Friends expected to be KCAC preseason football favorite

By Steve Sell
July 25, 2014

TGIF, with an emphasis on the “TG”...

• FRIENDS THE FAVORITE? — The KCAC Football Media Day isn’t until Aug. 6 at the Courtyard Marriott in Wichita, but I have a feeling that Friends is going to be tabbed as the preseason favorite.

When the conference released its preseason All-KCAC team earlier this week, it was highly populated with Falcons players. 

Veteran Friends coach Monty Lewis had four players named to the team on the defensive side, which traditionally has been the Falcons’ strength. Friends also had four players named to the offensive side, as well as punter Derek Racette, whose father Sean was a McPherson College star back in the late 1980s.

I’ve always thought that Friends should never finish any worse than the Top 3 in the major sports, most notably football and basketball. Located in Wichita, it has the appeal of the big city to recruits, not to mention the Wichita City League is chockfull of athletes. There are also some terrific smaller schools within a stone’s throw. Nothing against the smaller towns in the KCAC such as Hillsboro, Lindsborg or Sterling, but I just think the big city appeals more to kids being recruited from California, Texas or Florida. 

I’ve also thought that Kansas Wesleyan should have no trouble recruiting to Salina. While it’s not near the size of Wichita, it’s still a bustling place.

Sterling, despite maybe being at a bit of a recruiting disadvantage when compared to Friends, actually is the defending football champion and the Warriors certainly will have an explosive offense. Three of its skill players were named to the preseason team — quicksilver quarterback Reggie Langford, superstar running back Antonio Bray and fleet receiver Dentton Huspeth. 

McPherson College had two players make the team, both on the defensive side — linebacker Trent Forrester and lineman Grant Narcisse, one of only two sophomores picked to the team. Forrester emerged as a star last season and will be like a coach on the field. Narcisse was a run-stuffer and no doubt will be improved as he now has a year of maturity under his belt.

I was surprised that no Bethany Swedes were picked to the team. They certainly have a couple of players who were worthy, but perhaps the stigma of playing on a team that tied for last a year ago worked against them. It will be interesting to see what second-year coach Manny Matsakis has up his sleeve now that he’s had a full year to recruit, not to mention he brought in former Kansas State stars Joe Gordon and Michael Lawrence to upgrade his coaching staff.

• KCAC WINDS OF CHANGE — It’s staggering to believe that this is going to be my 36th year of covering the KCAC.

It’s been amazing to see the transformation in athletics during that time. When I think back to my first year in 1979, McPherson College’s gymnasium — known as “The Mircodome” — was an eyesore and McPherson College Stadium (now McPherson Stadium) had seen its better days.

Those still around who attended Mac back in those days know what I mean about the gym. The place was a safety hazard and the coaching offices were holes in the wall. I can still remember the first day I was in town when I went out there and met new Bulldog football coach Lou Serrone. His office was virtually a rathole and I wondered how in the world a coach could ever recruit to a school with such lagging facilities.

Fortunately, McPherson College caught up with the times and the Sport Center was built some 30 years ago. Just over 10 years ago, major upgrades finally were made to the stadium and an artificial surface was put down. It’s amazing there weren’t more broken ankles on that field when it was grass, as generally by the first of October the field was worn out and full of holes.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in KCAC football, especially in talent and roster upgrades as squad sizes are double what they were in the 1970s and early 1980s. Upon my arrival, it was Bethany and Southwestern, then everybody else was an afterthought. The Swedes won 16 championships in Ted Kessinger’s 28 years, and the Moundbuilders often were their chief antagonist. 

Then when Ottawa joined the conference, the landscape started to change. Bethany and Southwestern have gone from the first division to the second, while schools like Sterling and Tabor have made major strides in the past 15 years. 

McPherson College had its moment in the sun in back-to-back years when it was 19-3 in 2009-10. Brian Ward coached one Bulldog team to the national playoffs, then Joe Bettasso was in charge the second year. Those were exciting days for the Bulldogs, as that 2010 team was so powerful that nearly all of its games were decided by halftime. The Bulldogs climbed to No. 6 in the national rankings and huge crowds flocked to the games.

Like I say about my golf game, everything is cyclical. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for Mac to be back on the “up” cycle.

• BIG WIN FOR ROYALS — The roller coaster that is the Royals’ baseball season is headed back toward the top.

Kansas City made it three straight wins on Thursday when Nori Aoki drove in his first run in an eternity in the 14th inning for just its second walkoff victory of the year, 2-1 over division rival Cleveland.

A loss could have crestfallen this team. It took advantage of a quirky play in the eighth inning to break a scoreless tie, only to see ace closer Greg Holland blow only his second save of the year. Yet, the Royals overcame that stunning development to cobble together a winning score.

After losing its first four after the All-Star break, Kansas City now has won three in a row and it really needs to win at least three of four this weekend. However, Detroit shows no signs of slowing down and realistically the Royals are looking at the wild-card to make the playoffs.