The Hutchinson Community College football team will open 2014 as the No. 11 team in the nation, according to the NJCAA Preseason football, which was released on Tuesday morning.
The Blue Dragons continue a program-record run of preseason NJCAA rankings, upping that mark to six consecutive seasons. The previous record was four from 1994-97.
Hutchinson has been ranked now in seven consecutive polls and in 62 of the past 68 NJCAA football polls dating back to 2008.
Under Rhoades, who is starting his eighth season, the Blue Dragons have started the previous five seasons ranked No. 13 in 2009, No. 11 in 2010, No. 6 in 2011 and No. 10 in 2012 and No. 6 last season.
The Blue Dragons come off an 8-4 season in 2013. HCC tied for second in the Jayhawk Conference, was Region VI runner-up and won a fifth-straight Salt City Bowl victory. The 2013 Blue Dragons finished No. 18 in the final NJCAA football poll.
The 2014 Blue Dragons have nine starters (4 offense, 5 defense) and 19 lettermen (11 offense, 8 defense) returning from last season.
Offensively, the backfield will be re-tooled with a new quarterback and stable of running backs. Defensively, sophomore defensive ends Jeremiah Ledbetter and Marquavius Lewis and linebackers Claude George and Darius Wright all return. The biggest loss defensively came in the secondary, where All-American Jaylon Myers and All-Jayhawk performers Shattle Fenteng and Christian Goodlett have moved on.
The Blue Dragons were also ranked No. 11 in JC Gridiron.com’s “Dirty 30” preseason poll which was released earlier this month. HCC was picked to finish second in the Jayhawk Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
Hutchinson is one of three Jayhawk Conference teams that start ranked in the preseason poll. Butler starts No. 6 and Dodge City opens at No. 17. HCC will play both teams in September, going to Butler on Sept. 13 and Dodge City on Sept. 27.
Two Blue Dragon non-conference opponents are in the poll as well. Iowa Western is ranked No. 2 and Iowa Central is receiving votes. The Blue Dragons travel to Iowa Western on Oct. 25 and play host to Iowa Central on Sept. 20.
Defending national champion East Mississippi is the preseason No. 1 pick this season. Iowa Western is No. 2 and Copiah-Lincoln is No. 3.
The Blue Dragons will open the 2014 season with two-straight home games, opening with the Bethany College JV on Thursday, Aug. 28 and Fort Scott on Saturday, Sept. 6.
The first NJCAA regular-season poll will be released on September 2.
2014 NJCAA PRESEASON FOOTBALL POLL
Points 2013 Record
1. East Mississippi CC 200 12-0
2. Iowa Western CC 190 11-1
3. Copiah-Lincoln CC 180 7-2
4. Trinity Valley CC 170 10-2
5. Georgia Military College 160 11-1
6. Butler CC 150 9-2
7. ASA College 140 9-1
8. Navarro College 130 9-3
9. Mississippi Gulf Coast CC 120 8-2
10. Jones County Junior College 110 9-2
11. Hutchinson CC 100 8-4
12. Arizona Western College 90 2-10
13. Tyler Junior College 80 9-2
14. Nassau CC 70 9-2
15. Snow College 60 5-6
16. Scottsdale CC 50 10-1
17. Dodge City CC 40 6-4
18. Rochester CTC 30 10-2
19. Itawamba CC 20 6-4
20. Central Lake College-Brainerd 10 9-2
Others receiving votes – Hinds CC (7-3); Mesa CC (8-3); Iowa Central CC (6-5); New Mexico Military Institute (8-4); Dakota College at Bottineau (8-3).