Written by Andrew Ottoson Wednesday, 08 August 2007 05:37
Friends University, winners of nine straight regular season games at the end of 2006, claimed the top spot in both the coaches and media polls at the annual Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference 2007 football media day Friday in Salina.
Tabor was rated fifth in both polls on the heels of a tumultuous season during which the Bluejays collected a 5-4 record in conference play and went 6-4 overall.
The consensus among KCAC coaches and media is that Friends, Kansas Wesleyan, Bethel and Sterling all have stronger teams than Tabor.
But preseason polls aren’t always accurate. Bethel College was picked seventh by the media and eighth by the coaches a year ago—but climbed to the top of the standings and defeated Friends in a post season playoff.
“As always, our goal will be to win the conference,” Tabor first-year head coach Mike Gottsch said after the results were announced.
“I am really looking forward to proving the pollsters wrong,” he added. “It will take a concerted effort on everyone’s part and all of us going the extra mile.”
Along with the uncertainties that accompany the onset of the new season, every team in the conference has reason to be optimistic—perhaps none more than the Bluejays.
“I believe we have a solid group of upper classmen with a passionate spirit to play to win who at the same time will play with attention to discipline and sportsmanship,” he said.
Gottsch has aimed to assemble a team that matches skill with character in order to improve the squad’s standing on campus and in the eyes of interested observers.
“We want to represent our college well by the way we relate to one another and the entire Tabor community,” he said.
The Bluejays were picked to finish fourth in the conference by the KCAC media last season and were picked third by the coaches.
Tabor’s slight slide in pre-season poll position reflects both last season’s fifth-place finish under Robert Rubel and the strength of the class that graduated this spring.
Graduation removed all-conference first-team offensive lineman Grant Myers from the mix, as well as first-team defensive lineman Alex Wallace and second-team wide receiver Aaron Jenkins.
Three more graduates had been all-conference honorable mention players at Tabor: offensive lineman Bobby Hurd, defensive lineman Chris Cook and wide receiver Nate Owens.
But the cupboard is by no means bare for the 2007 team. All-conference second-teamers Andy Bartell and Kyle Basinger will team with honorable mention Zach Peters to form the core of a re-tooled defense.
Honorable mention quarterback DeJaun Jones will be back for his senior season, as will honorable mention wide receiver Caleb Marsh.
“I do know this group will be a very competitive group,” Gottsch said.
“They are a determined group,” he continued. “I do know that our coaches will work hard at preparation. It will be up to everyone to do their best at creating a genuine team spirit.”
Welcoming a new head coach for the second time in as many years might also have lowered a pollster’s view of the team. Gottsch has a different view of the change.
“I believe with the turnover, with having a new head coach four times in the last five seasons, we’re facing some exciting challenges.”
While another team might spend a large portion of its allotted time introducing a coaching staff that has undergone little change in the off-season, putting together a new staff has been a big part of Gottsch’s early work.
“We have one coach (offensive line coach Dave Kroeker) remaining on the staff from last season, and I’d imagine that it had changed as much the season before that, too,” he said.
But a less tangible aspect of the challenge that faces any first-year coach is added emphasis on team-building
“It will be up to our players and coaches to practice hard and commit to the objectives of the team,” Gottsch said.
“We will all grow together and learn from each other this season,” he continued. “I am really looking forward to working with these young men.”
2007 KCAC Preseason Polls
1. Friends (6) 96
2. Kansas Wesleyan (2) 85
3. Bethel (1) 82
4. Sterling 73
5. Tabor 51
6. Ottawa (1) 48
7. McPherson 36
8. Southwestern 35
9. Saint Mary 27
10. Bethany 17
1. Friends (10) 136
2. Kansas Wesleyan (1) 112
3. Bethel (2) 111
4. Sterling 105
5. Tabor 81
6. McPherson 54
7. Ottawa 49
8. Southwestern 47
9. Saint Mary 40
10. Bethany (1) 35