East Mississippi atop NJCAA preseason football rankings

Published 2:59 pm Friday, August 24, 2018

For the fifth time in the last seven years, East Mississippi Community College will kick off the upcoming football season as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team in the National Junior College Athletic Association Preseason Football Rankings, as selected by the NJCAA Football Committee and announced Wednesday by the recently relocated national office now headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.
Dating back to their first of four national championships claimed during the past seven seasons, 11th-year head coach Buddy Stephens’ EMCC Lions have now been tabbed as the NJCAA’s top-ranked preseason football team each year following their national championship seasons of 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017. They also earned a third straight preseason No. 1 ranking by the NJCAA in 2016.
Including preseason and final rankings as determined by the NJCAA, EMCC has now been ranked in 93 consecutive NJCAA football polls dating back to the team’s initial national championship season in 2011. During the seven-year span heading into the upcoming season, the Lions have rated among the NJCAA’s top 10 teams in 73 of the last 78 regular-season polls, including 59 weeks ranked among the nation’s top five squads.
Since Stephens’ first year (2008) at the East Mississippi Community College football helm, the Lions have been represented in the NJCAA’s weekly football poll 88 percent of the time over the past 10 seasons combined. Included among EMCC’s 98 weeks (out of 111 total weeks) of being listed among the NJCAA’s football national rankings have been 84 weeks (76%) ranked among the top 10 and 62 weeks (56%) within the top five nationally.
While becoming the first member of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges to claim four national football championships, as recognized by the NJCAA, EMCC will enter this year’s slate having won 74 of its last 79 games spanning back to 2011. The Lions’ 74-5 record and 93.7 winning percentage over the last seven seasons includes separate winning streaks of 25, 20 and 17 consecutive games.
Beginning his second decade as head football coach of the EMCC Lions since being hired in December 2007, Stephens, whose wife Robyn Douglas Stephens is from Bogalusa, will begin this season ranked seventh nationally among the NJCAA’s winningest active football coaches. Two wins shy of the century mark with a decade-long head coaching record of 98-13, he presently ranks as the NJCAA’s all-time leader in career winning percentage (.883) for coaches with at least 100 career games coached. Along with the four national championships, Stephens has also guided East Mississippi to six MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 titles and eight MACJC North Division regular-season crowns. EMCC currently trails only Butler (Kan.) and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M for most national football championships (six each) in NJCAA history.
EMCC’s nine-game 2018 regular-season football schedule is set to kick off in two weeks on Thursday, Aug. 30 with a home game against the Hinds Eagles. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus. Following a non-division road outing at Pearl River on Sept. 6, the Lions’ six-game MACJC North Division slate begins with a Sept. 13 road trip to Itawamba and a home contest versus Mississippi Delta a week later (Sept. 20).
This year’s NJCAA top five preseason teams are the same as last year’s season-ending national poll. Following reigning national and state champion EMCC atop the NJCAA rankings are Iowa Western at No. 2, third-ranked Arizona Western along with Snow (Utah) and Independence (Kan.) at fourth and fifth, respectively. Also representing the MACJC in this year’s NJCAA Preseason Top 10 are No. 6 Northwest Mississippi and ninth-ranked Jones County. MACJC foes Hinds and Itawamba follow in the NJCAA’s preseason rankings at tied for 13th and 16th, respectively, while Holmes and Mississippi Gulf Coast are included among other teams receiving votes.
The NJCAA Football Poll is conducted by a 17-member committee featuring a representative from each of the seven districts, two annually rotating at-large voters, and one representative from the seven conferences along with a representative from the independent schools in which the highest and lowest vote for each team is dropped. The first regular-season poll will be released Sept. 5.