There is so much good to focus on around the Butler Community College football team right now, it seems strange to look at the one thing that isn’t.
But so goes life in El Dorado. With two straight national runner-up finishes, a new stadium set to open Sept. 1 and two of the best running backs in the nation returning in Dreamius Smith and Derrick Thomas, national-title talk is only natural.
“There’s so much of that, no matter what, that’s out of your control,” Butler coach Troy Morrell said. “So you’ve got to focus on the things you can directly influence.”
Things like Friday’s Jayhawk Conference preseason poll, in which the conference’s coaches picked Butler to finish first. Hutchinson was picked second, Coffeyville and new coach Aaron Flores third and Fort Scott in fourth.
The Greyhounds, who played for the national title in 2009, are back playing for league titles after one year on NJCAA-sanctioned probation.
Garden City and Dodge City tied for the fifth spot. Highland and Independence were picked seventh and eighth.
“Butler’s the only team we’ve lost to in conference play the last two seasons, so naturally that’s the only team our fans want to talk about,” Hutchinson coach Rion Rhoades said. “But in order for us to make it special when we play them, there are a lot of hurdles.”
Flores gets to build his offense around Iowa transfer A.J. Derby. Derby (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), initially won the backup quarterback job for the Hawkeyes last fall, but was suspended for two games in October after he was arrested on charges of public intoxication and criminal mischief. After Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz moved Derby to linebacker, he transferred.
“He just needed a fresh start, and he’s been taking full advantage of it,” Flores said. “He shows up focused and ready every day and his approach rubs off on the other players. They want to get to that level.”
Hutchinson’s biggest question heading into the season is how to replace record-setting quarterback Elliott Alford. Last year’s backup, Slader McVey, Troy transfer Luke Barnes and Arkansas Tech transfer Jesse Stone will all battle for the starting spot in camp. Sophomore Kody Cook will also run some plays at quarterback along with playing wide receiver and punter.
Butler opens its season on Aug. 25 at Dodge City, with the Jayhawk Conference and Southwest Junior College Football Conference moving their annual series to the second week of the season. That means the opening game at the $12 million BG Products Veteran Stadium will be against Blinn (Texas) on Sept. 1
“No more complaining about you can’t find parking or you can’t get into the game,” Morrell said. “This stadium is something we’ve waited a long time for, people should come out and enjoy it.”