The Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference coaches and media picked Tabor ninth at the conclusion of the conference?s annual preseason media day.
Head coach Mike Gottsch expects a roster totaling 80-85 entering his third season at the helm, Defensive coordinator Edward King and linebackers coach Jake Shenk both begin their second seasons under Gottsch.
?Last year we won twice as many conference games as we won the year before, and we?re going to continue to swing the hammer,? he said. ?But we?re pretty blunt about our weaknesses.?
Gottsch cited improved pass defense as the team?s most urgent need and one of his focal points.
?I felt like our big weakness was the secondary,? he said. ?We got picked on?our pass defense was terrible. We want to turn that into a strength this year, and we?ve recruited players we feel will be more competitive when the ball is in the air.?
He noted a potential strength along the offensive line, with colossal transfer Jordan Hackerott stepping in alongside returning seniors Drew Little and Jacob Sivells.
?We?ll have a solid offensive line this year, with two returning starters?our center and left tackle?and an onslaught of newcomers,? Gottsch said.
Hackerott, who returns to Tabor after a season of junior college at Hutchinson, weighs in at 6 feet, 7 inches and 320 pounds.
Behind the offensive line, Tabor will incorporate more ?triple option? into its attack, with backs Derek Washington and Seth Ramsey working behind either returning quarterback starter Marc Amos or incoming transfer Joey Erickson.
?Arguably, I think he (Washington) was the best back in the league last year,? Gottsch said. ?He led the league in scoring?he?s a big play guy who can take it the distance any time he touches the ball.?
Washington scored 10 touchdowns in eight games for a conference best average of 7.5 points per game; three other KCAC players scored 10 touchdowns, and Sterling running back Rashard Colquitt scored 11 touchdowns.
Ramsey anchored the full back position for the Bluejays and returns to that position.
Amos took over the starting job when quarterback Jason Aubrey sustained a season-ending concussion against Ottawa in the first week last year. Amos threw for an average of 110 yards per game along with 5 touchdowns.
Erickson posted 52-for-95 passing for 681 yards and six touchdowns in several games at Palomar State in 2007.
On the defensive side, Gottsch noted returning inside linebacker Teal Stutzman has proven his ability to play effectively in high-traffic areas. With 108 tackles?61 solo?Stutzman was among the most prolific stoppers in the conference last year.
Fellow returners Adam Dirks and David Quarker form the core of Tabor?s defensive leadership. Returning safeties Nick Brown and Mario Nava will boost the Bluejays secondary.
Former Hillsboro High School standout and incoming freshman Ishmael Morris projects to join the defensive backs corps, but second-team all-KCAC defensive end Artravious Addison projects to be Tabor?s most important addition on the defensive side. Addison transferred from Sterling, where he his pass-rushing skills translated into team-best sack totals each of the last two years.
Other new arrivals from Marion County include wide receiver HHS alumni Dan Jost and Ben Gottsch as well as Marion High School alum Chase Carlson. Gottsch will redshirt at quarterback, while Jost is listed at wide receiver and Carlson at defensive back.
The most current Bluejays roster lists 83 players: 10 seniors, 20 juniors, 15 sophomores and 38 freshmen.
?Would I like 100-plus? Yeah, but I think we have to be careful when we get that number up,? Gottsch said. ?We?ll have 23 returning lettermen, which is the most we?ve had since I?ve been here.?
The Bluejays netted 25 points in the coaches poll (4.5 percent) and 32 points (3.9 percent) in the media poll. In prior years, the conference coaches had presented their teams in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order, but this year presented in reverse order of a fan poll conducted on the KCAC website.
The fans picked Tabor 10th with 4.5 percent of the vote. Friends was the decided favorite among all three voting groups, winning eight of the coaches? 10 first place votes, 13 of the media?s 15 first place votes and winning more than 22 percent of the fan votes.
Ottawa received the remaining two first place votes from both the coaches and media.
2009 KCAC preseason polls
1. Friends (8 first-place) 98
2. Ottawa (2) 90
3. Sterling 71
4. Kansas Wesleyan 67
5. McPherson 59
6. Bethel 50
7. Saint Mary 45
8. Bethany 29
9. Tabor 25
10. Southwestern 16
1. Friends (13) 147
2. Ottawa (2) 131
3. Sterling 112
4. Kansas Wesleyan 105
5. Bethel 82
6. McPherson 81
7. Saint Mary 68
8. Bethany 48
9. Tabor 32
10. Southwestern 19