PRESEASON KJCCC POLL HAS BLUE DRAGONS 4TH

Blue Dragon head coach Rion Rhoades speaks to the media at the annual Jayhawk Conference Football Media Day on Friday in Wichita. (Steve Carpenter/Blue Dragon Sports Information)
Blue Dragon head coach Rion Rhoades speaks to the media at the annual Jayhawk Conference Football Media Day on Friday in Wichita. (Steve Carpenter/Blue Dragon Sports Information)

Hutchinson CC Sports Information

WICHITA – There was one overriding theme on Friday at the 2018 Jayhawk Conference Football Media Day at Newman University.

"The Jayhawk Conference is an elite conference. There are eight great teams," Hutchinson Community College head coach Rion Rhoades said during his turn at the podium.

"The conference is a grind. You have to be on your A-game," Butler coach Tim Schaffner said.

Click for a replay of the 2018 Jayhawk Conference Media Day

The other six coaches had similar feelings about the 2018 football season. With the new scholarship rules in place for one full recruiting cycle, all eight coaches agreed that the KJCCC has more talent on all eight teams top to bottom than at any time in the league's storied history.

The 2018 preseason coaches' poll was released on Friday ahead of the eight conference coaches speaking to a large group of media members.

The Blue Dragons were picked to finish fourth in 2018, the exact same spot they finished last season.

Independence was picked to repeat as league champion with Garden City, Butler and Hutchinson following in slots 2, 3 and 4. Dodge City, Highland, Coffeyville and Fort Scott were picked 5 through 8.

"I'm really excited about our team this year as much as any team we've had," said Rhoades, who participated in his 12th media day as the Blue Dragons' head coach. "I think we are going to have a very good team. Will that mean eight wins, 10 wins, I don't know. I know we have a good team, but so does everybody else."

After back-to-back 5-6 seasons in 2015 and 2016, the Blue Dragons went 7-5 last season and qualified to play in the Salt City Bowl. The Dragons went 4-3 in league play, their first above-.500 record in league play since their Jayhawk Conference championship season of 2014.

The Blue Dragons have 10 starters (offense – 7; defense – 2; special teams – 1) and 22 overall lettermen (offense – 12; defense – 9; special teams – 1) back from last season.

Much of the emphasis in preseason camp will be figuring out the quarterback situation. All three quarterbacks used in 2017 have graduated. Rhoades will look at a pair of transfers, three incoming freshman and redshirt Jacob Irby when camp begins next week.

As far as impact players back from 2017, Rhoades is very high on receiver Jaylen Erwin and linebacker Caliph Brice.

Erwin was the top receiver last season with 24 receptions for 429 yards and eight touchdowns. Brice started the final five games of 2017 and finished with 50 total tackles.

The Blue Dragons will also look to reload their running back with returning backs Dezmon Jackson (411 yards, 6.6 yards per carry) and Andrew Lee (241 yards, 10.1 yards per carry).

The Blue Dragons will open the 2018 season at home on Thursday, August 23 against the Ellsworth Panthers.