The shotgun start to the Jayhawk Conference’s new era was last March, and while it didn’t necessarily catch Butler Community College football coach Troy Morrell by the surprise, there was little he could do to negate its impact right away.
One year later, and it’s a different story.
“We were already done with recruiting when the change came in,” Morrell said. “There wasn’t much we could do to adjust and play that chess game with the recruiting class. We feel a lot better about things this year.”
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the Jayhawk, which changed its rules to allow 20 out-of-state players on football rosters — up from 20 —and upped roster size from 55 to 63. The rule change was a direct response to Butler’s decades of domination in the league — the Grizzlies have won 14 of the last 16 league titles — and to a widening gap between Jayhawk schools and the rest of the NJCAA in relation to scholarships.
“We actually ended up with 14 out-of-state players at the end of last season,” Morrell said. “So after playing with 14 at the end, we went into recruiting with the idea that if we had 20 bullets in that chamber, we wanted to go out and get the most potent, dynamite-infused bullets we could get. We don’t necessarily want 20 out-of-state starters, but you need to have an insurance policy.”
How the eight Jayhawk teams are going about building their rosters is a study in the haves and have-nots. Half – Hutchinson, Coffeyville, Garden City and Fort Scott – used all 20 out-of-state spots, while Butler, Dodge City, Highland and Independence certified 19.
Of the teams that used all 20 spots, only Hutchinson made the Region VI playoffs.
Dodge City was the only team to use two out-of-state spots at quarterback — every other team kept one. The Conquistadors and second-year coach Gary Thomas had the most balanced use of out-of-staters, by design.
“It can’t just be loading up at one position, like Butler can do, because we don’t have the luxury of having all of the impact in-state kids they have,” Thomas said. “And for us, it helps with recruiting, because we can show in-state and out-of-state kids our plan and they can look and see where they fit in at.”
Thomas goes into camp with numbers in mind for the out-of-state spots — two quarterbacks, two tailbacks, three wide receivers and three offensive linemen. On defense, he wants three defensive tackles, one defensive end, two linebackers and four defensive backs.
“Especially on the offensive line, you can’t put guys out there that are going to be completely overmatched,” Thomas said. “That will lose the game for you.”
It’s on the offensive line where Butler has the biggest advantage. In his 19 seasons at Butler — 15 as head coach and four as an assistant — Morrell has never recruited, much less certified, an out-of-state offensive lineman.
Butler has two former offensive linemen in NFL training camps — Oakland’s Lamar Mady (Topeka) and Atlanta’s Ryan Schraeder (Maize).
Every other team in the Jayhawk kept at least two offensive linemen — Fort Scott kept four.
“That might change in the future, but we haven’t had to do it yet,” Morrell said. “We’re starting to see teams with two-deep depth on the defensive line rolling through, and that’s been pretty challenging.”
Butler’s in-state advantage on offense translates to its defense — last season, they certified five defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs. That was either the most or tied for the most in the league at each spot.
“That’s why Butler has been so good, that’s why they’re a special program,” Thomas said. “They do things out of the norm.”