Student Sports Media
Following an adversity-filled 2020 season, Butler football looks to “turn the page” in a big way and extend the program’s tradition of success. The Grizzlies are coming off of a 2020 campaign where they finished with a somewhat uncharacteristic record of 2-4, mainly because of adversity brought forth with the COVID-19 pandemic and the various struggles that come along with that. But the team is looking to bounce back in a big way this season.
In an interview before the season, Head Coach Tim Schaffner said, “Our only choice in the matter is to move forward. There’s attitude and effort that have a lot to do with that and the team’s work ethic has been really good. We feel like we have the right pieces in place, and we will find out exactly where we are in about two weeks after the start of the season.”
But despite the record from last season, the Grizzlies are bringing back a large amount of experienced faces such as all-conference running back Adarius Thomas, offensive lineman Brayden Bryant and wide receiver Darius Lassiter.
The coaching staff will, without question, rely on these talented players to once again play a big role this season both on and off the field.
“When you look at the outlook of junior college football, you don’t typically get guys that have played for extended periods of time and are still able to come back,” Brice Vignery, the team’s offensive coordinator, said. “So, it’s kind of uncharted territory for us coaches. We’ve got seven or eight guys on offense that know our offense inside and out, and now can go out there and execute and do everything, but it is beneficial to have those guys to lean on especially going into week one and week two, where we play two top 10 teams.”
Vignery also made it clear how having that leadership on the offensive end will help the entire team overall.
“I think it’s beneficial to not only just the offense and the coaches but the defensive players who look over and say, ‘if we’re doing things right, they know we got their back’ and vice versa, so just having that leadership really changes the entire outlook of the team in a way as well as how we approach things,” Vignery said.
Thomas, a star-running back, is without question going to be the main focal point of the Grizzly offense this season. The 5-foot-7-inch 170 pound back is able to use his combination of agility and quickness to consistently gain separation from opposing defenders and utilize his low stature to bounce off of opposing players and get to the second level. In his freshman year in 2019, Thomas was not expected to get much work, but after some key injuries he was able to show the coaches what he was able to do.
“We always knew he was talented, but we had Brock Sturgis who was in front of him at the time, as well as four or five additional guys in front of him that had played the year before; therefore, we weren’t really in a hurry to play him yet,” Vignery said. “But then when he got his opportunity to go, I think it was the fourth game, he showed us a lot of great things. He put together a special couple of games which led to him being put into kind of a splitting role, splitting carries with Brock (Sturgis). Then just seeing how he understands football made us feel comfortable making him a big part of our future plans.”
But every great tailback needs an offensive line to run behind and that is definitely something the 2021 Grizzlies possess. Headed by Bryant, a returning lineman, the line will look to consistently open up some holes this year.
The Grizzly defense comes into the season with a relatively young group, with the only four notable returning starters being defensive lineman Bryant; Berry, a linebacker, and cornerbacks Nickendre Stiger and Sharel Taylor.
“(The defensive scheme) will be based out of a four man front,” Schaffner, also a defensive coordinator, said. “It feels like we’ll be playing more zone right now than man, and trying to stop the run and force teams to throw the ball.”
The Grizzlies have an overall combined record of 119-40 since 1998.
“The prolonged success is summed up in the guy down the hall (veteran Defensive Line Coach Steve Braet), just having a guy that’s been here for 40 some years and just trying to have stability, consistency; like we have 113 years of coaching experience, for example,” Vignery said. “Anytime you have that much longevity and experience, especially in athletics, it just makes things happen and everybody understands what we have to do and having coaches that played here in the past, I think, helps as well.”
Butler will kick off their 2021 campaign against Independence on Saturday, Sept. 4 in what is sure to be a high-scoring affair. Independence, previously led by Head Coach Kioshi Harris, won five of their seven games last season with their lone two losses coming in nail-biters against Garden City and Hutchinson. Last season the Indy Pirates averaged an impressive 508 total offensive yards per game, while presenting a rather balanced offensive attack, a seamless transition of pounding the rock and attacking through the air. It will definitely be a big test for the young Butler Grizzly defense right out of the gate. It will also be very interesting to observe the potential differences in schemes under new Head Coach Jason Martin. Martin served as the defensive coordinator for Independence the last four years and is likely looking to get the Independence football program out of the media circus created by the Netflix series “Last Chance U” and former Head Coach Jason Brown.
Then seemingly immediately following the match-up against Indy, the Grizzlies will travel to take on the reigning and defending national champion Hutchinson Dragons. Head Coach Drew Dallas leads the Dragons and are going to be sporting an extremely talented and potent offense. Hutch is bringing back four starters on the offensive line on top of the return of quarterback Dylan Laible, running backs Tye Edwards and Anwar Lewis and receiver Cortez Braham. The Dragons are, without a doubt, looking for this continuity to put them over the top this year.
On the defensive side of the ball for the Dragons, there are, without a doubt, some question marks with a number of last year’s starters moving on this past off-season, particularly in the linebacker group and the secondary. But Dallas has said that he likes the young talent coming up in those position groups, so that will definitely be a storyline to look out for throughout the early portions of the season.
Following this pair of top-tier games to open the season, the Grizzlies will have five straight weeks going up against teams they should be able to come out on top against. These match-ups include Dodge City, Coffeyville, Highland, McDougle Technical Institute from Florida and Fort Scott. While these five teams are definitely going to present some unique challenges, particularly Coffeyville led by NJCAA Football Hall of Fame Football Coach Jeff Leiker, it is hard not to expect the experience, depth and talent of the 2021 Butler Grizzlies to put them over the top in this run of mid-season games.
The Grizzlies will then go up against Garden City on the road in a big time match-up to put a wrap on the regular season. The Grizzlies will enter the home of a Garden City team that finished second in the Jayhawk Conference last year, as well as a team that is bringing back third year Coach Tom Minnick. Garden City has consistently been expected to push for a national championship and that has not changed going into the 2021 campaign. The Garden City defense is once again expected to be a game-changing group with the majority of the defensive starters returning. The signature no-huddle offense for Garden City is currently expected to be led by quarterback Rhett Ricedorf and running back Davion Hodges. The significance of this matchup cannot be overstated with this match-up possibly being for the Jayhawk Championship if all the pieces fall into place for each of these teams.
The 2021 Grizzlies will, without question, be a battle-tested group, having a schedule that includes both some classic Jayhawk match-ups and some five star matchups. This team and Schaffner are looking to put this past season behind them and come back with a big time successful season. The Butler Grizzlies will once again lean on leadership from a collection of players and their seasoned coaching staff. This season can easily be described as one of redemption, one that will follow a team looking to correct their miscues and this all starts with a pair of match-ups against two of the most talented teams in the conference.