Jayhawk Conference Media Day was Friday in Wichita – Butler is the defending champ and finished 2011 ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA after winning the Citizens Bank Bowl in Pittsburg. Hutchinson finished the season No. 9. NJCAA Preseason rankings should be out next week. Biggest change for the early part of this season is that the Jayhawk won’t open up with their annual series against the Texas JuCos – they’ll do it in their second week, highlighted by Butler opening up its new stadium against Blinn. Here’s a quick look at what went down Monday, going by how the teams were picked to finish:
1. Butler (2011: 11-1, overall, 6-0 Jayhawk)
This year, it’ s all about Dreamius Smith. And a new stadium. The sophomore tailback and former KU signee had to split time with Jasper Sanders and Derrick Thomas as a freshman but it looks like he gets to be the featured back this year – even with Thomas back. And with that, Smith and Thomas have got two big-time offensive linemen back in tackles John McClure (6-4, 310 pounds) and Jesse Ingle (6-3, 280). McClure, who won a state title at Heights with Smith, is a returning All-American and one of the top JuCo o-line products in the country. K-State/James Madison transfer Billy Cosh will be Butler’s QB, replacing Chandler Whitmer, who had a pretty decent year last season but had the unfortunate task of playing after LSU starter Zach Mettenberger. Cosh hasn’t played in a game in two years.
“I feel like we’ve got some good leadership … guys with good experience,” Butler coach Troy Morrell said. “Dreamius is up to about 225 pounds and running really well. And we’ve got a good group up front that can block and protect people.”
Defensive backs Tate Omli and Max Martinez – both Kansas kids – are back and could make a big impact. Morrell said defensive line is his biggest concern.
Can’t remember a Butler team that’s been this (potentially) good and built so much around Kansas natives. Butler has 11 kids playing in the Shrine Bowl tomorrow. Amazing.
2. Hutch (2011: 9-3, 5-1)
First things first: Hutchinson coach Rion Rhoades is rocking some serious, Sons of Anarchy-type facial hair.
That being said, of course the Blue Dragons are going to be good this year – but are they good enough to contend with Butler? It seemed like if it was going to happen it was going to be last year, with two of the top offensive players in the nation back in WR Cordarrelle Patterson and QB Elliot Alford, but they’re both gone now. Hutch only has nine starters back – 5 offense, 4 defense – but Rhoades is confident in that group. Sounds like there’s still a QB race between Troy transfer Luke Barnes, Arkansas Tech transfer Jesse Stone and last year’s backup, Slader McVey. Hutch’s strength is on defense – they’ve got arguably the two best interior defensive linemen in the conference back in Toby Johnson (6-4, 305) and Ben Bradley (6-2, 310). With U. of Miami transfer Keion Paine at cornerback this could be a special defense. Rhoades also recruited well – they’ve got 7 kids in the Shrine Bowl tomorrow.
KILLER start to the schedule for Hutch – open at home with Coffeyville then head to Navarro.
“I feel like our football team is relatively complete,” Rhoades said. “We’ve got a nice group to work with.”
Also, some sad news – TE Zach Tipton had a major concussion this spring and won’t be able to play football anymore. Tipton, a Goddard product, was solid for the Blue Dragons last year.
3. Coffeyville (2011: 6-4, 4-2)
New coach Aaron Flores made his bones as the offensive coordinator at Butler – winning 3 national titles and playing for it all 6 times – and was brought in by AD Jeff Leiker after things fell apart for Darian Dulin the last two years. University of Iowa transfer A.J. Derby (6-4, 230 pounds) is the Red Ravens’ quarterback and has a HUGE advantage in that he has been at Coffeyville since January. He initially won the backup quarterback job at Iowa last fall as a redshirt freshman, completing 3 of 6 passes for 30 yards. But he was suspended for two games in October after he was arrested on charges of public intoxication and criminal mischief. Kirk Ferentz moved him to linebacker, and he bolted.
4. Fort Scott (2011: 4-4, 4-3 – under NJCAA probation, record didn’t count)
“Everybody in here is a liar and a cheater except for me … I”m as pure as the driven snow.” – Fort Scott coach Curtis Horton.
Greyhounds had a nice year last year, but it didn’t count because they were on NJCAA probation after some major violations – violations that occurred as Fort Scott rose to the ranks of the NJCAA’s best. Horton took over on July 7 and had to walk into camp a month later and tell his team the season wouldn’t count – that’s tough. Horton paid a HUGE compliment to defensive back Kevin Short (6-2, 180), saying he could be an NFL guy.
5. (tie) Dodge City (2011: 3-7, 3-3)
Dodge City coach Bob Majeski has a big-time defensive end back in Marcus Hardsion, who had a great freshman season (46 tackles, 3 sacks) and is getting a lot of high Division I looks and has the size – 6-4, 290 pounds – to play either on the end or on the interior at the next level. Looks like the Conqs have Butler CC transfer Jace Banner at running back. Dodge had its biggest win in 20 years last season when it beat Garden City … two terrible teams but don’t underestimate
5. (tie) Garden City(2011: 2-7, 2-4)
No team has fallen from the ranks of the Jayhawk – and national – elite with a more resounding thud than Garden City. It’s to the point where second-year coach Jeff Tatum has taken to referring to the Broncbusters as the “little guy” in the conference. Remember that this is a team that was in bowl games and the national rankings every year. All that being said, Garden City does have seven starters back on defense and an interesting situation at quarterback – Georgia transfer Nick Marshall(6-2, 190) will lead the Busters’ offense. Marshall played in every game for the Bulldogs last year … at cornerback. Marshall is a Rochelle, Ga., native and had an offer to play hoops and football at Georgia but decided just to focus on football.
7. Highland (2011: 1-8, 1-5)
Highland’s got a new coach in Ryan Held, who was the offensive coordinator at Butler last season. Held has been a head coach on the NCAA DII level at Panhandle State and in the NAIA at Peru State, so he’s got good experience. Highland was giving up 70-plus points on a regular basis last season. “I came in and blew up the roster,” Held said. “When you get beat 89-0, that’s what you’ve got to do.” South Alabama transfer
8. Independence (2011: 0-9 overall, 0-6 Jayhawk)
Rough year for coach Steve Carson last season – including blowout losses to Butler (63-0), Trinity Valley (63-0) and Hutch (70-0). The Pirates do have their quarterback returning in sophomore TyQuan Hayes and a pair of offensive linemen in Trey McCluskey (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) and Newton product Jacob McGuire (6-2, 275). “I’m optimistic about what we’ve got coming back,” Carson said. “But I’m also realistic about what the other teams have.”