New faces mark start of GCCC spring football
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
Almost 60 players took to the field at the GCCC Multi-Purpose Facility on Tuesday afternoon at the first spring practice for the Garden City Community College football team.
As with all programs during the spring, spirits were high, players were energized, and coaches were hopeful, beaming with excitement over the talent on the field.
At the junior college level, evaluating that talent is the most difficult part, with players moving in and out of the roster on a yearly basis. Gone from last year's Buster team that finished 2-8 (with three forfeits) are star linebackers Errol Clarke and D'Vonta Derricott, defensive back Dondre Elvoid, defensive backs Wonderfull Terry and Tim Hill, offensive lineman Colby Hamel, Ryan Johnson and Dontavius Blair, quarterbacks Akeem Jones and Jake Curran, and speedster running back/wide receiver/returner Tyreek Hill.
Every season means quite a few holes to fill at the JUCO level. And spring practice is the time to find out which players can step up to plug those holes.
But first, it's about teaching the basics.
"(Tuesday's) kind of getting back into things," second-year head coach Matt Miller said. "Getting back into how we do things and what we want — how we practice and how we huddle and snap count, and all those little things you've got to do when you've got a bunch of new guys."
One of those new guys is Wisconsin transfer Jakarrie Washington, who played in 11 games for the Badgers as a nickelback in 2013. Washington was a three-star defensive back out of Everett (Mass.) High School, and looks to fill the hole by the departures of corners Terry, who signed to play at Western Kentucky, and Hill.
But it's the role some of the returners play for the Busters during the spring that's so important to Miller when trying to coach a team with so many new faces.
"I think the hardest part is spring ball," Miller said about the challenges at the JUCO level, noting the split in experience between returners and newcomers.
Having players who know the system, how to practice and what the coaches are looking for is vital, Miller said, to help evaluate players.
The Busters do have quite a few returners on both sides of the ball, headlined by wide receivers Brandon Snell, who was heavily recruited by the University of Utah last season before returning to Garden City, and Monterio Burchfield, offensive lineman Mitch Moore and Jarek Smalley and defensive backs Sam Green and Makail Grace.
However, Grace, who is former GCCC and current Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall's cousin, is switching to play quarterback this spring.
Grace competed for the quarterback job in the summer before the 2013 season, but switched to safety, where he was effective, racking up 33 tackles with three interceptions.
"We've made the decision, a while back, and Makail is definitely up for it. He's a quarterback," Miller said. "We brought him here as a quarterback."
Grace was so impressive as a defensive back that Miller said both Auburn and Florida State have begun to send letters to Grace to begin recruiting him for that position. But Miller was confident in his decision to give Grace reps as a signal caller this spring.
"I'm going to give him a long look this spring," Miller said. "We weren't as athletic as I want to be at (quarterback) last season, and he's definitely bringing that."
In a twist of irony, Grace's cousin, Marshall, began his college football career as a defensive back at Georgia before transferring to Garden City to play quarterback, leading the Busters' explosive offense in 2012. Marshall's dynamic play took him to Auburn, where he led the Tigers to the 2014 national championship game as a dual threat quarterback.
The Busters would love a repeat performance from Grace.
Helping pave the way on offense will be Smalley, who switched from defensive line to offensive line late last season.
"(Offensive line coach Merci) Falaise really thought that if he was at offensive line from the get-go, he would have been a tremendous help for us, and he's going to be a tremendous help for us," Miller said of the 6-foot-8, 300-pound lineman. "He's got college scouts drooling over him."
Moore, a 2013 Garden City High School graduate, also returns up front after starting at the three inside line spots last season.
However, the Busters are practicing with just six offensive lineman during the spring.
"The recruiting class was very fruitful in a lot of areas," Miller said, "and the offensive linemen will definitely help us out, too."
The Busters have signed 65 players to date, with 30 in-state players, including Garden City High School's Dusty Tempel and Ismael Hernandez. Other area signees include Ulysses' Adolfo Erives and Jorge Mendez Santos, Jr., Deerfield's Zaine Gillock and Elkhart's Alex Gomez.
The incoming recruits will not join the Busters until after they have graduated from their respective high schools.
The Busters also have two new faces at the coaching level, in defensive line coach Steven Vincent, and running backs/inside receivers coach Eric Hickson, who Kansas State fans might remember as a running back for the Wildcats from 1994 to 1998.
"I want to have coaches that want to be here, care about our program, care about me and our players, and I've got that now," Miller said about the additions of Hickson and Vincent.
Gone from the staff are defensive backs coach Joe Gordon and running backs coach Jimmy Sampson.
Returning is Jeff Kelly (defensive coordinator/linebackers), Falaise (offensive coordinator/offensive line) and Oscar Rodriguez (who will take over as secondary coach, along with special teams).
Spring practice concludes on May 2, the day before the spring game on May 3. The Busters will open their 2014 season on Aug. 30 with a home game against Highland. It will mark the debut of the new multi-purpose facility for a football game.