August 12, 2014 10:25:48 PM
SCOOBA -- East Mississippi Community College will begin this football season exactly where it finished last season -- ranked No. 1 in the nation by the National Junior College Athletic Association.
The Lions topped the preseaon poll with a perfect score of 200 points Tuesday morning.
"It's great to be No. 1 in the nation, because it represents all of the hard work the kids have put in to build this program," EMCC seventh-year coach Buddy Stephens said. "At the same time, the ranking does not mean anything once you kick the ball off."
EMCC won the school's second national championship last season with a 52-32 win over Georgia Military College in the Mississippi Bowl.
Ironically, EMCC won both of its national titles -- in 2011 and 2013 -- with a No. 2 ranking going into its bowl game. A win over No. 1 followed and pushed EMCC to the top.
The only time EMCC has ever begun the season ranked No. 1 was in 2012 when the Lions won their first eight games but lost the final two to finish 8-2.
"We always play with a bull's eye on our backs so the ranking does not matter to us," EMCC sophomore running back Preston Baker said. "We know every team wants to beat us and that we are their biggest game. So there is a lot of pressure going into every game."
For a second straight season, five in-state schools begin the season ranked. A year ago, EMCC did not play a ranked foe during the regular season. This year, the Lions have three ranked foes on the schedule.
Copiah-Lincoln Community College -- EMCC's home-opening opponent on Sept. 4 -- begins the year third. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is ninth, while last season's South Division champion and this season's EMCC Homecoming opponent Jones Junior College is ranked 10th.
Itawamba Community College is the other ranked North Division team.
Playing under first-year head coach Sean Cannon, the Indians begin the year ranked No. 19.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter