For all the accolades Butler Community College’s football team piled up in coach Tim Schaffner’s first season, in the end, for some reason, it didn’t seem like there was much to show for it.
And even five months later, in the middle of spring practices, it still stings.
To recap, the Grizzlies went 9-2, rose to No. 1 in the country with three weeks left in the season before an upset loss to Garden City and a season-ending loss to Ellsworth pushed them out of the national championship picture. They won the Jayhawk Conference title. They finished the season ranked No. 5 in the final NJCAA poll after a 16-year streak of Top 10 finishes was snapped in 2014.
For their efforts, they were shut out of the bowl picture, with the Jayhawk’s lone automatic bid, at the Salt City Bowl, going to Jayhawk co-champion Dodge City, a team Butler beat by 24 points in the regular season
“It absolutely still bothers us,” Schaffner said. “We wanted to keep playing. We wanted to have an opportunity to play again, and mostly you’re sad for the sophomores. But for the remainder of us, it’s motivation. We had it and let it slip away.
“We’ve gotta vow to not let that happen again.”
Work started this winter in the weight room and has continued into spring practices, where the Grizzlies, permitted 20 spring practices under NJCAA rules, will hold their first open scrimmage at 6 p.m. Sunday at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex in El Dorado.
The spring game is scheduled for May 7 at 1 p.m.
“Guys are starting to get comfortable, we’re starting to see some clearer lines being drawn and guys starting to make moves,” Schaffner said. “It takes time get adjusted to new roles, the freshman and the redshirts stepping up and the transfers learning their positions.”
Two potential keys to Butler’s success are City League products – an anomaly since the Jayhawk bumped the roster limit up to 20 out-of-staters before the 2014 season.
Former Bishop Carroll quarterback Colton Howell, 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, went 4-0 as a starter last season in place of oft-injured Justice Hansen, who transferred to Arkansas State.
Howell threw for 465 yards on 43-of-56 passing, with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s in a three-way race for the starting spot this spring with a pair of redshirts in Easton Bruere and William Coleman.
Schaffner compared Howell to former Butler quarterback Press Taylor, who started several games in 2007 and came back as the full-time starter in 2008 and led the Grizzlies to a national title.
“We’re having a nice little battle, a nice competition this spring between the three of them,” Schaffner said. “That position is unique, because you don’t want a revolving door there.
“When (Howell) had the opportunity last season, he did well. And he was hungry for more. He showed that competitive spirit and the nature that we want … the important thing is for him to understand that, hey, everything isn’t going to be perfect. Every play isn’t going to be perfect. He’s learning to manage the game as well as make the right reads and he’s a lot more comfortable now as opposed to a year ago, where he was just showing up and trying to learn the ropes.”
Butler’s X-factor next season could be North product Sean Bernard, who transferred in for winter semester after two seasons at Missouri State. Bernard, 6-3 and 240 pounds, can play both linebacker and defensive end and still has three seasons of eligibility left after a medical redshirt in 2014.
Bernard was fourth on Missouri State with 52 tackles last season.
“He’s at linebacker now, and we’re going to keep him there as long as he demonstrates that’s where he needs to be,” Schaffner said. “You just have to find a place to get him on the field, and with his experience and his maturity in our locker room, that’s already a good fit. He’s already been a good influence.”