Grizzlies football preseason No. 3 in Street & Smith’s

Charles Chaney
Nick Davenport (left) celebrates in the bowl win over Trinity Valley. Butler will need leadership if they want to get back to another bowl game this season

The Butler Grizzlies have never been one to shy away from expectations and the 2020 season could be no different as Street & Smith’s annual preseason Yearbook ranks the Grizzlies No. 3 in their first preseason rankings.

Street & Smith’s ranks all JUCO teams, both in California and the NJCAA, where Butler is still ranked third.

Butler, coming off a 10-win season, their first since 2012, when Butler lost in the National Championship to Iowa Western.

The Grizzlies will be anchored by their defense once again. It was the defense a season ago who found a way to keep the season afloat despite the injuries that decimated their offensive game plan. Losing two starting quarterbacks and a handful players to suspension never helps the cause.

After giving up 49 points, Butler only gave up 30 points over their next four games, including shutting out Air Force Prep and holding a tough Fort Scott team to seven points and Ellsworth to only three.

Butler is bringing in Division I transfers to help sure up some of the losses, such as Charlie Gray (Marshall), Woobendy Guerrier (Akron) and Xavier Hinkle (New Mexico State). They were able to get Kenny Givens, who transfers from Kansas State and Blake Barron, a linebacker from the Oklahoma State.

Much like the defense, the Grizzlies dipped into transfers for some immediate help on the offensive line. They’ll have Jeremiah Crawford, who started last season as a freshman. Crawford’s recruiting buzz is skyrocketing as he was recently offered by Ole Miss.

You’ll see Fort Scott Transfer Caleb Etienne. He’ll help the Grizzlies at 6-9 310 lbs, the Butler line should be massive once again.

They will welcome Javonne Shephard, who transfers from the University of Texas. He appeared in one game before adding his name to the transfer portal in early October.

Street & Smith has all three players on their “Super Sophomore” team. Only Hutch can match Butler with three players on their list.

Butler returns a handful of key offensive players such as Adarius Thomas, who ran for 843 yards, including a career high 180 yards and a touchdown in the Midwest Classic Bowl win over Trinity Valley on Dec. 8.

He’ll have Nick Davenport and Gavin Screws to handle down the quarterback position. Davenport (Ell-Saline, KS) stepped in after injuries to the first two quarterbacks and led the Grizzlies to a stunning upset over then-No. 3 Garden City 34-27.

Screws joins Butler have redshirting at Troy (Division I) last season. He was a prolific passer in high school and a top 150 recruit his senior year.

Special teams is always important as Butler will have to replace both kickers Taiten Winkel (Kansas State) and Jacob Abel (McNeese State) both haved moved onto Division I schools. Butler will look to freshman Gage Kirk (South Central, KS) to take over some of those duties. He hit from at least 47 yards in high school, longest at the 8-man level.

The Grizzlies once again hammered the Sunflower state in recruiting, signing over 25 in-state kids to their recruiting class. While the conference can go out of state for the most of their recruiting, Butler has time after time shown they put the state of Kansas first.

Ahead of Butler in the Street & Smith preseason rankings is defending National Champion, Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Bulldogs ran the table last season, going 12-0. Their 24-13 win over Lackawanna (PA) in the title game ended Lackawanna’s win streak that dated back to 2017.

The Hutchinson Blue Dragons roll in at No. 2. New head coach Drew Dallas was not left with a bare cupboard. Tiyon Evans is tabbed as one of the top running backs in JUCO football. They’ll have to decide what to do at quarterback but the Blue Dragons should be in the talk for a conference title once gain.

Kiyoshi Harris has Independence at No. 4, giving the Jayhawk Conference three of the top four teams in the poll. The Pirates will be loaded with transfers once again, such as Tavion Thomas, a transfer from the University of Cincinnati.

Rounding out the top five is Jones County (MS). They lose stud Kalyn Grandberry (Memphis) in the backfield and LaDamian Webb (Florida State), who led the Bobcats in rushing, finishing third nationally. They’ll have to find a way to replace all of that production in the backfield in an already loaded MACJC.

The Grizzlies get their march to the National Championship, which takes at Pittsburg State on Dec. 3, on Aug. 20 in Council Bluffs against Iowa Western. The Grizzlies have never won in Council Bluffs (0-3 all-time).

The first game at BG Products Veteran Sports Complex on Sat., Aug. 29 against Fort Scott.

The Street & Smith preseason NJCAA Top 15

1. Mississippi Gulf Coast

2. Hutchinson

3. Butler

4. Independence

5. Garden City

6. Blinn (TX)

7. Northwest Mississippi

8. East Mississippi

9. Iowa Western

10. Lackawanna

11. Navarro

12. Hinds

13. East Central (MS)

14. Tyler

15. Kilgore