WICHITA - Followers of NCJAA football and Division I college recruiters have known for years that Butler County (Kan.) Community College and Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College are home to some of the top junior-college prospects and some of the best coaches in the business. After both squads opened their seasons up on Saturday with impressive victories, it’s easy to see that the trend will continue this year.
The cupboard is definitely not bare after and after Rivals100.com editor Jeremy Crabtree visited both campuses on Thursday and Friday of last week, it looks like the Grizzlies and Red Ravens are set to battle it out for league supremacy and send even more alumni to the Division I ranks.
With the smell of sulfur hovering over the field on another sweltering Kansas afternoon, Butler County coach Troy Morrell barks at his team to give 100 percent effort in seven-on-seven drills.
The first team offense was going against the redshirt defense and the first team defense was going against the redshirt offense. Morrell wasn’t pleased at what he was witnessing and pushed his squad to achieve perfection on both sides of the ball. His assistant coaches grinded even harder on the players to not forget about their fundamentals and not to overlook assignments that were being missed.
But when the drill started up again a small smile began to form on Morrell’s face.
He knows that what he is watching is something special. This team has the same type of talent that could return the Grizzlies back to the level that they were in 1998 and 1999 when they won back-to-back NCJAA national championships.
And it all starts with Butler County’s talented group of defenders.
Even though Butler County ended up giving up 22 points in a 30-22 victory over Trinity Valley on Saturday night, Morrell has assembled a defense that could be better than what is on the field at several Big 12 schools. The Grizzlies have at least seven sophomore prospects on defense that are going to end up playing Division I football and a few others that could also play their way to scholarships this season.
Without question, though, the linebacker corps of Lee Foliaki (right) and Greg Wilkerson is the strength of the defense.
Foliaki, a three-star prospect in high school from Euless (Texas) Trinity, has been called by several coaches as the top junior-college linebacker in the nation after racking up 113 tackles in his freshman season and Morrell doesn’t disagree.
“I think it’d be hard to find a linebacker out there better than Lee,” Morrell said.
“He just does so many things. You see him walking around in the hall or away from the field and he might not really impress you. But when he gets out there on the practice field or under the lights of the game, he’s a totally different person. He’s a beast.”
Is Foliaki a beast heading to Colorado?
“Lee was placed here by Colorado and our intentions are that he’s going to end up there, unless we are told that they have other plans and don’t want him,” Morrell said.
However, there might be some complications with Foliaki’s recruitment, which could eventually open the door up to other programs. The Buffs have had a hard time in recent past with a few junior college prospects in qualifying under their tougher standards and some college coaches are quietly whispering that might be the case with Foliaki.
When asked if he’s going back to Colorado, Foliaki smiles slightly and thinks before giving a calculated answer.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
Then in the next breath, Foliaki asks if he knows if either Oklahoma or Texas want to recruit junior college linebackers. He also talks about how he went to watch the Longhorns practice last winter in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl.
While Foliaki’s status might be somewhat up in the air, one player that is still a very solid commitment on the school that placed him at Butler is Wilkerson (left). Back in high school, Wilkerson was a very high three-star prospect at Buford, Ga., that signed with Auburn.
Well, he’s now grown another inch and added more weight to go with his ability to kill running backs and quarterbacks.
As a freshman, Wilkerson had 74 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and three sacks and Morrell is expecting even bigger things from him this year.
“Greg does everything you ask of him,” Morrell said. “He has an amazing motor and can run for a guy his size. He might also be the prettiest guy that you see in a football uniform. He’s so well put together.”
Combined with Foliaki and Wilkerson the front of the defense is spear-headed by strongside defensive end Jeremy Mincey (right).
If Wilkerson looks like the prettiest guy in a uniform then Mincey would be a very, very close second because he’s a solid 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds.
Mincey, who had 41 tackles and four sacks last season, was maybe the hottest target for college recruiters to look at this past spring and he decided to end the process early with a pledge to the Florida Gators. It was an easy decision for the Statesboro, Ga., native.
“I’m already a very happy Gator,” Mincey said, wearing a blue and orange UF hat.
Morrell said Mincey is also one of the most humble kids that he’s worked with in a long time. Morell doesn’t expect Mincey to suffer from a lack of focus this season and expects him to make strides in football that should make him a star for the Gators.
While going through seven-on-seven drills Thursday, all the way across the field a loud voice could be heard talking smack about how the receivers weren’t going to get open. Upon further examination it was discovered to be David Irons, the Dacula, Ga., native that is going to end up at Auburn after the first semester.
Irons signed with Auburn out of high school in 2001 and was scheduled to enroll there after his freshman season at Butler, but complications with one class kept him at Butler for this season. While Irons was definitely excited about what was going on at practice, he kept talking about how he should have been at The Plains on Saturday covering standout USC receiver Michael Williams.
University of Alabama transfer and former Rivals100 selection Harold James has landed on his feet at Butler County.
James originally signed with Alabama back in 1999 out of Osceola, Ark., but ended up at Northeast Mississippi in 2002 and is finally now at Butler County. He will only have one season to play one year when he’s done at Butler, but somebody will be willing to take a chance on a former national top 100 prospect that has put on some weight and is now at 6-2 and 225 pounds.
He could play either safety or outside linebacker for whichever school he ends up at.
On offense, the Grizzlies have a few go-to-guys that should develop into Division I prospects.
Quarterback Chad Wilmont, from Valley Center, Kan., originally, might not blow you away with his arm strength but he is a true leader and his teammates believe he’ll get the job done. Offensive guard Brandon Robinson, from Wichita, Kan., originally, is a quick lineman that has exceptional feet.
But the two solid D-I prospects that jump out on offense are running back Joseph Harris and tight end Brent Hecht.
Harris was one of the top prospects out of Kansas City two years ago when he played at Olathe South High School. However, his big knock was his speed, but he’s now improved that and has worked his way to an every-down college running back.
Hecht is a physical tight end that is just as adept at run blocking as he is going over the middle to make a catch. With his frame – 6-4 and 250 pounds – colleges should covet him and he might be one of the more highly recruited tight ends in the Jayhawk Conference.
Long-time Coffeyville assistant coach Sean “Rico” Cherico doesn’t like sugar-coating things and is always 100 percent honest with you. So when he says the Red Ravens might have one of the nation’s top defensive backfields and linebacker corps, you know that he’s telling the truth.
But then again, seeing is always believing.
After visiting Coffeyville on Friday and inspecting the talent firsthand, it’s clear that Raven head coach Jeff Leiker, along with help from defensive coordinator Bryce Saia and Cherico, have assembled one impressive looking crew that is going to have the college coaches drooling.
Coffeyville’s defensive backs are fast, have great size and four of them are going to be playing D-I ball next season.
Rock Hill, S.C., native Jonathan Joseph (right) was placed at Coffeyville by South Carolina and he plans on returning there after he’s finished this season. The former three-star selection out of high school has added another inch to his height and another 10 pounds of muscle mass.
“Jonathan is a kid that’s going to fly around from his cornerback spot and make a lot of plays on run support,” Cherico said. “But he’s also a lock-down corner that you can stick him on the other team’s best receiver and he’ll get the job done.”
Joseph isn’t the only one in the Coffeyville defensive backfield that can do that, though.
At the other cornerback spot is Coffeyville, Kan., native T.J. Covington. The 6-foot, 195-pound Covington was overlooked in the recruiting process two years ago and has turned himself into one of the Jayhawk Conference’s best defenders. He’s also very successful in track and some school that does its homework on Covington will land itself a heck of a prospect.
But at safety is where the Ravens can get flat out defensive at.
Carson, Calif., native and former Washington Husky signee Dashon Goldson (left) and Bradenton, Fla., native Randy Kelly pair to form what might be the nation’s top one-two punch at safety.
Goldson plays at the free safety spot and showed why he’s one of the top prospects in the nation in last Saturday against NEO with more than 10 tackles and a 50-yard interception return. Kelly also racked up quite a bit of tackles Saturday from his strong safety position, and what makes him special is his ability to both cover the pass but also come up and support the run.
Both also definitely pass the eye-ball test, but Goldson carries a little more weight at 6-1 and 205 pounds, compared to Kelly’s 6-0, 180-pound frame.
The Ravens also have two of the nation’s top linebacker prospects, but outside linebacker Marcus Estes suffered a broken leg in the game against NEO and might be lost for the season.
Still, Coffeyville can look to Barry “The Pipe” Wright (right) to carry the load at linebacker and turn in a truckload of tackles.
Wright, who said he has offers from LSU, Florida and Florida State and is from Pensacola, Fla., originally, is one of those nasty inside linebackers that you want on your team. His size – 5-11 and 215 pounds – might scare some picky teams away at first but when you turn on the film and see him running down quarterbacks and running backs, size won’t matter.
The cat can flat out play.
“He’s special,” Cherico said. “Barry not only looks the part and plays the part, but he’s a good kid that listens and is always working to get better in practice and in film study.”
Estes, who is originally from Houston Madison, would have been one of the Jayhawk Conference’s top outside linebacker recruits and he was already getting attention from quite a few programs. But with the injury things could get interesting for him now.
But it’s not all about defense at Coffeyville. The Red Ravens have some studs on the offensive side of the ball, including a standout running back, standout receiver and a potential NFL offensive lineman.
Offensive guard Paul Soliai (left) is a guy that’s just starting to make some noise on the recruiting front. College coaches that came through Coffeyville in the spring were very impressed with his 6-4, 335-pound frame and the fact that he’s very raw and just learning how to play offensive line.
“He’s originally from America Samoa,” Cherico said. “He could have played professional rugby, but he decided to come here to Coffeyville to learn how to become a better football player. I really feel like he’s a guy that will be playing on Sundays. He’s got so many raw physical tools that you can’t coach.”
Soliai was a first-team all conference pick as a freshman and started every game at right tackle for the Red Ravens, but its his 5.05 second time in the 40-yard dash that is impressing college coaches the most. Look for him to be highly recruited by the time the fall recruiting period rolls around.
Lee Baker of Daphne, Ala., is a solid running back/receiver threat and he opened the season against NEO with a solid outing.
His 5-7, 185-pound frame might make some schools shy away, but his 290-pound bench, 540-pound squat and 4.46-second time in the 40-yard dash might also allow one lucky team to find a heck of a player.
Coffeyville is also home to one of the nation’s most under-rated receiver prospects – Dustin Bromley (right) of Coffeyville, Kan.
Bromley might not impress you upon first glance and that’s the one thing that might scare some colleges away – the look alone. He’s a tall, thin and Cherico thinks some schools might not recruit him based upon the looks alone.
“But this kid can flat out play,” Cherico said. “Schools need to forget what he looks like and just watch him play. I really think he could be the best receiver in our conference. Somebody is going to take a chance on this kid and end up with a guy that can catch a ton of balls.”
Bromley finished 2002 with 29 catches for 538 yards and four touchdowns, earning second-team all conference honors. He started 2003 off with a bang, catching a critical touchdown in Coffeyville’s 13-0 victory over NEO.