Jayhawk Conference Preview

MANHATTAN, Kan. - That big thump heard throughout the JC Nation at the Dalton Defenders bowl late last November was only a small blip on the screen at Butler in El Dorado. Oh, sure, it left the Coach Troy Morrell and his Grizzlies a bit red-faced - Butler was pounded by Pearl River, Miss., 35-14, in the national championship game - but that was then and this is now and to be sure, there's still plenty of gas in Butler's tank for 2005...

... it was picked by the eight coaches in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Saturday to win its fifth consecutive championship.

"It's neat to be up there," said Morrell, who has an eye-opening 53-7 record in five seasons at Butler, "but I can remember the days when it wasn't like this."

For the record, Butler - whose best-known NFL players is Rudi Johnson, he of the Cincinnati Bengals - hasn't lost more than two games in a season since 1997, when it went 4-5 under now Arkansas assistant coach James Shibest. Morrell was the offensive line coach on that team.

Last season the Grizzlies finished 11-1 behind star quarterback Zac Taylor, who's been wowing the folks at Nebraska in the pre-season, and wide receivers Frantz Hardy, who's also at Nebraska, and Brian Murph, who's expected to fare well at Kansas.

"You have to count on them to be the one until they can prove they can't do it," said Coffeyville Coach Jeff Leiker. "They appear to be stronger now than they were at this time last year, when they had a lot of unknowns."

While there were only two starters for Morrell to work with opening the 2004 campaign, there are six at hand for the 2005 season, all hoping to build on a 37-game winning streak in conference play. And while there appears to be ample replacements for Taylor and his pass-catching pals, Butler should be a much stronger overall. Running backs Daniel Anderson (378 yrds and nine touchdowns as a freshman), Ryan Torain (803 yards and 11 TDs as a freshman) and Kenny Wilson (895 yards and 13 TDs as a freshman) are talented in-state players who are going to keep defenses on their toes on every down with a variety of styles. Other expected standouts include sure All American Paul Griffin (6-0, 285), a gifted defensive lineman who had 53 tackles as a freshman, and multi-skilled offensive lineman Sharrone Moore (6-6, 300).

"Paul," said Morrell. "had a great spring and he's stronger and faster and we're really counting on big things from Sharrone."

The biggest question marks loom in the lines. On offense, Moore is the lone player of significance returning, and on defense quality depth is questionable.

As long as Coach Jeff Leiker's at Coffeyville, winning seasons are as good as money in the back. When Coffeyville's ship started teetering in early 2000's, Leiker came to town and season records have gone from 7-4 to back-to-back 9-3s to 10-2 in 2004.

"We're starting over, but then that's what you do in juco every year," said Leiker of this season, noting he must replace 19 starters.

Expect big campaigns from offensive guard Trent Stanley (a second-team all-conference pick as a freshman), defensive tackle Andre Tillman (the only 12-game starter back from a year ago), quarterback Woody Wilson, and running back Kendrick Smith (he gained 1,100 yards last year). Most importantly, expect some unknowns to become name players by season's end. It's a Leikerism.

When Hutchinson beat Tyler, Texas 15-10, in the Heart of Texas bowl last year it surprised virtually everyone, "including ourselves," according to Coach Craig Jersild.

Now - after back-to-back 7-4 seasons under Jersild - Hutchinson has found stability and a home in the upper division of the Jayhawk Conference.

While finding replacements for stars Robert Coates (QB) and David Dixon (LB) won't be easy, there's enough talent around for the Blue Dragons to successfully move on. Big things are projected for running back Brian Roulhac, the team's No. 1 rusher last season with 742 yards (and seven touchdowns) last year, and wide receiver Nehemiah Warrick, who caught 36 passes for 516 yards as a freshman.

When he got the job at Garden City, new Coach J.J. Eckert, the offensive coordinator at Kilgore, Texas the past four years, made it crystal clear it was going to be his way or the highway and then he backed it up; fifty-six players started spring workouts, but only 41 were there when they concluded.

"We lost some great guys because they wanted to do it their way," said Eckert. "We have to change the philosophy and so we have a lot of question marks. And while everybody talks about coaching, coaching, coaching it sure helps to have great players."

One of those is Marcus Cross - he's one of only five Garden City players with game-starting experience - who played very well early in his freshman season, but suffered a deep thigh bruise that stopped him for awhile and then slowed him at season's end. That he finished with a team-best 584 yards and four TDs shows how frustrating things got in Broncbusterville in 2004. Garden City's biggest weapon might just be kicker Luke Dreiling, a for-sure All American, who made 42-of-43 extra point kicks during his freshman year.

In his spiel to his peers and the media at the coaches' pre-season press day, Independence Coach David Ward said, "We will be young....very, very young. I'll probably say that about 20 times before I finish."

While Ward didn't quite hit the 20-mark, his point was made and it was true. There are only two returning starters (guard Braden Willard and fullback Kacy Burnett) for Ward to call on. The defense has a lot of holes and will be made up of all new faces, but it will be more athletic and have more speed than last season.

Maybe so, but the total picture at Independence looks a little cloudy and its hopes could take a big hit after a pair of home games opening the season. The Pirates need to win against Highland (a lower division team) on Aug. 27 and to play respectably against Garden City (an upper division team) the following weekend or things could head downhill fast.

If ever a team had a lot of question marks, it's Dodge City, home of nationally-recognized Boot Hill and not-so-good football in over a decade (the last winning record was 6-5-1 in 1992).

Yes, fleet-footed Omar Haugabook will be one of the best quarterbacks on the national juco landscape and, yes, Anthony Boudreaux (6-8, 370) is going to give Haugabook plenty of time to search out his receivers, but the fact that first-year Coach Marcus Garstecki will have a flock of red-shirts as a good part of his team - there are only 19 returning lettermen - means there will be some on-the-game training.

"Any time you have a triggerman like Omar, that has to make you feel good," said Garstecki. "The thing I like is he's also a good leader."

There's nary a soul in the state of Kansas who doesn't think the world of Highland Coach Marty Allen. Shoot, he's been at Highland for 29 years, the last 23 as the school's head coach, and he's been the President of the Jayhawk Conference's Football Coaches Association the past seven years. But that and a quarter - or more - will buy you a cup of coffee.

Facts are facts. Highland does not annually have the quantity and quality of players as does the rest of the conference schools. No starting spot on the defensive unit was earned during spring workouts with the season less than a month away. Offensive players to watch: QB Kelly Williams, OG Bobby Brubaker, OG Marianno Goldsmith, C-T Joey Russell and C Ryan Ellis.

The last time Fort Scott had a winning record (8-4 in 1992), now Coach Brian Vaganek was freshly graduated from Temple U. where he was a four-year letterman, having played center on the football team.

In his inagural season in southeastern Kansas in 2004, Vaganek's team didn't win a game in nine tries; it was not a pretty picture given the Greyhounds lost five of those games by between 34 and 66 points. Thus, Fort Scott was picked to finish eighth among eight teams in the conference in 2005, which has among its standouts defensive end Rob Jackson, an All-American to be, and safety Chris Pollard.

"I am looking for more parity in the conference this season," said Coffeyville Coach Jeff Leiker. "We should have better overall games to make the conference not seem so one-sided."

If that comes about, Fort Scott must do it part and win some games. Or at the least play respectably.

2005 Coaches' pre-season poll, with 2004 records
1. Butler (11-1)...Expect the Grizzlies to again be a major player in the national championship hunt
2. Coffeyville (10-2)...A must-change: 11 consecutive losses over seven seasons to Butler, eight by seven points or less
3. Hutchinson (7-4)...Coach Craig Jersild has pushed all the right buttons for two seasons. Expect more of the same
4. Garden City (6-4)...Color this season, the first in western Kansas for Coach J.J. Eckert, as intriguing
5. Independence (3-6)...The Pirates still have a long way to go before reaching the penthouse, aka the upper division
6. Dodge City (3-6)...With unproven first-year Coach Marcus Garstecki calling the shots, questions abound
7. Highland (2-7)...The Scotties annually have it doubly tough because they don't have the resources of other state schools
8. Fort Scott (0-9)...While the player personnel level has gone up, the rest of the conference didn't sit pat with the hands they held

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