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Five-time national champion Lions top NJCAA preseason rankings

Five teams from Mississippi are ranked in the top 20.

Posted: Aug 20, 2019 5:42 PM

SCOOBA, Miss. (WTVA/EMCC Athletics) – For the sixth time in the last eight years, East Mississippi Community College will kick off the upcoming football season as the nation’s top-ranked team in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Preseason Football Rankings.

Dating back to their first of five national championships claimed during the past eight seasons, 12th-year head football coach Buddy Stephens’ EMCC Lions have now been tabbed as the NJCAA’s No. 1-ranked preseason football team each year following their national championship seasons of 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018. They also previously earned a third straight preseason No. 1 ranking by the NJCAA in 2016 followed by a No. 2 rating during the 2017 preseason.

Coming off their fourth unbeaten season in the last eight years (2011, ’13-14 & ’18), the 2018 Lions became Stephens’ first EMCC squad to run the table as the NJCAA’s No. 1-ranked football team during an entire season that consisted of nine regular-season weeks, two postseason weeks as well as preseason and final rankings. Including last year’s 13 straight polls at the top spot and being ranked No. 1 in the three postseason polls of 2017, the Lions have now stood atop the NJCAA football rankings in 17 consecutive polls.

Including preseason and final rankings as determined by the NJCAA, East Mississippi has now been ranked in 106 consecutive NJCAA football polls dating back to the team’s initial national championship season in 2011. During the eight-year span heading into the upcoming season, the Lions have rated among the NJCAA’s top 10 teams in 84 of the last 89 weekly polls, including 70 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 89 percent of the time over the past 11 seasons combined. Included among EMCC’s 109 weeks (out of 122 total weeks) of being listed among the NJCAA’s football national rankings have been 95 weeks (78%) ranked among the top 10 and 73 weeks (60%) within the top five nationally.

While having claimed back-to-back NJCAA titles twice (2017-18 & 2013-14), the EMCC Lions are seeking to join six-time NJCAA champions Butler (Kan.) and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M for the most all-time football team championships in NJCAA history. The two-time defending national champs will also look to secure an unprecedented third consecutive NJCAA football championship this coming season. Additionally, the three-time reigning Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) state champions, who also previously claimed state titles during the 2009, ’11, ’13 and ’14 seasons, will bid to become the first MACJC program since Pearl River (2003-06) to capture four consecutive state football championships.

Showcasing an overall 11-year head coaching record of 110-13 (.894), including an eight-year composite record of 86-5 (.945) dating back to the 2011 season, EMCC’s Stephens will open the 2019 campaign tied for fifth place among the NJCAA’s winningest active head football coaches. The three-time NJCAA Coach of the Year recipient also ranks as the NJCAA’s all-time leader in career winning percentage for head football coaches with at least 100 career games coached.

Set to bring a 17-game winning streak into the upcoming season, the EMCC Lions will kick off their nine-game, regular-season 2019 football schedule on Thursday, Aug. 29, at Hinds followed by home contests against Pearl River (Sept. 5) and Itawamba (Sept. 12) at Sullivan-Windham Field. A Sept. 19 road trip to Mississippi Delta will precede home encounters with East Central (Sept. 26) and Northwest Mississippi (Oct. 3). The final third of the Lions’ regular-season slate will consist of MACJC North Division road meetings with Holmes (Oct. 10) and Coahoma (Oct. 17) before they play host to Northeast Mississippi on Saturday, Oct. 26, during homecoming festivities on the Scooba campus.

Following reigning national and state champion East Mississippi atop the 2019 NJCAA Preseason Football Rankings are Iowa Western at No. 2, last year’s national runner-up Garden City (Kan.) in the third spot, 2018 MACJC state runner-up Jones College at No. 4, and Hutchinson (Kan.) rounding out the top five. Also representing the MACJC in this year’s NJCAA preseason football poll are Northwest Mississippi (No. 9), Mississippi Gulf Coast (No. 12) and Copiah-Lincoln (No. 17).

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