In the first season of the second Mike Gardner era at Tabor College, fans voted the Bluejay football team to finish fifth in the online preseason poll at kcacsports.com.
The coaches and media were not so kind. The media picked Tabor eighth and the coaches ninth by at the Kansas Collegiate Athletics Confernce football media day Friday at the Salina Country Club.
Sterling was picked by the fans to win the conference title, followed by Friends, Ottawa, McPher?son, Tabor, South?western, Kansas Wesleyan, St. Mary, Bethany and Bethel.
The coaches picked Friends to finish first, followed by Ottawa, McPherson, Sterling, Kansas Wesleyan, Bethany, St. Mary, Southwestern, Tabor and Bethel.
Media voted the same on the top six, followed by South?western, Tabor, St. Mary and Bethel.
Gardner was treated to a warm return to the KCAC by the opposing coaches, perhaps the warmest regards coming from Friends coach Monty Lewis.
?Mike? welcome home!? Lewis said. ?I?ve been in a similar situation. Feels good to come back, don?t it??
Bethany?s Jamie Cruce expressed a little nervousness about the two-time KCAC champion coach?s return.
?It?s kind of a bittersweet thing having him back,? Cruces said. ?I like Mike, but he?s a pretty good coach, so it?s going to make it tough on the rest of us as well.?
When he stepped to the podium, the Bluejay boss said he is taking over his second tenure at Tabor under very different circumstances. In his first two years as Tabor?s head coach, Gardner won two KCAC titles, posted a 20-3 overall record, went 17-1 in the KCAC, and led Tabor to a No. 6 final NAIA ranking in 2005.
?When I got up here the first time, 2004, I said the one thing I had coming up that I didn?t have to teach them how to do was to become a team,? he said. ?Coming back, that is certainly a lot different now.?
Gardner said he thought the Bluejays made progress during spring workouts.
?One of the things we tried to do all spring was talk about communication, leadership and Christ-centeredness and all those things that are important to me as a football coach and a football program,? he said. ?As time went on, I feel like we became stronger as a group.?
Tabor will return 43 players from last year?s 0-10 squad, and Gardner has signed 70 new recruits.
In this first season, ?All our positions are wide open,? Gardner said.
Offensive coordinator Billy Hickman will start practice with an inexperienced offense.
Returning for his senior season is quarterback Joey Erick?son, who saw action in seven games as a junior. He racked up 102 passing yards and 231 rushing yards.
?(Erickson) really had one game of experience, in which he played extremely well,? Gardner said. ?But in terms of playing an entire season, that remains in question.?
Also contending at quarterback role is freshman Ryan Stoutt from Coral Springs, Fla. Stoutt spent most of his high school senior season on special teams and in the backfield at Alcoa, Tenn. The Tornadoes won the Class 3A football championship with a 15-0 record.
In his junior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Coral Springs, Fla., Stoutt completed 63 passes for 469 yards in a 6-4 season. He averaged 24.7 yards per completion.
Quarterback is not the only question-mark position. Gardner expressed concern with the offensive and defensive lines.
?If we?re short or thin in a group, up front is going to be one place where I think we need to improve the most.?
Tabor does have some size on the offensive line with five of the six freshmen tipping the scales at more than 250 pounds.
The biggest player is Jordan Hackerott, a 6-feet-6, 300-pound senior from Kingman. Shodoe Solomon, is a 6-3, 310-pound sophomore from St. Petersburg, Fla., and Allen Pryor is a 6-1, 315-pound junior from Chicago.
With only two running backs returning from the 2009 season, six freshmen will compete for spots in 2010.
Among the seniors are Joaquim Hayward from Los Angeles and Andrew Herard from Brea, Calif. Hayward has the only offensive yards with one carry for six yards.
Among the incoming freshman is Marion High School graduate Sheldon Boone, who was an all-league selection in 2008 and 2009.
Hillsboro junior Spencer Brown is the Bluejays? leading returning receiver. Brown was fourth in receptions and reception yardage with 14 catches for 177 yards. Nine freshman wide receivers join Tabor in 2010.
Defensively, Tabor returns its second and third leading tacklers from 2009, Hayward and Charles Urrita, linebacker from Vallejo, Calif. Hayward is the top returning tackler with 63 tackles?49 unassisted, 14 assisted, 3.5 for losses.
Urrita made 36 unassisted tackles and 18 assisted for a total of 54. He also had one interception and returned it for 29 yards.
Up front, Tabor?s No. 6 returning tackler from 2009, senior Artivious Addison will be joined by size and talent. The Bradenwood, Fla., defensive end finished 2009 with 44 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and one sack.
Also with experience at defensive end is Pinellas Park, Fla., sophomore Chris Sander?son, who compiled 30 tackles, five for losses, two sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception, one pass deflection and one fumble recovery.
Sanderson and Addison will be joined at defensive end by Mississippi State transfer Keiron Bobb, who is 6-4, 227.
Senior defensive lineman Clark Wozick also returns to the Bluejay defensive front. He and Sanderson led the team in sacks with two a piece. He also had three stops behind the line of scrimmage for minus 21.5 yards while finishing with 22 tackles.
The only returning player in the secondary is Eustis, Fla., sophomore Antonio Goodson, who recorded 15 tackles. Mike Henry, from Suisum, Calif., is the only senior.
Tabor will start practice with 22 freshmen vying for spots on defense.
?One thing we tried to emphasize was getting as much local talent as we could,? Gardner said. ?Obviously, if you look at our roster, you would see we weren?t able to do that this year. That?s something we want to put an emphasis on in the future.?
After leaving Tabor in 2005, Gardner was head coach for the past four seasons at Malone College in Canton, Ohio, where he compiled an overall record of 23-18.
?I have no regrets about leaving and I have no regrets about coming back,? Gardner said.