When the Northeastern A&M Golden Norsemen start the 2007 football season in 25 days, they play the first of five home games by hosting the Dodge City Community College Conquistadors at 7 p.m. on Robertson Field.
Coach Rob Green and his staff have been working double time to prepare for the arrival of approximately 120 players at 9 a.m. next Tuesday to start workouts.
Last season the Norsemen compiled a 3-6 season record which included a come-from-behind 41-36 victory over the Conqs in the season opener at Dodge City.
Third year head coach Marcus Garstecki expects approximately 40 sophomores to be among the more than 100 players reporting for preseason workouts starting later this week.
Last year the Conquistadors finished 3-4 in the Kansas Jayhawk Conference and 4-5 overall.
“At times, I thought our defense looked strong during the spring,” Garstecki said. “We added a couple of newcomers along the defensive front that make us much more aggressive.”
Renewing a series that started in 1957, the Golden Norsemen have won eight of the nine games played between the two teams.
The lone victory by the Conquistadors was a 25-0 shutout in 1976 at Dodge City's Memorial Stadium.
Overcoming an eight-point deficit in the third quarter, the Golden Norsemen rallied for a five-point win to open the schedule last season.
Generating 363 yards in total offense, the Golden Norse ground game accounted for 238 yards on 36 carries.
Sophomore tailback Deji Karim led all rushers with 171 yards on 13 carries while veteran running back Ben Birmingham added 58 yards on 14 carries.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Byford completed 8 of 18 passes for 125 yards for NEO. Shad Scarbrough caught three passes for 28 yards while Gerald Jones made two receptions for 50 yards.
Dodge City's offense accumulated 517 yards in total offense.
Rod Ferguson led the Conqs' ground game with 139 yards on 24 carries while freshman quarterback Marcus Allen came off the bench to complete 19 of 32 passes for 217 yards and sophomore Alex Melugin hit 13 of 22 passes for 154 yards.
After opening last season with four straight losses, the Conquistadors reeled off three straight wins over Independence (15-12), Hutchinson (40-10) and Highland (35-13).
“Our offense wasn't that bad last year,” Garstecki said. “We averaged 333 total yards per game and 4.7 yards per play. We just need to be more consistent.”
Dodge City was picked to finish in a tie for fifth with Fort Scott in the Jayhawk Conference's preseason poll.
Allen (6-1, 220 of Deerfield Beach, Fla.) is expected to return at quarterback for the Conquistadors.
Allen completed 36 of 71 passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns with six interceptions.
Fellow Deerfield Beach teammate Ferguson (5-10, 190) is expected to return to bolster the Dodge City ground game.
Ferguson led the team with 828 yards on 182 carries and 12 touchdowns. He added 13 catches for 36 yards.
Defensively the Conquistadors surrendered an average of 330 yards per game and 27.7 points per contest.
Leading the defense is tackle Kyle Burkhart (6-5, 270 of Chipley, Fla.). Burkhart averaged seven tackles per game as a freshman.
Also expected to return along the defensive front for Dodge City is Chris Gilchrest (6-2, 290 of Camden, N.J.). Gilchrest averaged five tackles per game with six sacks for minus-42 yards.