By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Oh how three years makes a difference.
When Jeff Sims replaced Matt Miller as head coach in December 2014, his first order of business was to tear down and rebuild a program that was 14 years removed from its last conference title.
"We basically started a program," Sims said back then.
Tearing down was made even more difficult considering how thin the cupboard was when Sims arrived on campus.
"We had like 21 players," he said.
Three years and one national championship later, Sims has 132 players in camp including 22 offensive lineman, more than the total amount of players when he first got here.
"We will have depth this season," Sims said. "There is a lot of competition. Some guys are ready to play college football and some aren't. And that's not a knock on the ones who aren't. More than half of these guys are freshman; so they're coming straight from high school. They have to learn the pace of college football."
One of those lineman is center Stuart Davis, a redshirt freshman from Slocomb, Ala. who spent last fall running into former national defensive player of the year Jeremy Faulk.
"I think I'm more prepared than a lot of these guys because I went up against Jeremy every day," Davis said. "That guy was an animal."
Faulk is now in training camp with the New York Jets, but he left an indelible mark on his former teammate.
"There is a lot of competition out here," Davis said. "So you have to do your job every day."
Davis, who played defensive line in high school, was an all-state honorable mention as a senior. He originally signed with Mississippi Delta Community College in Feb., 2016 before eventually landing at Garden City.
"I trust the process because Coach Sims knows what he's doing," Davis said. "There's a lot of pressure with last year's team winning the national championship, but I think we're going to live up to it."
During conditioning drills on the first day, Davis passed with flying colors, catching the eye of his head coach.
"Stuart Davis ran really well," Sims said. "But there are a lot of guys that did well on the first day. It's how they respond on day two, three and four that makes the difference. We're looking for consistency."
As for the guy Davis will be protecting come Aug. 24 vs. Ellsworth, it's way too early to get a definitive progress report. But Oregon transfer Terry Wilson looked sharp in 7-on-7 as did former Rutgers signal caller Tylin Oden, who connected with three-star tight end Zech Byrd on a beautiful deep cross down the middle. Byrd held nine college offers coming out of Stanhope Elmore High School in Alabama, including one from Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
Practice continues on Wednesday. Garden City opens the regular season Thursday, Aug. 24 at home vs. Ellsworth.