Norse, Hutch renew grid rivalry

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles previewing the teams the Northeastern A&M Golden Norsemen play during the 2008 football season.

Renewing a rivalry that spans 59 years, the Northeastern A&M Golden Norse open the 2008 football season on Aug. 30 with a 7 p.m. showdown against the Hutchinson Community College Blue Dragons at Gowans Stadium.

More than 130 players are expected for the start of preseason drills on Aug. 12 at the NEO practice facility. Approximately 45 sophomores and redshirts return to form the nucleus for NEO.

“We've got a solid group of sophomores coming back and we've had a very productive recruiting season,” Golden Norse head coach Rob Green said. “It should be a very competitive preseason.”

Last year the Golden Norsemen finished 4-5 on the season and 1-5 in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference.

Coach Rion Rhoades made his debut as head coach by guiding the Hutchinson Blue Dragons to a 2-7 record last season. The Blue Dragons tied Independence, Kan., for fifth place in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference with a 2-5 mark.

“We had a very productive spring workout and with about 40 sophomores and redshirts coming back, we think we'll be a whole lot better on both sides of the football,” Rhoades said. “Our objective is to work hard and get better fundamentally.”

When the two teams last met in 1990, coach Glen Wolfe's Golden Norsemen posted a 41-0 shutout over the Blue Dragons in Miami. The previous year NEO gained a 49-6 win in Hutchinson to hold an 8-3 advantage since the series started in 1949.

With the graduation of veteran quarterback Chris Todd, the Blue Dragons offense will be in the capable hands of sophomore Skylar Travis (6-1, 190 of Douglas, Kan.).

Last season in six games, Travis completed 47 of 81 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns. He ranked second on the team with 44 carries for 263 yards.

Returning to bolster the Blue Dragon ground game is veteran running back Damien Bates (5-10, 210 of Hoboken, N.J.).

As a freshman, Bates led Hutchinson with 588 yards on 175 carries with two touchdowns. He also caught nine passes for 104 yards.

Redshirt freshman Rocky Anderson (5-8, 180 of Concordia, Kan.) also returns to the Blue Dragon backfield after rushing for 97 yards on 25 carries and scoring one TD in seven games.

Anchoring the Blue Dragon receiving corps is returnee Brandon King (6-6, 190 of Columbia, S.C.). King caught 17 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown as a freshman.

Adding depth at wide receiver is veteran Josh Goffigan (6-0, 200 of Manhattan, Kan.). Goffigan caught six passes for 52 yards in seven games last season.

The Blue Dragons return nine sophomores and redshirts along the interior offensive line.

"This was probably the most enjoyable spring season that I have been apart of," Rhoades said when asked to recap spring drills. "We have an outstanding bunch of young men. They are good character-wise and we have some players who can really play, too. Thatís been really enjoyable for me and our entire staff.

"I would say offensively and defensively both we improved overall as time went on," Rhoades said, 'especially offensively.'"