These are strange times for the Butler Community College football program.
For the first time in eight years, there is no Jayhawk Conference championship to defend.
For the first time in two years, no national title defense will be mounted.
And bowl games?
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The Grizzlies will go into a season having not played in one for the first time since 1998.
"I think the conference championship is what hurt the most... just not getting that done," Butler coach Troy Morrell said. "Not getting in a bowl game, well, the dagger was already in there, that just gave it a little twist.
"That's definitely being used as a motivating factor because we felt like the two teams we lost to were pretty good. It's frustrating, and it certainly makes you appreciate what you've got."
Butler went 8-3 last year and finished at No. 10 in the final NJCAA poll, losing to eventual Jayhawk champion and national runner-up Fort Scott twice — in the regular season finale and the Region VI title game — before being left out of the bowl picture.
What may have made it worse was the Grizzlies had to watch as fellow Jayhawk teams Coffeyville (6-4) and Hutchinson (6-4) scored invites and won their respective bowl games.
"That's just junior-college politics," Morrell said. "But it's not like it's anything against us, Navarro (Texas) went 10-1 a couple of years ago and didn't get in a bowl game."
Morrell, entering his 11th season as the Butler head coach, has won three national titles (2003, 2007, 2008) and played for the national championship five times in his tenure.
He's also quick to point out that this year's freshman class runs the risk of being the first group since the 1996 freshman class to go both years without a conference title.
"That's been a long streak," Morrell said. "If they don't get it done, they'd be the first group since that 1997 team."
Morrell has also seen the evolution of the Jayhawk, going from the top-heavy days of the 1990s that saw Coffeyville and Garden City compete for titles every year to the current landscape, with more schools putting money into their programs to make them competitive.
"You see the facilities improve, teams are adding full-time coaches, and recruiting is as much of a constant battle as it's ever been," Morrell said. "It used to be there were two or three teams that you knew could compete for the title every year. Now, there's at least six legitimate programs that can say that's their goal going into the season."
Butler capped off its spring last Friday at Andover District Stadium as the White team defeated the Purple 7-2. And with just a handful of starters returning — and no clear-cut starting quarterback — there are still a ton of unknowns for the Grizzlies headed into the summer and fall.
"We're going to be a young team," Morrell said. "We were fortunate that we were able to get all 20 practices in this spring without being held back by weather or injuries, but we've got a long ways to go."