July 31, 2009 12:25:00 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Buddy Stephens can''t find enough adjectives to describe how excited he is to begin the 2009 season.
There apparently are plenty of people throughout the country who share Stephens'' excitement.
The East Mississippi Community College football program learned Thursday just how highly people think of them when they were ranked No. 6 nationally in the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association / JC Football.com Preseason Top 25.
"I am very pleased to have our program in that position," Stephens said. "I am extremely proud of the things we have done here, and our administration has backed us from the day we walked on camps. That is one of the main reasons we are where we are."
The Lions, who went 8-2 (6-0 in divisional play) in Stephens'' first season in Scooba last year, return five offensive starters and five defensive starters as they begin defense of their Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division championship.
In addition to their preseason No. 6 ranking, EMCC had three first-team All-Americans and one second-team All-American placed on the NJCAA''s preseason All-America squads.
"It is expected because it is what we expected to do when we came here," said Stephens, who as coach helped lead Pearl River C.C. to a NJCAA national title in 2004. "It is what we were able to do at Pearl River in a short time. Our toughest critics are the ones in our coaching staff meetings. Our coaches have worked very, very hard to get us to this point."
Along with tying Eastern Arizona for the nation''s most first-team selections with three, EMCC is the only MACJC school with more than one All-American on this year''s preseason listing.
Offensively, sophomore quarterback Randall Mackey and sophomore offensive lineman West Point''s Quartney Cox, of West Point, were recognized as first-team honorees.
Mackey, a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder from Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was named the NJCAA Region 23 Most Valuable Player last year. He led the nation in passing with 281.8 yards per game and ranked second nationally in total offense (330.4 yards per contest).
"He had a very good season," Stephens said. "Randall coming out of high school had a lot of expectations on him. He had a lot of expectations when he got here. Every year he has worked very, very hard to fulfill those expectations, and he is working very hard to fulfill those expectations this year.
"Randall Mackey is a very, very good young man. I enjoy being around him and having him a part of our program."
Cox, a 6-4, 275-pounder, also was also a NJCAA All-Region 23 pick last season.
"Quartney has worked very, very hard both academically and athletically in the past few months," Stephens said. "Quartney Cox has the potential to be the best offensive lineman I have ever coached. I don''t think Quartney has realized his full potential. He is a very athletic and hard-nosed. He has a business style work ethic, comes to practice and works hard and he leaves and does it again every day."
On the defense, sophomore defensive end Claude Davis was named to the first team. Sophomore linebacker Alvin Ellis, of Columbus, was named to the second-team.
Davis, a 6-4, 250-pounder from Lakeland, Fla., earned second-team MACJC All-State North Division honors last season. He had 87 total stops, including 15 tackles for loss, 7 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles.
Ellis, a 5-10, 210-pounder who was a first-team MACJC All-State North Division selection as a freshman, led the team with 113 total tackles in 2008. He also had three pass breakups and forced two fumbles.
"Alvin Ellis is the kind of young man that you would want your daughter to grow up and marry," Stephens said. "He is a very good student and is an excellent, excellent linebacker who runs hard and hits you hard. He gives everything he has at every practice and every second he is on the field. He is a thrill to have on our football team."
Stephens, the NJCAA Region 23 Coach of the Year, led the Lions to the state playoffs for the first time since 1984. EMCC finished 10th in last year''s season-ending NJCAA/ JC Football.com rankings, and Stephens knows his program is capable of even bigger things this season.
"I am very, very pleased with the progress of our football team not only in character but in work ethic and in overall leadership that we have from our sophomores," Stephens said. "As long as you stay pleased and work hard day in and day, there has got to be something good that comes of that.
"I am excited about the opportunity we have this year. I also am excited about the type of team and individuals we have on our team. We have a lot of great kids on our team, not only the sophomores, but all of our players. A lot of the kids come from this community and have a goal in mind (or proving to people we''re) not a flash in the pan but year in and year out (a program that is having success)."
Two-time defending national champion Butler Community College (Kan.) tops the preseason poll, followed by defending MACJC champion Mississippi Gulf Coast, Ellsworth Community College (Iowa), Snow College (Utah), and Blinn College (Texas).
Pearl River C.C. (No. 11), Jones County (No. 14), and Northwest Mississippi (No. 19) also are ranked in the poll.
EMCC will open the season Aug. 27 at Copiah-Lincoln before beginning a three-game homestand Sept. 3 against Jones County.
n ICC''s Holmes named All-American: At Fulton, For the seventh consecutive year, Itawamba Community College''s football program has showcased an All-America selection
Offensive lineman Lamar Holmes, of Gastonia, N.C., was named Thursday to the NJCAA Pre-Season All-American first team.
"It''s quite an honor for Lamar and our program," ICC coach Jeff Terrill said.
Holmes'' offensive line coach at ICC also was proud to hear of his honor.
"We''re expecting a lot out of Lamar again this year on our relatively young offensive line," Jon Williams said. "He''s such a good kid and a pleasure to coach."
Holmes, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound sophomore, was a first-team All-State selection a season ago.
The NJCAA also released its preseason top 25 and for the first time in four years ICC, which reports to campus Aug. 2, is not ranked.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.