Butler Community College football coach Troy Morrell isn’t the guy who brags about burning the candle at both ends.
Rest assured, Morrell, his staff and his players are putting in the work this summer. More than they ever have in planning for a season, maybe, but ask him what he’s doing on one of the days leading up to Independence Day and his answer might take you by surprise.
“Getting ready for a birthday party, actually,” Morrell said on Thursday. “My daughter. Pool party with her friend, who also has a birthday. So there’s that.”
And while the coach of the marquee program in junior-college football prepares to enter his 15th season — the Grizzlies have finished in the Top 10 in the country each of the last 16 years — he’s also dealing with new challenges brought on by a drastic shift in academic requirements from the NCAA to allow his players to transfer to four-year schools.
It’s also his first season without competing for a Region VI title — the Jayhawk Conference brings in three schools from Iowa that will fill out conference schedules to 11 games, a move that does away with the league’s postseason tournament.
Not to mention there’s a group of about 30 players living and working out on campus for the summer, taking advantage of the team’s facilities and taking classes.
“I’m in the office every day, sometimes not full days and some days where I can do some more stuff at home,” Morrell said. “It’s a little more laid back this time of the summer, although we still do have players here every day and they have different needs, academically and football-wise that we help them with. The challenge, this time of year, is to stay on top of people and keep everyone motivated, which we keep finding ways to do.
“When you’ve been on top for as long as we have, people keep looking for ways to take you down. We’ve got to step it up, too.”
Summer classes have taken on a different meaning since the NCAA upped its requirements of junior-college transfers last year, requiring that they transfer with at least a 2.5 GPA and increasing the amount of English and math credits needed to move on.
“There’s more and more required of (players) every year,” Morrell said. “Online classes help, and a lot of guys do that, but we also have a lot of guys who are going to come for a two-week academic session in July and then stay through the start of camp on Aug. 7.”
Butler went 9-2 last season, winning its fourth straight Jayhawk Conference and Region VI titles but losing in a bowl game for the second straight year to Iowa Western — the two teams played in the 2012 NJCAA title game — and the Grizzlies catch no breaks in opening the season against Independence, at Iowa Western and then back home against perennial rival Hutchinson.
Iowa Western, Ellsworth and Iowa Central are the three teams every Jayhawk school will play this season. It’s also the first year of a new home-and-home cycle for the Jayhawk.
In his 19th year at Butler — Morrell was an assistant coach before becoming head coach — it’s also the first time in his tenure in which every road game will be an overnight trip. As the Grizzlies’ coaching staff acts as their own travel agents, that makes for quite a bit more work.
“It presents a great challenge for us, Iowa Western and Iowa Central on the road, plus early kickoffs at Highland and Dodge City plus the trip to Garden City is an overnight no matter what,” Morrell said. “Getting hotels and restaurants and everything squared away creates quite a bit more work.”
The turning point for the Grizzlies this season could very well be at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Joel Blumenthal (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) will be at No. 1 headed into fall camp but should be pushed by the late addition of Western Kentucky transfer Damarcus Smith.
Smith, 6-1 and 210 pounds, is a dual-threat quarterback fromLouisville, Ky., who committed to Central Florida out of high school after also getting offers from Louisville, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Tennessee and Ohio. He never played for UCF, redshirted at WKU in 2012 and played in five games last season.
“Joel is obviously the leader for us going in,” Morrell said. “And he’ll be part of that group coming in sometime in July. It’s good that some of the guys get here a little before camp to give them a little more breathing room, to help them get acclimated.”