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Amid changes, Butler remains team to beat in Jayhawk Conference

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, July 26, 2013, at 6:59 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, July 27, 2013, at 10:27 a.m.

Butler Community College football coach Troy Morrell

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KJCCC football

Coaches’ predicted order of finish

1. Butler

2. Hutchinson

3. Coffeyville

4. Garden City

5. Fort Scott

6. Dodge City

7. Highland

8. Independence

With so much uncertainty surrounding the upcoming football season, the Jayhawk Conference’s media day on Friday in Wichita reinforced that no matter how much things may have changed, some things have very much stayed the same.

Butler Community College is the favorite. Hutchinson is picked second.

Everything else is up in the air.

“We’re a blue-collar conference, with blue-collar coaches,” Butler coach Troy Morrell said. “We look like white-collar guys with these suits on today, but the thing you probably don’t realize is we’ll also have to be the ones doing the laundry. We can adapt.”

Morrell and the Grizzlies have won three straight Jayhawk and Region VI titles and have played for the national championship twice in the last three years — losing in 2010 and 2012. Butler and the seven other teams in the Jayhawk enter this season with perhaps the biggest rule change in league history, bumping the roster sizes from 55 to 63 and moving up the number of out-of-state players from 12 to 20.

The added out-of-state players are a direct response to Butler’s dominance over the last two decades —the Grizzlies have won five national titles since 1998 — after several school presidents, led by Dodge City’s Don Woodburn, complained that the competitive balance had swung irrevocably in Butler’s favor.

“I think at first (the coaches) were unsure of what the change was going to bring, but I think from what we’ve heard today that we can safely assume that the competitiveness of the league has gone up,” Jayhawk commissioner Bryce Roderick said. “The important thing to remember is we haven’t taken spots away from in-state kids … that number is still at 43 per roster. We didn’t want to do that.

“Time will tell if things are really different. The teams that have had little success, hopefully, this will help them become more competitive.”

Butler’s success this year will depend largely on a three-way quarterback battle at training camp between Savannah State transfer Hunter Vaughn, freshman Zeke Palmer, a Bishop Carroll product, and Deer Creek (Okla.) product Joel Blumenthal.

“I think Hunter has the leg up right now because he was here during the spring and he’s been able to learn the offense more than the other two,” Morrell said. “But the thing I’ll tell them, the thing that I tell everybody, is that it’s a competition every day at our place at every position.”

Butler returns just three starters —defensive tackle Owen Williams, kicker Robert Rawlings and punter Ty Suggs, who also plays running back.

Morrell, who said he’s not bringing in any out-of-staters to camp on the offensive line, lost a major piece two weeks ago when sophomore center Quinton Schooley accepted a scholarship to play for North Carolina State.

Morrell also said he won’t worry about what type of talent the other teams have landed until after the first week’s film comes in.

“When I was younger, I used to worry about that stuff all the time … about who had who or who was maybe going somewhere,” Morrell said. “I don’t worry about that anymore. I’ve got enough to worry about with our guys so I don’t mess with the other stuff.”

New faces in Jayhawk — Two new coaches got their introduction to the Jayhawk on Friday in Garden City’s Matt Miller and Dodge City’s Gary Thomas. Thomas comes to Dodge City after leading College of Dupage to a win over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in last year’s Citizen’s Bank Bowl in Pittsburg.

Miller, a former Kansas State quarterback and assistant coach, was the Broncbusters’ offensive coordinator last year and helped mentor quarterback and Jayhawk offensive MVP Nick Marshall, who signed with Auburn.

“We feel like we could be really good,” Miller said. “We’ve got some big-time transfers coming in.”

Fort Scott almost in clear — Fort Scott is in the final year of a three-year scholarship reduction handed down by the NJCAA before the 2011 season after the school signed 17 players to institutional scholarships instead of national letters of intent, as is required by the NJCAA.

The Greyhounds were ineligible for league titles and postseason play in 2011 and had 17 scholarships taken away in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

“Going down from 85 scholarships to 68 really changed the way we recruited, made us narrow our focus as to who we wanted to bring in,” Fort Scott coach Curtis Horton said. “And when we missed on kids, it really hurt us. I’m just really excited to finally get back (to 85) for next year’s recruits.”

Reach Tony Adame at 316-268-6284 or tadame@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @t_adame.

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