COFFEYVILLE, Kan. - Experts said there weren't any good college football games this past weekend. Those experts were wrong. That's because two of the nation's top programs battled it out Saturday night in a game that featured at least 10 players that have NFL potential and teams ranked in the top five in the national polls.
It doesn't matter that Butler County (Kan.) Community College and Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College are in the junior college ranks, because both programs are loaded with players that you will see playing on Sundays, and they also play some of the most competitive football in the nation regardless of what level they're at.
It also didn't hurt that Saturday's game will go down as one of the most memorable in Jayhawk Conference history.
After jumping out to a 25-0 lead, Butler County had to rally for a touchdown in the final minute to defeat Coffeyville at Coffeyville's Veterans Stadium. It marked the 10th straight time that Butler County has beaten Coffeyville, including the past three years in the playoffs and eight of the wins were by less than seven points.
"There are great kids on both sides," Butler County coach Troy Morrell said. "For some reason, they always turn out to be great games. It's something that's been going on for a long time. I don't know why we've been able to pull these games out, but we like the end result for sure."
While the game was memorable for the back-and-forth drama that featured dazzling catches, long touchdown runs, huge defensive plays and last-minute miracles, it was also memorable for the huge amount of Division I prospects that were on the field.
Get to learn these name college football coaches and fans, because they're going to be impact players on the next level and many of them have the ability to be future NFL prospects.
SIMPLY THE BEST? There has been a lot of debate on who is the top junior college player in the nation. Coffeyville safety Reggie Nelson (6-foot, 189 pounds) took a big step on Saturday toward ending that debate.
Simply put, Nelson was still the flat out stud that made him one of the nation's best recruits back in the class of 2003. What's scary is that Nelson has gotten even better in his time at Coffeyville. He was already faster than all get at and an amazing hitter, but he's used his time at Coffeyville to refine his game and has become one of the best clutch players in the nation.
Time after time when Coffeyville needed a big defensive stop, Nelson was there, either flying up to make the big stop on run support or breaking up a pass in coverage. He also set up Coffeyville for its last touchdown drive, when he forced a fumble with a blinding hit and recovered the ball, killing a long Butler County drive that would have probably put the game out of reach late in the game.
The Florida-bound prospect picked the Gators over Florida State, LSU and Miami out of high school and there is no doubt that he'll be an impact player in the SEC.
"He'll make a lot of money on Sundays," Coffeyville assistant coach Sean Cherico said. "He'll not miss a beat in the SEC. He's heading to Florida at semester, and he'll be a real star for them."
HARDY A REAL CATCH Butler receiver Frantz Hardy was a preseason junior college All-America selection and after another impressive performance on Saturday, it's clear that he's more than on his way to earning post-season honors.
It seemed every time that the Grizzlies needed a big play, they turned to Hardy (6-0, 170) and he delivered.
Hardy has the look of a speed receiver, with thin ankles and a lean frame, and he couldn't be caught even though Coffeyville's defensive backfield features four Division I prospects. He was especially deadly on play-action passes, where he would bait defenders into thinking it's a run and then turn on the jets and fly right by them on streaks or a post patterns.
Hardy, who already has offers from Auburn, Iowa, Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas A&M, is going to be one of the most highly recruited receivers in the nation, and it's easy to see why teams are flocking to El Dorado, Kan., to check him out.
Hardy redshirted last season, which means he will have three full seasons to play at the Division I level when he gets there. Also, he says he is on track to graduate at semester in December and plans to enroll at the school of his choice for second semester and participate in spring football in 2005.
COFFEYVILLE ALSO LOADED AT RECEIVER When Coffeyville needed a big play on offense to rally, they turned to their own clutch receivers - Kerry Reed and Prechae Rodriguez.
Reed, who is an explosive 6-2 and 195 pounds, struggled early in the game with several costly penalties and mental errors. But he came through in the clutch big time with an amazing 83-yard touchdown catch and several other impact plays. On the touchdown grab, he tipped the ball up in the air to himself, came down between two Butler defenders and raced into the end zone.
He also had a clutch 6-yard touchdown grab and a key two-point conversion on back-to-back plays. The two-point conversion reception was also impressive because he simply stuck his hands out to catch the ball and it stuck like glue, even though a Butler defender was draped all over him.
"He has deceptive speed," Cherico said. "He doesn't look like he runs really fast, but he never gets caught."
Florida State, Michigan State, Auburn and Iowa State are just a few of the early teams that have offered Reed, who is originally from Miami.
Rodriguez reminds many observers of former Kansas State receiver James Terry because of his long, lean frame and explosive playmaking ability. Rodriguez, who is 6-4 and 192 pounds, has great ability to out-leap opponents and is consistent with about any pass that you throw in his direction.
Coffeyville often looked to him to make catches on quick hitches, outs and other shorter routes, but he also could stretch the field vertically with his 4.4-second speed and 35-inch vertical leap.
BUTLER DBS IMPRESSIVE With blue-chip receivers all over the field and Coffeyville flinging it all over the place to catch up, it would be easy to think that Butler County's defensive backs left something to be desired. That's hardly the truth. Two Grizzly defensive backs made very good impressions with their ability to support the run, defend the pass and make timely plays.
Alabama commitment Chris Felder played safety most of the game, even though the Tide like him as a future cornerback because of his 5-10, 185-pound frame.
He was often locked up in man-to-man coverage on Coffeyville's slot receivers and he did have his moments with a key second-half interception and several big plays in pass defense. Felder also provided very good run support as he's not afraid to fly up to the ball and make big plays on toss-sweeps and rushes to the outside.
Butler safety Mike West was the victim of Reed's 83-yard touchdown reception, but there wasn't much he could do when Reed tipped the ball up in the air and made an amazing catch. He was especially impressive the rest of the game with great run support and a ball-hawking ability to cover the entire field from his deep safety position.
It's easy to see why West, who is easily 6-2 and 210 pounds, has offers from South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
QBS CAN REALLY FLING IT Coming into the season, not a lot was known about Butler County quarterback Zac Taylor and Coffeyville quarterback Michael Machen. Sure it was known that Taylor transferred from Wake Forest after playing high school ball in Norman, Okla., but other than that both he and Machen were mystery men.
Now they're leaders of two of the best teams in junior college football and two of the nation's best signal-callers.
Machen, who is 6-6 and 240 pounds, set a school record with more than 400 yards passing on Saturday. He doesn't have great mobility, but did have decent ability to escape, and he made decent decisions all night long despite throwing two interceptions. Machen played three years of professional baseball, so there are no questions with his arm strength and his ability to fling the ball around the field.
He's also mature at 23 years old and it looks like South Carolina is the strongest suitor for him at this point, but watch his stock continue to soar as he leads Coffeyville deep into the Jayhawk Conference playoffs.
The last time Rivals.com evaluated Taylor, he was skinny high school football player that had a great pedigree from his father playing in the NFL. He's now a very well built 6-2 and 210 pounds, and his body and decision making ability have been finely tuned.
Taylor isn't a very mobile quarterback, but his ability to make great decisions and play-action pass with the best of him, will make him a quarterback that definitely ends up back on the Division I level. Working with Hardy, Taylor was almost impossible to stop on play-action passes. He was easily able to throw the ball 50-plus yards, but he also knew the right time to add some touch to his passes in key situations.
OTHER NEWS & NOTES -Butler County receiver Brian Murph is originally from New Madrid, Mo., and signed with Southern Illinois last year. He stuck around and decided to play again this year, and he's definitely caught the eye of plenty of college coaches.
"He is doing very well," Morrell said. "Not that many people know about him, though. He'll be a steal for somebody."
-Kansas State was well represented Saturday night at the game. Wildcats coaches Greg Peterson, Bob Stanley, Joe Bob Clements and Bob Elliot were all at the game scouting prospects.
-Coffeyville has several defenders that are getting looks. Watch out for defensive ends Willie Ransom, Jr. Tagovailoa and linebacker Dontrell Moore. Several Big 12 schools have been linked to Moore and Ransom. Utah and Utah State are the top two teams for Tagovailoa.
-Former four-star recruit Justin Tomerlin has surfaced at Butler County, and he's one of the Grizzlies' top defenders. After impressing in high school, Tomerlin looks like he's added some much needed weight and should be able to have his choice of colleges.
-One of Coffeyville's top recruits isn't even playing this season. Recruiters have suddenly become aware of Jonathan Hamm, a 6-6, 255-pound defensive end that is redshirting after making the move to Coffeyville from Cerritos College in California. Hamm originally went to Middle Georgia College on a basketball scholarship, but was encouraged to move over to football and ended up at Cerritos. He played tight end there last year and eventually moved to Coffeyville to make sure that he will graduate and be eligible to play next year.
He'll have two year to play two at the Division I level, and both Kansas State and Texas A&M are in very heavy pursuit of him.
-The best running back on the field appeared to be Butler County freshman Kenny Wilson from Liberal, Kan. The four-star recruit from last year had a big touchdown run early in the game. Also keep your eye on running back Ryan Torain at Butler. He's another freshman that is going to be a big-time recruit next year.