But Horton got to work quickly, retaining key assistants, bringing in new ones and getting the players to believe that change -- but not too much -- will be a good thing.
"We've kind of just told the kids, 'let's get to work,'" Horton said Wednesday morning. "We hit the ground running. The kids were here for summer session, going to classes. That made the transition easy. The kids didn't have a chance to sit at home and worry. As a coaching staff, we had the opportunity to show we could keep things going in the right direction and just get to work."
The season opens tonight as the Greyhounds, ranked No. 23 by jcgridiron.com, host Blinn College (Texas), ranked No. 2 by jcgridiron.com and No. 4 in the NJCAA poll, at 7 p.m. at Frary Field.
The final 55-man roster was certified Wednesday afternoon but Horton and his staff had just two or three decisions left to make by 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
"That's the part of the job that's not very easy or very fun," Horton said. "The thing is that we feel like we had good enough players that we've had to debate about them. We've got good kids who have been working hard."
Blinn, 8-3 last season, also has a new head coach as Brad Franchione resigned in January. Ronnie Feldman has taken over. He and Horton have similar histories at their schools. Both were offensive coordinators the previous four seasons before receiving promotions this year.
Horton played high school ball in Alabama and in college at Southwestern College in Winfield under former FSCC head coach Charlie Cowdrey. He has been a high school head coach at Sublette and Scott City in western Kansas. He is married to Certa, a pharmacist at Mercy Health Center, and has two children, Curtis, Jr., 10, and Carly Jo, 7.
Horton takes over a program that finished last season a disappointing 3-6 after playing Blinn for the national title in 2009. In the previous three seasons, the Greyhounds were 29-6 and went to three bowl games.
The Greyhounds will be green this season. Most of the players who return were reserves or redshirts. But one place where they do have experience is in the offensive line.
"We like to call them the Big Nasties," Horton says. "We've got several returners there. I would say we're bigger there than we've been in a long time."
Ryan Kincaid (6' 3", 310, Soph.) anchors the line along with Chris Mayer (6' 7", 345, Soph.), who played at Bishop Miege under former Kansas City Chiefs lineman Tim Grunhard. Area products who could make an impact on the line include Pleasanton's Dillon Roberts (6' 1", 285, Soph.) and Uniontown graduate DuShawn Robinson (6' 5", 295, Fr.).
Also back is tight end Brannon Green (6' 4", 275, Altamont). The Labette County High product is bigger and stronger and is expected to produce better numbers. Last season, he caught 7 passes for 61 yards.
"He's got great hands," Horton says. "He's not going to come off the field unless I tell him to. He'll also go out wide in the spread."
Chanute sophomore Matt Bollig (6' 1", 210) will move over from defense to take over duties at quarterback. Although he played as a defensive back last season -- he threw one pass on a fake punt -- he was in charge of one of the highest-scoring offenses in southeast Kansas when he was a Blue Comet.
"We're real excited about him," Horton says. "We're trying to do a little but more option football with him. He was the starter at Chanute when they had some great teams. He's just a winner and he makes things happen."
Owen Jordan (6' 1", 180, Fr., Pittsburg), who was at Columbus High last season, is the backup quarterback.
Fort Scott High School graduate Griffin Knopp (6' 3", 190, Fr.) will be catching some of Bollig's passes and also earned the punting duties based on consistent work in practice.
"Knopp has improved every practice," Horton says, "He's going to be starting at wide receiver and you can just tell that he's one of those guys who's going to make plays when the lights come on. And on top of that, he's our punter and he booms that ball."
Martese Jackson (5' 7", 185, Soph., Asheville, N.C.) will be the starting tailback after a foot injury forced FSCC to redshirt him last season. Horton said he would have started last year if not for the injury.
Other returning offensive players include receiver Bronson Moylan (5' 11", 175, Soph., LaCygne), running back Jeff Jones (5' 8", 198, Soph., Kansas City, Kan.), and linemen Cole Ingram (6' 5", 285, Soph., Baldwin City) and Kevin Park (6' 4", 325, Soph., Roeland Park).
The defensive philosophy is best explained by Horton himself. It takes the sometimes-used phrase "chopping wood" to a new level.
"I've been telling the defense that if I'm going to cut down a tree in eight hours, I'm going to sharpen the axe for six," Horton said. "That's an Abraham Lincoln quote. I've told them I need an axe defense. And this is kind of strange, but I've been saying that if I'm going to kill a fly, I'm not gonna bring a fly swatter, I'm gonna bring an axe. So we've been preaching the kill-a-housefly-with-an-axe defense and they've been buying into it."
And lining up as bookend axe-swinging defensive ends are Robert McField (6' 6", 265, Fr., St. Louis) and Demetrius Hill (6' 3", 245, Fr., Kankakee, Ill.).
"Defensively, we've got a lot of new faces," Horton said. "When you show up for the game, you'll notice (McField). He's a big ol' athletic kid and he likes to run around. Hill is our other defensive end. I think people will be excited to watch him. He's got that extra gear. I'm really excited to watch those two guys play."
Marceice Jackson (6' 3", 240, Soph., Daphne, Ala.) will be the strong-side linebacker. Horton calls him "Bamm Bamm" and says that he is what coaches look for in a Sam linebacker.
Only two sophomores who were on Fort Scott's final 55-man roster last season return on defense: linebacker Dallas Buck (6' 1", 245, Soph., Shawnee) and lineman Gilbert Fernandez (6' 3", 270, Kansas City, Kan.).
Eight of the Greyhounds' 12 out-of-state positions belong to defensive players. Among them are Jackson, Hill, McField, linebacker Stephen Martin (6' 1", 215, Fr., Lake Alfred, Fla.), defensive lineman Justin Taimatuia (6' 2", 285, Fr., Samo, Alaska), defensive back Kevin Short (6' 2", 182, Fr., Florissant, Mo.), cornerbacks Cameron Cole (6' 1", 195, Fr., Cincinnati, Ohio) and Ladarius Gunter (6' 2", 200, Soph., Birmingham, Ala.).
The 'Hounds will be tested early not only with Blinn but also defending conference and Region VI champion Butler. The Grizzlies finished as national runner-up last season with an 11-1 record and are ranked No. 3 by the NJCAA and No. 6 by jcfootball.com. Fort Scott will be traveling to El Dorado to face the Grizzlies on Sept. 3.
"When you play teams like that, you can't mess around.," Horton says. "Of course, the thing about it is that you don't get a false reality. You may have teams that start with weaker schedules and get away with bad habits. Then they get later into the season and lose games they should win. So I think it's a plus. If we come out and just do our jobs -- nothing more, nothing less -- we'll be fine."
Five of Fort Scott's first six games are against teams ranked in one poll or the other. Week three opponent Independence and week five foe Coffeyville are ranked by the NJCAA, while week six opponent Hutchinson is in the top 10 in both polls.
The 'Hounds are chomping at the bit to prove themselves, Horton says.
"They're tired of looking at each other," he says. "You can tell they're ready to look over and see someone else on the other side of the field and get to play a game."
NOTES -- The Blinn-Fort Scott game is part of the opening-weekend series between Southwest Junior College Football Conference schools (Texas and Oklahoma) and Jayhawk Conference schools that's been held since 2006. Two others will be played tonight: No. 3 Butler at No. 1 Navarro and Kilgore at No. 6 Hutchinson.
Saturday's games will have No. 14 Trinity Valley at No. 23 Independence, No. 15 Coffeyville visiting Tyler, No. 22 Cisco traveling to Dodge City and Garden City going to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Since there are only seven schools in the SWJCFC, Highland doesn't have a Texas opponent to play. But the Scotties will get a test on Saturday when they host No. 12 Iowa Western....
Blinn and Garden City are both 5-0 in this series. Tyler is the only 4-1 team. Fort Scott, Butler, Hutchinson, Cisco, Navarro and Trinity Valley are each 3-2. Dodge City, Independence and Kilgore are each 0-5 in the series....