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October 1, 2004Sometimes, when a program loses a stable of talent, they can't wait a year or two for incoming freshman to develop into contributors.
Enter the junior college transfer.
Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kan., is building a prominent junior college program by attracting some of the country's top players that couldn't qualify for Division I scholarships directly out of high school or went unnoticed by the nation's top D-I programs.
In the past, Hutchinson has struggled because of Jayhawk Conference rivals Coffeyville, Garden City and Butler County dominated the scene, but that's changing and the Blue Dragons are back to playing highly competitive football and being recognized as one of the top stop offs for college recruiters.
A talented quarterback can often lift up his teammates, and Hutchinson has an impressive signal caller this year. Robert Coates, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder has a strong arm and good agility, but coaches say that the improvement in his decision making is what now sets him apart.
"He's improved his decision making," Hutchinson coach Craig Jersild said. "Now, during the play he can survey the field a lot more efficiently, and his completion percentage has gone up. He's making better decisions and the offense is a lot better because of it. He always had arm strength and speed, but now his decision making is his biggest strength.
"He doesn't have any offers yet, but he's had a lot of looks from different schools."
Coates, scheduled to graduate from Hutchinson this spring, has been contacted by Kansas State and East Carolina, and both programs are said to be interested in him. As his numbers continue to improve, the former Goldsborough, N.C., star could receive attention from a number of other programs, too.
Two of the main reasons that Coates has impressed this fall has been because of stellar play along the offensive line, anchored by Evan Anderson and Jed Henson. D-I prospects themselves, Anderson and Henson have emerged as key components of the powerful Blue Dragon offense.
"Anderson is a smart kid," Jersild said. He's strong and he's a leader on the offensive line. He'll make some college really happy. And Henson is a big strong ox, a great run blocker. He should be a great run blocker in college, too."
Anderson, a 6-foot-2, 270-pounder from Abilene, Kan., is scheduled to graduate in December and may end up at Tennessee State in Nashville. Henson, a girthy 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds hails from Nickerson, Kan., and has been talking to coaches from Kansas State, Kansas and Ball State. BSU has reportedly shown the most interest in the lineman so far.
While Anderson and Henson can give Coates protection, a signal caller's safety can only go so far toward making him successful. In the end, he needs talented players to pass to. The Blue Dragons have a game-breaking receiver in Kyle Roberts, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound prospect from Overland Park, Kan. Roberts has been contacted by Kansas State, Kansas and UTEP, and the Wildcats are supposedly showing high interest in the wide-out.
"He's got the best set of hands I've ever seen," Jersild said. "He's a solid receiver and runs great routes, he's a good blocker; I can't say enough good stuff about him. He runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash. He's a big target with a big body, and he only needs 20 more receptions to be school's all-time leading receiver."
Despite their offensive stars, Hutchinson's true strength lies in its defense, and it starts up front with a pair of Oklahoma State commitments.
Defensive tackles Josh Pinaire and Willie Williams committed to the Cowboys after Oklahoma State coaches saw the pair at a Hutchinson practice.
The pair form an impressive defensive front for the Blue Dragons, and are said to be firm in their pledge to the Cowboys.
Pinaire, from Derby, Kan., stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 295 pounds while Williams is 6-foot-4 and 303 pounds. Though Pinaire is scheduled to graduate in December and Williams probably won't finish at Hutchinson until the spring, the duo could play together at OSU.
"Pinaire is smart, quick, strong, and has good combinations on the defensive line," his coach said. "And Williams will put the fear of God in your eyes if you line up against him. He's mean, strong, and quick."
The Blue Dragon stoppers don't stop up front, as one of the best players on the team is in the next line of defense. Linebacker David Dixon is getting interest from schools across the country, with Texas A&M, East Carolina, Arkansas and Kansas State pushing hardest for his services now.
"He's the best player that our coaches have ever been around," Jersild said. "He was the national junior college player of the week on defense last week."
The former Beaumont (Texas) Central star will graduate from Hutchinson in the spring and is sure to find a home somewhere in D-I as long as he can keep up his grades. Academic issues helped land him at Hutchinson, and he continues to struggle with his studies. His time on the field has been much less trying for the 6-foot-2, 235-pound prospect.
Dixon leads the Jayhawk Conference with 70 tackles, 21 of which have been for a loss, and has five sacks through the Blue Dragons' first five games. Last Saturday against Air Force Prep Dixon recorded 20 tackles, his second consecutive week with at least 20 tackles.
Not to be outdone, the Hutchinson secondary has a D-I prospect of its own. Free safety A.J. Wallace has impressed coaches with his mix of physicality and strength. At 6-foot-1? and 195 pounds, Wallace also runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.
"He's fast and real physical," Jersild said. "He flew down the field the other night and unloaded on the other team's punt returner. He's relentless and he will hit you right in the mouth."
An expected December graduate, Wallace has been talking to Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri and UTEP. Other schools have also expressed interest in the Leavenworth, Kan., product, though none as prominently as Kansas and Kansas State.
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