count on a return trip to the conference title game and make a run at their third NJCAA national title in four seasons.

FIRST GAME:

9-1: Butler Co. at NEO


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