SCOOBA – Aiming to get back into the national championship picture, the Lions of East Mississippi Community College have received a No. 3 preseason ranking in the first junior college football poll of the upcoming campaign produced by Street & Smith's 2017 College Football Preview magazine.
Compiled by junior college sportswriter Tony Jimenez for the nationally distributed college football magazine that is currently available on newsstands nationwide, Street & Smith's Top 25 preseason rankings considered all 134 of the nation's two-year schools that feature football programs. Along with the 65 junior colleges affiliated with the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) that compete in football, the preseason poll also included the 69 competing members of the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA).
Ahead of the reigning MACJC state champion EMCC Lions in the preseason poll are defending NJCAA national champion Garden City (Kan.) Community College at No. 1 and 2016 CCCAA state champion Fullerton (Calif.) College right behind at No. 2. Arizona Western and Trinity Valley (Texas) round out Street & Smith's Top 5. From the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC), Northwest Mississippi and Jones County are listed 13th and 19th, respectively.
In addition to previewing the Top 10 junior college football teams for the upcoming season, Street & Smith's two-page magazine spread also includes listings of the nation's Top 25 "Juco Super Sophomores" and Top 24 "Juco Players Moving On" heading into the 2017 football season. For East Mississippi, quarterback Vijay Miller and incoming defensive lineman Teair Tart-Spencer were listed among this preseason's top sophomore players, while Texas Tech transfer linebacker Dakota Allen was included among the best players moving to the four-year level.
Miller, from Itawamba AHS, completed 64 percent of his passes with six touchdowns through the air last year as a freshman playing behind EMCC All-American and Florida Atlantic signee De'Andre Johnson while also leading the Lions with nine rushing touchdowns as the team's goal-line signal caller. Tart-Spencer, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., was named to the College Football America 2016 Yearbook Juco Starting Lineup after being credited with 7.5 tackles for loss, including five sacks, in six games played for ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the 2015 season.
With 10th-year EMCC head football coach Buddy Stephens set to challenge the NJCAA's all-time standard for highest winning percentage among football coaches with a minimum of 100 career games coached as well as being poised to break Bob "Bull" Sullivan's all-time school record for most career coaching wins, the Lions are coming off last year's 11-1 campaign in which they rebounded with 11 straight wins following their narrow season-opening loss at Jones County. Entering the upcoming season with a nine-year overall record of 87-12 (.879) and MACJC North Division mark of 51-3 (.944), Stephens guided last year's EMCC squad to a fifth MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 title and eighth MACJC North regular-season crown en route to a No. 2 national ranking in the final NJCAA poll. The Lions have also claimed three NJCAA national championships (2011, 2013 & 2014) over the past six seasons.
EMCC's nine-game, regular-season 2017 football schedule kicks off with back-to-back home contests against perennial MACJC South Division powers Jones County (Aug. 31) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (Sept. 7). The Lions' six-game division slate is comprised of home contests versus Itawamba (Sept. 21), Holmes (Oct. 5) and Coahoma (Oct. 21-Homecoming) along with road outings against Northeast Mississippi (Sept. 14), Mississippi Delta (Sept. 28) and Northwest Mississippi (Oct. 12). With the MACJC state playoffs set for the first two Saturdays in November (4th & 11th), EMCC will close out the regular season with a non-division game at Hinds (Oct. 28).