WICHITA, Kan. – Butler was predicted to finish runner-up in the Jayhawk Conference for the upcoming 2019, as the KJCCC coaches' poll was released during Friday's football media day at the campus of Newman University.
The coaches voted the Grizzlies one slot ahead of defending conference champion and NJCAA runner-up Garden City, while Hutchinson was picked as the favorite after finishing second last season. Highland was slated to finish fourth, while Coffeyville, Independence, Dodge City and Fort Scott rounded out the bottom half of the conference.
Butler comes off an 8-4 season and a victory over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in the Midwest Classic Bowl, which was the Grizzlies' first bowl win since 2011.
"You'd rather be picked second than last, but it will be November and December where you really want to be up at the top," said Butler head cach Tim Schaffner, who begins his fifth season leading the Grizzlies. "It's nice and flattering, but it doesn't mean anything until you go out on the field and play."
Schaffner remarked that the conference is stronger than ever, while stressing the importance of maintaining the league's identity after seeing eight junior college football programs drop football over the offseason.
"The conference is loaded," Schaffner added. "The coaches just keep getting better. The quality of play just keeps getting better. With the state of junior college football, we've got to keep this thing rolling."
Schaffner noted that the strength of the Grizzlies' roster will be the offensive line, which returns six letterman – including sophomore center AJ Vang (Goddard, KS), who made all 12 starts last year. The experience at line should help keep the quarterback position upright.
"We're really deep there this year," Schaffner said about the offensive line. "We've always kind of prided ourselves on being good on the O-line. The fact that we've got two quarterbacks vying who we're comfortable with is good to have."
Sophomore Steven Frank (Oswego, IL) is projected to be the starting signal-caller after missing the 2018 season due to a medical redshirt, while Memphis transfer Jack Samsel (Spanish Fort, AL) will compete for the starting role.
Butler also returns running back Grahm Roberts (Wilmington, DE), who gained 386 yards on 108 carries and five touchdowns.
Defensively, Butler returns no starters, but 10 players with experience. Linebacker Charlie Gray (Edwardsville, KS) is expected to lead the unit after making 33 tackles and three sacks in 2018.
The Grizzlies return Josh Davies (Richmond, TX) and Quillan Felton (Lithonia, GA) on the defensive line, while defensive backs Xavier Hinkle (Liberty, MO), Parker Bruce (Andale) and Kwinton Lassiter (Lawrence) saw playing time last season.
Butler will host seven games at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex, including the first three games beginning with the Aug. 24 season opener against Iowa Central at 7:00 p.m. Following the opener, the Grizzlies will play home to non-conference Snow (UT) on Aug. 31, marking the first meeting between the two programs since the 2008 NJCAA National Championship game which saw Butler win its sixth national title in a 37-30 double-overtime win in Sandy, Utah.
"I'd take my schedule and line it up against anyone else in the country," said Schaffner. "You can't find any schedules any tougher than what we have week-in and week-out."
Butler ends the opening three-game homestand with a conference opening contest against Highland on Sept. 7. Other home games on the schedule include Dodge City (Sept. 21), Air Force Prep (Oct. 12), Fort Scott (Oct. 19) and Garden City (Nov. 9). All home games will have a 7:00 p.m. kickoff.