3) Garden City
4 tie) Dodge City and Hutchinson
7) Fort Scott, and
During the media day, one thing became increasingly apparent; the league is
very balanced from top to bottom.
Highland – For the first time in 25 years, Marty Allen will not be roaming the sidelines for the Scotties, instead it will be first-year head coach Keith Majors. Even with a young and inexperienced group, Majors still returns 11 Letterman (7-defense, 4-offense) Highland has three Pre-Season All-Americans led by returning starter, defensive end Drew Hudgins (6'5 230, Spring Hill, KS) and tight end Jeremy Carson (6'5 230 Seneca, KS). Quarterback Billy Bob Orsagh (6'1 185, Eastland, TX) transferred to Highland from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. He was a Texas top 15 QB on Rivals.com in 2004, while throwing for 7, 000 yards in high school.
Fort Scott – The Greyhounds also have a new man at the helm in first-year head coach, Rion Rhoades. Coach Rhoades is no stranger to this conference as he has spent the last two seasons at Coffeyville Community College as the defensive coordinator. He and his staff will be looking to revitalize a program that has fallen on hard times in recent years. They have generated a great deal of excitement and energy in Fort Scott, while only being there a short time. Even with a good first recruiting class, the Greyhounds will be young and inexperienced. They must rely heavily on their freshman if they are to make a push toward the upper tier of the Jayhawk Conference. One advantage in this building year for Fort Scott is that they will host four of the top five teams in the conference.
Independence – Dave Ward begins his third season as head coach of the Pirates. They look to improve on last year's 3-6 record, but their lack of depth could play a factor. The Pirates return 4 or 5 starters on both offense and defense. They will be led by Kenny Scrivens (5'11 210, Brunswick, GA) and Daniel Onnen (6'3 295, Humbolt, KS). Scrivens is a linebacker with a great work ethic. He was one of the top tacklers for the Pirates last year and will be relied on for motivation and leadership. Onnen is an offensive lineman, who had a great season back in 2003 and was selected as a Pre-Season All-American. However, in the summer of 2004, he was called up by the Army National Guard and sent to Iraq, where he remained for almost an entire year. He arrived back in Independence in January of 2006 and had a great off-season. Onnen has again been selected as a Pre-Season All-American.
Hutchinson – Hutchinson celebrates its 75th anniversary this season with the opening of their new stadium, which should be one of the top-notch facilities in not only this conference, but also the nation. Head coach Craig Jersild will be entering his fourth season at the helm of the Blue Dragons. He believes this year's squad will be the best he has had since he came to Hutchinson. They return 14 Letterman (defense-7, offense-7) and 2 starters (defense-1, offense-1). Caleb Otto (6'2 300, Stafford, KS) and Toby Gifford (6'6 310, Louisburg, KS) will anchor an offensive line that will be the strength of the Blue Dragons' offense. Stephen Leapheart (6'3 244, Kansas City, KS) didn't have a catch last year at tight end, but was a second team all-conference punter. Brandon Kush (6'4 280, Louisburg, KS) is a defensive lineman, who will provide immediate impact and leadership for a much-improved defensive unit that allowed 40 points a game last season.
Dodge City – Marcus Garstecki is in his second year as head coach of the conquistadors. It will be a challenge to match last season that saw Dodge have its first winning season and bowl appearance since 1992, while also reaching the Region VI Championship game. The biggest question coming into 2006 is finding a replacement for All-American quarterback Omar Haugabook. The leading candidate is Alex Melugin (6'2 210, Wichita, KS). Melugin played some last season and will be the leader heading into the fall. Freshman Bobby McGee (6'3 230, Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and Harry Betsey (6'2 210, Quincy, FL) will also compete for the starting nod. Their defense will be led by 2nd team NJCAA All-American Kellen Belcher (6'3 285, Chipley, FL). Belcher recorded a school record 15-½ sacks in 2005. Returning starter Zeke Adair (5'11 190, Wichita, KS) and Pre-Season All-American Briceton Wilson (6'2 225, Tallahassee, FL) will help to make up a tough defense unit.
Garden City – Head coach J.J. Eckert is in his second with the Broncbusters. After leading the Busters to a 7-4 record and an appearance in the Dixie Rotary Bowl, Eckert is hopeful for another successful season. However, their schedule doesn't do them any favors early on. They open with back to back road trips to #2 ranked Trinity Valley and #3 ranked Butler. The Busters return 12 starters and 19 letterman including wide receiver Mike Jardin and fullback Blake Alexander. Jardin caught 38 balls for 666 yards and seven touchdowns, while Alexander, who was the fourth leading receiver, caught 14 balls for 185 yards and one touchdown. Shurkee Barfield and Kevin Dixon return to anchor a defensive line that was one of the best in the conference last year. Dee Brown and Rock Dennis are back at the cornerback position, where they combined for 77 tackles and 7 interceptions in 2005. Derrick Raymer returns as punter after averaging 38.3 yards per punt while placing 16 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. The biggest question mark heading into this season is finding a replacement for All-American kicker Luke Dreiling.
Coffeyville – Jeff Leiker begins his sixth season at the helm of the Red Ravens. The Ravens are coming off a Region VI Championship and appearance in the Sea Company Golden Isles Bowl. This season Coffeyville looks to make another run at the conference and region crowns, as well as a possible shot at the national championship. The Ravens return 12 Lettermen (defense-7, offense-5); they are led on defense by Pre-Season All-American Gary Chandler (5'11 186, Wichita, KS), defensive back Nathan Robinson (5'7 165, Rockingham, NC), and linebacker Fred Wright (5'11 210, Fort Valley, GA). The only returning starter on offense is wide receiver Ronald Davis (6'2 192, South Coffeyville, OK). Davis finished 2005 with 182 yards on 13 receptions and one touchdown. He has developed over the spring into the go to receiver for the Ravens in 2006. Anchoring the offensive line will be Joe Blaes (6'3 295, Cherryvale, KS), Josh Weigel (6'4 305, Overland Park, KS), and Jordan Bowersox (6'2 285, Wichita, KS). Special teams will be all new for 2006 and could be room for concern as well as the development of the offensive line.
Butler – Troy Morrell returns for his seventh season as head coach of the Grizzlies. They return 27 Lettermen (defense-12, offense-15) and 5 starters (defense-3, offense-2) from a squad that finished 9-2 in 2005. Even though, they lost the last two games of 2005, the Grizzlies still managed to win their fifth consecutive Jayhawk Conference Championship. The Grizzlies start this season ranked 3rd in the nation and expectations are high in El Dorado. Butler has quite a bit of talent returning in 2006 starting with quarterback Paul Eck (6'4 200, Andale, KS). Eck started every game at quarterback last season and finished throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Quinn Cunningham (6'2 185, Salina, KS) should prove a good target for Eck, along with tight end RJ Armstrong (6'2 250, Parsons, KS). The offensive line will be anchored by Chet Hartley (6'4 310, Kingman, KS) and Naseri Eteuini (6'4 315, Manhattan, KS). Defensively, the Grizzlies are led by linebackers David McDowell (6'2 245, Asheville, NC) and Austin Panter (6'3 235, Kensington, KS) and cornerback Jonathan Warren (6'2 200, Madison, FL). Butler's kicking game should be solid with the return of Joe Paletta (6'1 175, Derby, KS). Last year, Paletta led the nation in scoring by kickers with 98 points. The Grizzlies will be tested early with a road game at Kilgore, Texas and home contests with Garden City and Dodge City.
Notes – This year every conference team opens up against a team from the Texas League and will also have a game against Air Force Prep and a Bye week. The Region VI Playoffs have been shortened to two rounds. The top four teams make the playoffs where we have the semifinals and the championship. Anyone wanting to find scores or other information on the KJCCC can go to www.kjccc.org .