WICHITA, Kan. -- There never seems to be any doubt. When the football coaches of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference are asked who they think will win the championship, they pick Butler every time.
There's good reason for that as Grizzlies head coach Troy Morrell's team have lost just four of 84 conference games and 16 of 142 overall in his 13 seasons as head coach. During his tenure, Butler has won the conference title 10 of the past 11 seasons.
Butler, 6-0 in the conference and 11-1 overall last season, was picked to win the Jayhawk again at the coaches' pre-season media day.
Fort Scott, which went 4-4 under rookie head coach Curtis Horton last season, was picked to finish fourth behind the Grizzlies, Hutchinson and Coffeyville. Garden City and Dodge City tied for fifth in the voting while Highland was picked seventh and Independence last.
Fort Scott was ineligible to win the conference title last season because the program was on probation. Games against the Greyhounds didn't count in the standings but FSCC was 4-3 against the conference.
"Our best strength is that we're not on probation anymore," Curtis, who took over just a month before the first day of practice last season, said. "Last year, I had to tell the team, 'You're on probation; your games don't count.' And it showed their character."
Two top players Horton named were defensive back Kevin Short, a sophomore from Florissant, Mo., and offensive lineman Chris Mayer, a sophomore from Shawnee, Kan. Curtis said short, who led the conference with five interceptions last season, could be an NFL player. He also said that "the best thing that happened (for the offensive line) was that Nebraska looked at Chris and said, 'You're too fat.' Then Oklahoma came up and said, 'You're too fat.'"
The Greyhounds have seven starters returning on offense and six back on defense. Among those coming back are offensive linemen Anthony Curtis from Topeka, Kan., who was the only freshman starter on the line last season. Adding to the line will be Anthony Moore, a January transfer.
Horton spoke only briefly compared to the other coaches but summed up his team's chances in his own way: "There's no magic pixie dust. We still have to go out and work."
Morrell expects to continue winning with a mix of sophomores and freshmen. Dereamus Smith returns at tailback after finishing with 653 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns last season. The Grizzlies expect to start Billy Cosh at quarterback, a transfer from James Madison who hasn't played in two years.
Hutchinson head coach Rion Rhoades has lost just five games in the last two years -- four of those to Butler. But he says that the Blue Dragons, second last year (5-1, 9-3), while looking to finally get past the Grizzlies also have to keep an eye on the rest of the conference as teams picked below them are expected to improve.
Rhoades, who coached Fort Scott in 2006, has 24 lettermen back, 14 of those on offense. But he's faced with finding a way to compensate for the loss of receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who led the conference in all-purpose yards and scoring.
"I feel strongly we have a strong core of returning players," Rhoades said. "I feel like our offensive line will be the best we've ever had."
There will be a four-way battle for the quarterback job in Hutch with returning signal callers Slater McVey and Kody Cook, University of Troy transfer Luke Barnes and Arkansas State transfer Jesse Stone.
Coffeyville (4-2, 6-4) started strong each of the last two seasons only to fade at the end. Red Raven Athletic Director Jeff Lieker, a former conference head coach, brought in former Butler defensive coordinator Aaron Flores to get Coffeyville past that stumbling block.
Flores has 16 returning lettermen, 10 on defense. That includes linebacker Martell Spaight, who has stepped up to be a team leader.
"His work ethic is second to none," Flores said. "He was on board with us and has helped us bring players along."
A.J. Derby is expected to be Coffeyville's starting quarterback. He arrived in January after transferring in from the University of Iowa, where he had been switched to linebacker.
The Red Ravens will be tasted right off the bat as they open at Hutchinson.
Dodge City (3-3, 3-7) made the playoffs last season perhaps at the expense of the probation-saddled Greyhounds. But the Conquistadors could be a legitimate contender for one of the four playoff spots. Defensive end Marcus Hardison, who had 46 tackles last season, leads the defense and has Division I size (6' 4", 290 pounds).
Only 11 lettermen return for Dodge City. But Majeski feels that a good recruiting class may make up for the lack of experience.
"The numbers game is going to be a big thing," Majeski said. "I think we did a really good job or recruiting in Kansas.
"We've got to not be our (own) worst enemy."
There was a time -- not that long ago -- when Garden City (2-4, 2-7) could be counted on to be one of the nation's top teams right up there with Butler. But at this media gathering, Broncbuster head coach Jeff Tatum referred to his team as a "little guy".
There are 26 returning lettermen in Garden City, 15 on defense. Seven of the Busters' returning starters are on defense, including safety Ian Stone, a hometown product Tatum called "the quarterback of our defense."
The offensive quarterback is expected to be Nick Marshall, who transfers in from the University of Georgia. He had the chance to play both football and basketball there but decided to focus on the gridiron. Marshall did play in every game at Georgia last year -- but as a cornerback.
Highland (1-5, 1-8), which has never had a winning season since joining the KJCCC, has decided if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The Scotties bring in Ryan Held, who was also once an offensive coordinator at Butler.
The Scotties had the worst scoring offense (10.9 points per game) and second-worst scoring defense (45.9) last season. They allowed 64 points to Iowa Western, 89 to Butler and 90 to Hutchinson -- that in a four-week span.
"I blew up the roster," Held said. "When you're losing like that, you have a talent problem. Now we feel like we have a good bunch of Kansas kids from Johnson County.
"We don't have kids who are used to losing. They can help us change the culture."
Quarterback Juanquez Stevens, a transfer from Alabama State, is expected to help put some life in the listless Highland offense.
Independence (0-6, 0-9) enters the season on a 10-game losing streak but has several good returning players to build around including quarterback TyQuan Hayes and defensive end Tommy Dover.
"I'm optimistic about the season and I'm also realistic about the rest of the league," second-year Pirate head coach Steve Carson said.
NOTES -- The series of games between KJCCC schools and those of the Southwest Junior College Football Conference (Texas and Oklahoma) will not open the season this year as the SWJCFC decided it didn't want to have games on the last weekend of August. Instead, there will be a full slate of conference games -- including Fort Scott at Highland -- on August 25.
The series will be held on the second weekend of the season, September 1. Fort Scott will host Tyler while Blinn will be the first opponent to play at Butler's new facility....
Independence was going to play Lon Morris College, a Texas independent which had just started a football program, on Sept. 1. But Lon Morris furloughed all its staff on May 23 and hasn't reopened. Instead, Independence will be at home against Southeast Prep, a team that the SWJCFC schools will occasionally play in order to fill holes in their schedules....
Rules changes this season:
* -- There is a new kick-catch interference rule.
* -- Kickoffs have been moved from the 30-yard line to the 35 in an effort to reduce injuries on returns. The 10 players other than the kicker can not be more than five yards behind the ball before the kick.
* -- To try to keep kickers from just kicking it through the end zone, touchbacks will be spotted at the 25-yard line instead of the 20.
* -- A defender on the punt return team may not attempt to leap over a wall that has three or more blockers. This was put in for player safety. However, if the punter rolls out to one side before kicking -- the "rugby-style" punt, the defender is allowed to try and jump over the wall of blockers.
* -- Any player who loses his helmet must come out of the game for one play unless the helmet came off as the result of a foul (such as a face mask penalty)....