ATHENS, Texas — Coming within one victory of winning their third National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship, veteran Trinity Valley Community College head coach Brad Smiley’s Cardinals host the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Golden Norsemen at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, at Bruce Field.

Trinity Valley’s two previous NJCAA titles were in 1994 and 1997.

Entering his 11th season as head coach, Smiley has guided the Cards to four consecutive Southwest Junior College Football Conference championships.

Last season the only fly in the ointment for Trinity Valley was a 30-29 loss to the Golden Norsemen at Red Robertson Field. The Cardinals won the SWJCFC regular season crown with a 7-1 record.

After defeating NEO 48-40 in the conference semifinals, Trinity Valley won the post-season league title with a 51-45 overtime victory in Athens over Kilgore College.

Traveling to Copperas Cove, Texas, for the Heart of Texas Bowl, the Cardinals gained a 34-24 win over Northwest Mississippi Community College.

With the victory, Trinity Valley finished fourth in the nation with an 11-1 overall record.

Home field is more than just an advantage for the Cardinals after finishing a perfect 7-0 on Bruce Field last season. Since 2012, Trinity Valley has compiled a 26-3 mark on their home turf.

Besides playing lights out at home, the Cardinals and the Golden Norse have been in the “coach swapping” business the last three years.

Most recently NEO hired former Trinity Valley assistant Blake Boyer, after another Trinity assistant, Courtney Finney, left after only four days on campus.

More significant has been the switch of former NEO athletes-head coaches.

Patterson, a tight end with the 1999-2000 Golden Norsemen, served three seasons — 2013-2015 — as offensive coordinator with Smiley and the Cardinals.

Another piece of the Cardinals coaching carousel to return to Athens as a replacement for Patterson was former NEO head coach Sherard Poteet. Ironically, Poteet had previously held the position from 2010-2012 at Trinity Valley.

While playing quarterback for the Norsemen in 1998-99, Poteete guided the Norsemen to the 1999 conference championship and a trip to the Red River Bowl.

During his one year at the Golden Norse helm in 2013, Poteete posted a 1-5 record in the SWJCFC and a 3-6 overall mark.

After a near-perfect season, Smiley and his staff welcomed 80 players to the spring optional training activities. Approximately 50 true freshmen, walk-ons, redshirts and transfers are projected to participate in the Cardinals’ July summer session starting Sunday.

Trinity Valley finished the 2016 season ranked fourth nationally, just ahead of the Golden Norse in total offense. The Cards generated an average of 559.6 total yards per game compared to a 529.4 average for NEO.

Quarterback Michael Curtis, the SWJCFC Offensive Player of the Year, returns to direct the Cards offense.

Curtis (6-3, 210 from Richardson, Texas) led the conference by completing 190 of 320 passes for 2,311 yards and 24 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed for 593 yards on 104 carries with five TDs.

Another sophomore Shelton Eppler (6-0, 210 from Navasota, Texas) provides backup at quarterback after appearing in seven games as a freshman. He completed 46 of 75 passes for 690 yards and nine touchdowns. Eppler did not throw an interception. He rushed for 79 yards on 15 carries.

Returning to anchor the Trinity Valley running game is veteran Khalil Banks (6-2, 210 from The Colony, Texas). As a freshman in 12 games, Banks rushed for 308 yards on 53 carries while scoring three TDs. He also caught four passes for 46 yards and one touchdown.

Redshirt freshman Daevon Woods (5-9, 190 from Richardson, Texas) contributed 65 yards on six carries with one TD in only six games.

Two redshirt freshmen led the Cardinals receiving corps last season.

Jalen Guyton (6-1, 190 from Allen, Texas) paced the team with 45 receptions for 968 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also returned eight kickoffs for 134 yards.

Anthony Turner (5-9, 170 from Los Vegas, Nevada) caught 35 passes for 377 yards and three TDs.

Trinity Valley’s defense allowed an average of 461.3 total yards per game and a 31.5 points per game average.

Linebacker Blake Stephenson (6-1, 215 from Edmond Deer Creek) returns to the middle of the Cardinals defense. As a freshman, he made 44 unassisted tackles and 63 assists with nine quarterback sacks for minus-11 yards and 12.5 tackles for a loss for minus-51 yards.

Outside linebacker Jaquay Pough (6-1, 220 from Sherman, Texas) returns after recording 25 solo tackles and 40 assists. Pough recovered one fumble while making five tackles behind the line of scrimmage for minus-24 yards.