With a pair of NJCAA national football championships in a three-year span, the Lions of East Mississippi Community College have garnered a No. 2 preseason national ranking in the first junior college poll of the upcoming campaign produced by the Sporting News 2014 College Football Preview magazine.
Compiled by veteran junior college sports writer Tony Jimenez for the nationally distributed college football magazine, TSN’s 2014 Preseason Top 25 is headed by non-NJCAA member Butte College of California. The magazine’s preseason poll considered all 138 of the nation’s two-year schools that feature football programs, including the 68 junior colleges affiliated with the National Junior College Athletic Association and the 70 members of the talent-laden California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA).
Coach Buddy Stephens’ EMCC Lions and the Roadrunners of Butte College were the lone junior college football programs nationally to finish the 2013 season undefeated, as they shared last year’s JCGridiron.com Dirty 30 national title. The Sporting News 2014 College Football Preview magazine’s top five preseason junior college teams continue with No. 3 Trinity Valley (Texas) followed by Iowa Western and Butler (Kansas).
Along with brief team previews of the nation’s top 10 preseason teams, the magazine also lists 25 “Super Sophomores” for the upcoming junior college football season. Included among the list are highly touted EMCC linemen D.J. Jones on defense and Jamal Danley on offense. A native South Carolinian, Jones is rated as the nation’s No. 3 junior college prospect overall by 247Sports.com, while Danley, a Byhalia High School product, is ranked 20th overall nationally by JCFootball.com.
The magazine’s two-page junior college spread also includes the nation’s 25 “Top JUCO Players Moving On” along with 45 “Other JUCO Stars Moving On.” Former EMCC standout linemen Avery Gennesy (Southaven, Miss.) and D.J. Pettway (Pensacola, Fla.) are headed to Texas A&M and Alabama, respectively. Also mentioned in the magazine’s season preview and ready to make their SEC debuts this fall are fellow North Carolinians Jarran Reed (Alabama) and Christian Russell (Ole Miss), who helped anchor East Mississippi’s stout defensive unit a year ago.
With a composite six-year coaching record of 56-10 with three MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 championships and five MACJC North Division regular-season titles since 2008, Stephens and his staff of assistant coaches are slated to return 25 players from last year’s EMCC squad that led the NJCAA in scoring offense with an average of 62.2 points per game while setting a new NJCAA single-season standard with 7,327 yards of total offense on the year.
With 14 lettermen returning on defense, the Lions recorded an NJCAA-best 67 sacks last season and finished second nationally with 30 pass interceptions. Last year’s EMCC club also ranked second nationally by allowing an average of only 9.8 points per contest defensively, which included a dominant early-season stretch with five shutout victories during a six-week span.
The 2014 EMCC Lions are slated to kick off the upcoming football season Thursday, Aug. 28 at Southwest Mississippi. EMCC’s five-game home slate begins the following week (Sept. 4) against Copiah-Lincoln with a 7 p.m. kickoff at EMCC’s Sullivan-Windham Field. East Mississippi’s other non-division opponent for the coming year will feature a rematch of last year’s MACJC State Championship Game (EMCC won, 61-24, in Scooba) when the Bobcats of Jones County return to the Scooba campus for an Oct. 4 Homecoming contest versus the Lions.