What shapes up to be one of the most exciting homecoming games in recent years at Robertson Field will unfold Oct. 13 as defending National Junior College Athletic Association national champion Blinn College comes to Miami for a 3 p.m. showdown with the Northeastern A&M Golden Norsemen.
Blinn College finished its 2006 football campaign with a 19-6 victory over previously second-ranked Pearl River (Miss.) Community College in the Pilgrims Pride Bowl Classic on Dec. 9.
The Buccaneers closed out the season with a perfect 12-0 record and was awarded with the No. 1 ranking in the final NJCAA Football Poll.
Blinn won back-to-back national championships in 1995 and 1996 behind All-American quarterback Michael Bishop.
The Buccaneers of Blinn College were led during 2006 by first-team NJCAA all-American running back Bernard Scott, who led the NJCAA with 1,892 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. He averaged 154.4 yards per game and rushed for 193 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown in their bowl victory over Pearl River.
When the reigning national champions took the practice field for the first time last week, Franchione and his coaching staff were looking for the sophomores to take a greater leadership role than they ever have before.
“We're getting to the point now where there's a majority of sophomores that are leaders, that you expect them to be leaders and do the right things, so my emphasis is to let the sophomores take on more of a leadership role than they have in previous years.”
Franchione installed a leadership council with the team; a group of elected sophomores who serve as the communications link between Franchione and the rest of the team. This year, Franchione would like to establish a leadership link that focuses on the sophomores' relationship with the rest of the team, rather than with their head coach.
Franchione will look to linebackers Sterling Lewis (6-0, 220 of Copperas Cove, Texas), Terrance Flagg (6-2, 275 of Bay City, Texas) and Danny Jackson (6-0, 175 of Beaumont, Texas), as well as offensive tackles Herman Hall (6-2, 297 of Bush, Texas), Quintin Johnson (6-4, 370 of Port Arthur, Texas) and wide receiver Blake Kelley (5-11, 170 of Beaumont, Texas) to provide leadership on and off the field.
“I'm going to give them to opportunity to speak to the team in team meeting situations,” Franchione said. “I think we're at the point now where we can start seeing some positive peer pressure.”
The Buccaneers were ranked third in the NJCAA preseason poll, and were selected by the Southwest Junior College Football Conference media to win its league.
“No. 1, we have to make sure and set the standard for the type of effort that we expect out of our players,” Franchione said. “Every position coach has to set the standard and make sure the kids understand what it is. Our second goal is to identify play makers, but I don't know if we can do that in the first week.”
Blinn is loaded with depth at wide receiver and on the defensive line, Franchione said, while the defensive backfield is currently the team's biggest question mark.
The Buccaneers lost all but one defensive starter to graduation, and sent 15 players from last season's team on to four-year schools on national signing day in February.
Running back Bernard Scott, the Southwest Junior College Football Conference and Pilgrim's Pride Bowl MVP, is currently at Abilene Christian University after running for 1,764 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.
“We've got a lot of people (in the secondary) who can play, we just have to find out who can handle the pressure and step up and make plays when the game is on the line in critical situations,” Franchione said.
The Bucs have five players competing for the quarterback position, with redshirt freshman Terrance Cain (6-2, 180 of North Shore, Texas) grabbing the early advantage. Cain is the only quarterback who was with the program last year.
The offense will be working under first-year offensive coordinator Lloyd Spotted Wolf, who took over for Mike Nesbitt. Spotted Wolf was the offensive coordinator last year.
“I imagine it's going to take on his personality,” said Franchione, who runs the defense. “I don't know exactly how it's going to change it, so that's kind of exciting for me,”
Blinn boasted the best defense in the nation last year.
The Buc's gave up just 129 yards of offense a game. They were monsters against the run, allowing a mere 39 rushing yards a game from their opponents.
Three Blinn defenders were named NJCAA All-Americans this season: Ryan Moutan (defensive back, first-team), Walner Leandre (defensive back, second-team) and Alex Cook (defensive end, second-team).
With a 21-14 overtime win over No. 17 Kilgore College, Blinn College won its first Southwest Junior College Football Conference title since 1996 and finished the season with an unblemished 11-0 record.
“The most important thing to find in recruiting is kids who want to give their best effort,” Franchione said. “Those kids are all talented, but what it shows me is that when they get to campus and commit to our practice style and our offensive and defensive schemes, there's no reason why we shouldn't be successful.”
Blinn, ranked third in the NJCAA pre-season poll, opens its season at home on Aug. 25 against No. 8 ranked Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. The Bucs' conference opener is at home against Kilgore on Sept. 22.