By Mike Pilosof
Wichita, KS-Not since 2001 has there been this much hype surrounding a Bronbuster football team.
16 years ago, Bob Larson's Garden City squad, coming off an 11-1 campaign and a loss to Glendale in the closing seconds of the 2000 National Championship Game, were the clear-cut favorites to win the Jayhawk Conference. Back then, the Broncbusters had won 18 consecutive, regular-season conference games, and were the class of the Sunflower State.
Nearly two decades later, Garden City's reign atop one of Junior College's most prestigious conferences is back in tact.
On Friday, for the first time in 16 years, the Broncbusters were selected as the preseason favorite to win the Jayhawk Conference.
"When I look around this room, there is no way we are the best team," Head Coach Jeff Sims said. "But fortunately we don't play any of these teams on Aug. 24. We open with Ellsworth, and will try and be the best football team we can on that day."
A year ago, the Broncbusters were picked sixth following a 3-8 season that saw the program lose seven straight games for the first time in school history. But Sims and his staff engineered one of the greatest, single-season turnarounds in NJCAA history, ripping off 11 straight wins, including a heart-stopping 25-22 victory over No. 2 Arizona Western in the National Championship Game. This year the scrip is totally flipped.
"It's funny because last year we were picked sixth and won the whole thing," Sims explained. "This year, Butler is No. 5, and I cannot remember a time where they finished worse than second. It just goes to show you how good this league is."
Garden City's western rival Dodge City, coached by fifth-year head man Gary Thomas, was slated to finish second behind the defending champs followed by Independence, who's led by former Broncbuster offensive coordinator Jason Brown, Hutchinson, Butler, Highland, Coffeyville and Fort Scott. The Greyhounds have a new coach for 2017 in former Kansas wide receiver and quarterback Kale Pick, who two years ago, was the quarterbacks' coach at Garden City High School for Buffaloes Head Coach and former Broncbuster offensive coordinator Brian Hill.
"We are just scratching the surface on how good this conference is," Sims said. "These are exciting times to be in the Jayhawk Conference among some of the best coaches in the country."
Garden City opens fall practice on Tuesday, Aug 1 before kicking off the regular season Thursday, Aug. 24 at home vs. Ellsworth, IA.