State Colleges

Friends tops KCAC preseason polls

Their starting quarterback is gone, having left the team before spring practice for personal reasons.

Their top defensive player is also no longer part of the team — dismissed in January for a violation of team rules.

Yet, there is no dark cloud hanging over the Friends football team.

In fact, it's downright sunny.

"I get all emotional about the seniors that are leaving our program and don't realize what we have coming back," said Friends coach Monty Lewis. "And I like what we've got coming back."

The rest of the KCAC recognized as much on Friday at KCAC Media Day in Salina, voting the Falcons the preseason favorite in both the coaches' and media polls.

The Falcons lost a pair of all-KCAC players in the offseason in quarterback Tim Rozzell and defensive back Cole Perry, but refused to let either departure be a distraction after going 8-2 and having a string of three straight league titles broken.

"We're unhappy because 8-2 is just not good enough," Lewis said. "The expectation here is championships. Not to mention we've yet to ring that bell for a playoff win."

Lewis named 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore Jayme Bristow the starting quarterback after spring drills, and brought in a cluster of transfers to battle for Perry's spot.

Bristow will have a pair of big targets to throw at in all-KCAC wide receivers Mike Hyde (6-5) and Doug Pierce (6-6), along with three returning starters on the offensive line.

"It's Jayme's job to lose," Lewis said. "If he can hang onto it, terrific. If not... we'll find somebody to step up."

Defending league champion Ottawa was picked second in both polls. McPherson was third in both polls after making the NAIA playoffs for the first time in school history last season. Sterling was fourth in both polls.

Ottawa coach Kent Kessinger said there is a three-way battle between juniors Jake Johnson, Travis Toon and Bobby Adamson to replace KCAC offensive player of the year Ethan Haller at quarterback.

The Braves return All-American wide receiver and Wichita Southeast product Clarence Anderson, who led the nation with 2,563 yards of total offense last season.

"We're very talented, but we're inexperienced," Kessinger said. "How our guys step up is how we'll be."

Back in the KCAC mix after a four-year absence is Tabor coach Mike Gardner, who left Malone College to return to the Bluejays.

Gardner led Tabor to back-to-back KCAC titles in 2004 and 2005. Malone finished in the top 25 in the final NAIA poll in three of Gardner's four seasons.

Tabor went 0-10 last season and was picked to finish ninth in the coaches' poll and eighth by the media.

"I have no regrets about leaving and I have no regrets about coming back," Gardner said. "It was a chance to come back to Kansas, which is home, and that's where I want to be."

Bethany was picked to finish sixth in both polls and Southwestern was eighth in the coaches' and seventh in the media. Bethel and first-year coach Travis Graber were picked last in both polls.