September 9, 2009 7:50:00 AM
The bull''s eye on the back of the East Mississippi Community College football team grew even bigger Tuesday.
Coming off season-opening victories against Copiah-Lincoln and Jones County, EMCC (2-0) moved up four places to No. 2 in the latest NJCAA/JC Football.com regular-season poll.
The ranking is the program''s highest in National Junior College Athletic Association football in school history.
EMCC, which plays host to Holmes C.C. (0-2) at 7 Thursday night at Sullivan-Windham Field, moved up in the poll after the first four teams lost.
The Lions received 130 poll points and one first-place vote, while Blinn College (Texas) eaarned 139 points and the other six first-place votes.
"It did surprise me," EMCC second-year coach Buddy Stephens said. "With the number of kids we lost from last year, we lost all of our wide receivers and we lost several key members on our defensive line, I didn''t expect to get ranked. To be honest, I didn''t expect the first four teams in the country to lose this early, but we happened to be in the right position at the right time, and for that we''re very fortunate.
"I thought with the top four teams losing we would be No. 3 or No. 4 at least, but we''re going to take it and run with it, and we''re going to have to work and to achieve every week to be worthy of such an honor."
Stephens guided EMCC to the 2008 MACJC North Division title (6-0 mark in the division) and an 8-2 finish last season.
Led by sophomore quarterback Randall Mackey and a host of players from the Greater Golden Triangle area, EMCC tops a host of teams from the state of Mississippi that includes Pearl River C.C. (No. 5), reigning MACJC state champion Mississippi Gulf Coast (No. 11), and Northwest Mississippi (No. 15).
Stephens said he and his assistant coaches discussed the ranking with the players Tuesday. He said the accolades are nice but mean nothing and won''t help the team do anything on Thursday nights.
Stephens said the ranking will motivate him, his staff, and his players to work at an even higher level so they don''t lose what they have worked hard to achieve.
"We gladly take that and appreciate that so much, but we have got a long way to go to live up to that ranking," Stephens said. "What it does is paints a bigger bull''s eye on our back and gives people a little greater incentive to whip your butt."
Stephens said he wouldn''t have it any other way because that is why he left Pearl Ricer C.C. to come to EMCC. He knew there was plenty of talent in EMCC''s district and said aggressive recruiting was going to help him transform the program.
Stephens has laid the foundation with solid recruiting classes, and now his goal is to build on last season and to create a football tradition at the school.
"All of our goals are right there in front of us and we are the masters of our own destiny," Stephens said. "If we go out and do what we are supposed to do each week we have a chance to play in a really big game (later in the season)."
The first EMJC football team, guided by legendary hall of fame coach Bob "Bull" Sullivan, earned a No. 2 national ranking in a poll during the 1950 campaign.
The following decade under Sullivan''s direction, the Lions garnered No. 3 national rankings in 1963 and 1964.
Last year, the Lions broke into the NJCAA/ JC Football.com Top 25 for the first time since 1996. During the team''s seven-game winning streak a year ago, EMCC went from No. 20 in week 6 to No. 8 at the end of the regular season.
EMCC went on to make its first MACJC state football playoff appearance since 1984 and finished the season ranked No. 10 in the final NJCAA poll.
The Lions also are ranked fifth nationally in the J.C. Grid-Wire/ JC Football.com National Top 25 behind Blinn College, El Camino, Navarro, and Mt. San Antonio.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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