Even with the temperatures in the mid 90's and the heat index reaching 110 degrees, the Fort Scott Community College football team hit the field earlier this week as the Greyhounds begin preparations for the 2010 football season.
It has been nine months since the Greyhounds bid for their first NJCAA National Championsip since 1970 was halted in the Citizens Bank Bowl in Pittsburg against eventual National Champion Blinn (Texas) College. The Buccaneers used a late fourth- quarter punt return to capture the title, 31-26. Fort Scott finished 11-1, which was the best record since 1970, and a No. 2 national ranking.
The Greyhound football program enters 2010 looking to take it to the "Next Level" and to do that, they will have to look at a whole new cast of characters to perform the on-field magic.
Thirty-six players from of the 2009 squad have left the Fort to pursue their academic and football careers at four-year colleges around the country, leaving Fort Scott with plenty of open slots to fill. Rebuilding -- or reloading -- is nothing new to fourth-year head coach Jeff Sims: The team lost 30 players before the 2009 campaign that saw the 'Hounds come up 15 seconds shy of a national title.
"Each year is its own year at this level," Sims says. "We will be a completely different team this year with some different coaches and only a few returners from last year, and it will be a challenge."
Expectations are high for Sims and the 'Hounds staff in 2010 as they are predicted to finish the top of the NJCAA ranks by The Sporting News in its preseason football magazine. They are the preseason No. 3 pick by the NJCAA and were voted to finish second in the Jayhawk Conference in a pre-season coaches' poll.
Offensively, the Greyhounds will have some big shoes to fill at running back with National Junior College and Jayhawk Conference Offensive Player of the Year Jasmin Hopkins now at Northern Illinois University. Hopkins accounted for 36 percent of the offensive output during the 2009 season.
The 'Hounds return no starters on offense but do have returning players that saw some playing time in 2009: Running backs Nick Woods and Jonathon Walker, and lineman Jeff Johnson. Wide receiver Malcolm Mouton returns after being injured early in the 2009 season and looks to be a go-to player for the 'Hounds.
On the defensive side of the ball, the 'Hounds will rebuild with only starting defensive end Frank Bryant returning. Bryant started all 12 games in 2009 and led the team with 7 forced fumbles. Linebacker Sam Quilice and defensive backs O.J. Shields and Danny Herring return for their sophomore seasons after seeing playing time as freshmen for the 'Hounds last season.
In 2010, the Greyhounds will look to take the football program to the "Next Level" and the coaching staff will continue to push the players to reach for their goals of graduating, winning championships, and earning scholarships.
The Greyhounds will open the 2010 season when they travel to Brenham, Texas, on August 28 for a rematch of the 2009 NJCAA National Football Championship game when they face Blinn (3 p.m., KSEK-FM, 99.1).
The home opener will be the following week, September 4, when the 'Hounds play host pre-season No. 1 conference pick Butler. Game time is set for 1 p.m. at Frary Field. FSCC will also be honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1970 NJCAA Football Championship team at halftime that day.