2021 KJCCC Football predicted order of finish and notes from JUCO football media day

Charles Chaney and Lionel Tipton
Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference

WICHITA — The Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference coaches have spoken and it's the Hutchinson Blue Dragons who are atop the league's preseason poll.

The predicted order of finish was released in the annual KJCCC Media Day at Riverfront Stadium in Wichita on Wednesday afternoon. All eight head coaches were able to speak to the media. League Commissioner Carl Heinrich and the supervisor of officials, Craig Helzer, spoke about different changes to the league as well. 

Wednesday's predicted order of finished looked a lot like the spring 2021 final standings, with Butler and Coffeyville flip-flopped for the fall.

The Blue Dragons, who won the 2020-21 Spring National Championship in June over Snow College is the favorite to win the league once again. They were also the selection last season. 

More:'Everybody's shooting for Hutch': Drew Dallas with the target on his back, Blue Dragons with top conference preseason ranking

Hutchinson is expected to be stacked once again on both sides of the ball. While like most schools they will be replacing a handful of spots, the coaches feel the Blue Dragons could make another serious run at back-to-back championships.

The Garden City Broncbusters were picked second by the coaches. Coached by Tom Minnick, the Broncbusters have handful of holes to fill and have a five-player quarterback race heading into fall practice. The Broncbusters finished fifth in the final NJCAA poll last season. Mason Williams, an athlete from Bixby, Oklahoma, has Coach Minnick excited about the upcoming season. 

Independence, who found themselves on the outside looking in will have roster adjustments with the new restrictions. However, the coaches still picked them third over Butler. 

Butler was fourth in the league and will host third, Indy, on Sept. 4 at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex before heading to Hutchinson the following week for a showdown with the reigning champions.

Coffeyville, Dodge City were fifth and sixth in the poll. Under Leiker, who is now in his second stint as a head coach, is trying to get the Red Ravens back to the prominence they experienced in the 2000s, where the Red Ravens were competing for national championships.

Conquistadors hope to surprise some people by using their defensive strengths this season as Coach Ricky Coon raved about his front line and other defensive stars. 

Highland and Fort Scott round out the preseason selections. The two will do battle on Sept. 2 for the first game of the new season. Fort Scott has largely a new roster and Highland, who had to play a lot of players they wanted to redshirt last season, will be available with experience this season. 

Predicted Order of Finish

Fall 2021 Coaches Predicted Order of Finish (Spring 2021 record)

  1. Hutchinson Community College (8-0)
  2. Garden City Community College (7-1)
  3. Independence Community College (5-2)
  4. Butler Community College (2-4)
  5. Coffeyville Community College (3-3)
  6. Dodge City Community College (2-5)
  7. Highland Community College (1-6)
  8. Fort Scott Community College (0-3)

Fort Scott adds depth

It's easy to look down upon the Greyhounds after having to cancel the rest of their season due to a limited roster. However, things are looking up for second-year head coach Carson Hunter. 

"We went out and got 90 guys," Hunter said. "We want Fort Scott guys. We went and found players who are tough, high character guys." 

While there is now an out-of-state restriction and only limited to 85 football scholarships, Hunter reached out and found players who have solid academics and are able to fit their financial issues with academic scholarships. 

“We were honestly ahead before the season even started,” he said. “One of our sayings around Fort Scott is A-B-C, ‘Always Be ’Cruiting.’ So, we already had the core of our class intact, but the nature of this league is so competitive, that we still benefited by getting out to see more kids, maybe catch a few kids who were late non-qualifiers. And the flip side of that was to invest in the relations we have with high schools throughout the region, throughout southeastern Kansas.

“We were able to close the gap quicker than maybe some suspected by making sure we could go get Fort Scott-kind of guys.”

Hunter said the Greyhounds’ focus mostly revolves around U.S. Highway 69, which stretches from Pittsburg through Fort Scott and Miami County and into the Kansas City metro area. 

“We’re going to win the ’69 Corridor,’” he said. “If there’s a kid on 69 in the eastern part of the state that’s going to play Jayhawk League football, he’s going to be deciding between Fort Scott and the rest of them. So we’re going win up and down the eastern end of the state and we’re going to plant flags in the spots we can on the west end of the state.

“I’ll stand by our Kansas kids. There’s really, really good players in the Sunflower State, at least kids good for our school. The kids are good at fundamental football, they value coaching, value each other.

“If they’re tough kids, they’ve all got a spot at Fort Scott. We’re not just recruiting against all the good kids in the Jayhawk; we’re recruiting nationally.”

More:Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference adjusts out-of-state scholarship restriction

The Fall 2021 head football coaches in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference

KJCCC Playoff returns

We know about the national playoff but the excitement around the return of the league playoff was buzzing at media day. While the conference haven't held a playoff since 2013, the return was welcomed

"That adds a whole new element to the league," Butler Head Coach Tim Schaffner said. "You're going to have to beat a team twice and that's always tough."

The playoff is in part to help send one team hopefully to the national playoff that will take place in December. The format is the same as the NJCAA national format, with the top seed hosting the fourth seed and the second seed hosting the third seed.

The two winners will play on Nov. 24 for the conference championship. 

More:'We have to be better': Butler Community College football's Tim Schaffner looks to improve defense in fall

Garden City ready to a title fight

Garden City coach Thomas Minnick said attrition through injury worked against the Broncbusters last spring, and if they want to leapfrog Hutchinson into the No. 1 position, they have to stay healthy.

“And, we’re going to have to get by the other teams in the conference,” he said. “This is a tough conference, top to bottom, and you have to show up ready to play. There’s teams that can sneak up on you; you don’t know what they’ve got coming in. You’ve just got to be prepared for them. 

“Sometimes, you play a team and you beat them really bad, (then) the next time you play them your kids think ‘I don’t need to play, because we’re playing so-and-so, and they’re not very good. Well, in this conference, you can’t bank on that. I’ve been around a long time, and you can change a program in a year. So, you’ve got to make sure you show up each game.”

Leiker trying to get Coffeyville back

Coffeyville coach Jeff Leiker is on his second go-round with the Red Ravens’ program, having served as head coach for seven years before becoming athletic director in 2007, a position he still holds. 

The two eras have provided some stark contrasts, Leiker said. 

“Well, just the out-of-state (restriction) thing,” he said. 

In his first tenure, Butler and Hutchinson managed to get in a large amount of out-of-state players, then the playing field was more level, but now the restriction makes it equitable all the way around, Leiker said.

“It helps everybody,” he said. “The parity has really changed. It brought the Independences, and Dodge had a good run early, Garden’s been really strong and Garden’s strong again. If you’ve got the right people working, you can build a program pretty quick if you’ve got the right kids and the right coaching mentality, you’re going to get them.”

Coffeyville has always managed to do well recruiting in Wichita, and Leiker said that is an area he still relies upon.

“We didn’t win the state this year,” he said. 

But that’s still fine, because of current players getting the option of an extra year of eligibility. There is a negative to that as well, Leiker said.

“It cuts into our freshmen opportunities,” he said. “But we’re excited about it. We’ll bring them in and see where they stack up.”

Coffeyville has a history of talented running backs, among them Corey Dillon, best known for his time on the Cincinnati Bengals, and Brandon Jacobs, best known as a New York Giant. 

“He was a big back,” Leiker said of Dillon. “Brandon Jacobs was a big back (a stark contrast to the number of undersized Jayhawk Conference backs).”

In recruiting, Leiker said Coffeyville is in a “hub” type of position, where it can recruit in a variety of directions, be that north to Kansas City, west to the Wichita area, Oklahoma being spitting distance from the campus to the south and Missouri and Arkansas to the east.

The Butler-Coffeyville rivalry that dominated the early-to-mid 2000s when Leiker coached the Red Ravens and Troy Morrell headed up the Grizzlies has its roots in Leiker being a former Butler assistant under Tom Saia for three years before going to Coffeyville. It was enhanced when Morrell’s former offensive coordinator, Aaron Flores, came back from a job in Mississippi as Red Ravens coach before having to step down because of illness and dying last January because of COVID-19.

Transfer portal plays its part

COVID-19 has caused a clog of players at schools, giving them an extra year of eligibility and pairing that with the transfer portal, it feels as if junior college football is being sent for a whirl wind. 

No more does a player from a Division I school have to sit out a season. Now, he's free to transfer to play immediately. This has put a strain at the junior college level with the "bounce back" player becoming less frequent.

"The level where I've seen the most activity is the NAIA," Schaffner said. "Not sure what their recruiting restrictions are but they are getting in there and trying to scoop stuff up."

Schaffner says it's a tough time to be a player because you don't know whether that's going to be the best spot for you or if that would even open up.

Jason Martin at Independence keeps is honest with the parents when recruiting via the transfer portal. 

"I want to make sure they have that understanding of they have to try and make the 55-man roster before we actually get them on campus," Martin said. "I don't want to just bring kids in to collect dust."

Independence has always been active with the transfer portal and will now be more selective with the restrictions. 

"If they want to just come in and get reps so they can be seen by coaches, I'm all for that," Martin said.

Hutchinson Community College head football coach Drew Dallas talks to the media during the 2021 KJCCC Media Day event at Riverfront Stadium Wednesday afternoon.

COVID-19 policy

Conferences in the NCAA have made points to let teams know if there is a COVID outbreak on their team, they may have to forfeit their games. That's a worst case scenario for the Jayhawk and the NJCAA.

"We're relying on the institution's county restrictions and follow them at this point," KJCCC Commissioner Carl Heinrich said. 

With the delta variant ramping up, the need for safety is there for the league. They understand safety is first and foremost as they have already played a football season through the pandemic. 

"I'm getting weekly updates from our schools and we'll make a determination off of the reports," Heinrich said. "The last thing we want to do is have a team forfeit a game. We will try to reschedule if possible."

For the league, if a COVID outbreak does happen, they will want to reschedule the games first. There is 17 days between the final regular season game and the start of the conference playoffs. 

"Football is a bit tougher because of the window but we may have to go on winning percentage to get a team into the playoffs if there is a cancellation," Heinrich said. 

With the playoff coming into play this season, it may be for the best as a team in the top three missing a game due to the pandemic would still have a shot at a league championship and potentially a national championship. 

"We've got a little bit of experience with it [COVID]," Heinrich said. "Right now e are playing as normal and we'll see where we are at."

Iowa Schools out for 2021

Whether it's the playoff or just a scheduling issue, there will be no traditional battle with the Iowa football teams for the Jayhawk Conference this year. 

While they are scheduled to return in 2022, almost all schools are playing a conference only schedule. Dodge City is playing the always tough, Iowa Western Reivers to start their season instead of prep school. Other schools are picking up a prep school, like Independence and Butler are when they play McDougle Technical Institute. McDougle is a school trying to gain NJCAA admission.

Supervisors of officials, Craig Helzer, did ask KJCCC Commissioner Carl Heinrich if they would be back in 2022 and he did say yes. 

Overtime changes

There aren't any real rule changes this season but there were some changes to how overtime will happen in the NJCAA this season. 

Previously, when you reached the third overtime, you were forced to go for two from that point forward. Starting this season, the two-point try force is now on the second overtime. 

"When you think of two, remember you go for two," Helzer said. 

The other change is when you reach the third overtime, each team will alternate running a 2-point conversion play from the three-yard line of your opponents, much like a point after attempt. This is done to speed up the game. 

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.