Garden City, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-To say the 2015 season was a year of ups and downs would be an understatement for second-year Garden City Head Coach Jeff Sims.
From the lows of allowing four, 100-yard rushers in a blowout loss to Hutchinson to upsetting top-ranked Butler in El Dorado for the first time in nearly two decades, the Broncbusters saw both ends of the spectrum during Sims’ first season.
Fast forward nearly 12 months, and Sims is banking on how his team closed 2015 to springboard them into conference contention in 2016.
“We gained a lot of confidence at the end of last season,” Sims said at the beginning of fall camp. “What we do with that is entirely up to these guys.”
And there is reason for optimism with a plethora of returners on both sides of the ball, including National Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Faulk, who signed with Baylor before leaving the program in the spring.
Then there is Miami-transfer Alex Figueroa, who played in the season opener last year vs. Highland before fracturing his foot while punting the football in the second half.
“He (Alex) was really down about that,” second-year linebacker Delshawn Phillips said. “It’s really good to have him back.”
Offensively, the Broncbusters have some bigger decisions to make. Back are quarterback Jayru Campbell, who saw spot duty as a true freshman, and wide receiver Ben Phillips. Also returning is sophomore Cody Jennings, who was part of an offensive line that had a ton of growing pains last season.
“I got a lot stronger during the off season,” Jennings said. “I was about 260 when I got into camp last year, and right now I’m around 290. I feel great.”
Joining Jennings on the line will be freshman Edgar Guzman from Garden City.
“Edgar has looked really good the first few days,” Sims said. “He understands what we’re trying to do.”
Another Garden City hopeful looking to make the team is all-purpose back Ethan Yardley, who was one of Brian Hill’s biggest play makers last year.
The biggest change for the Broncbusters in 2016 will be the play calling. Steve Shimko takes the reigns of an offense that was, statistically, one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation last year. In fact, Garden City produced only 11 touchdowns on the ground in 11 games, which was dead last in the Jayhawk.
“Running the ball is definitely a point of emphasis for us this year,” Sims said. “But our production in that department depends on the offensive line.”
Despite their struggles on the ground, the passing game flourished. Campbell started the season before giving way to Western Kentucky-transfer Todd Porter, who had his best game in Garden City’s upset victory over Butler.
Campbell appears to be the guy leading the way in 2016; however, freshman Peyton Hueslig from Andover Central has been sharp the first few days.
“Peyton has done a nice job completing passes,” Sims said.
As for the weapons on the outside: wide receiver Ben Phillips is back as is Tim Arno, who has quietly had a strong camp.
Garden City opens the 2016 season at Ellsworth, IA on August 27. You can hear them all season long on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and the mobile app: 999espn