As Butler Community College (El Dorado, Kan.) prepares for Sunday’s Citizens Bank Bowl, visions of last season bounce through the head of Demarcus Lawrence.
Last year’s Citizens Bank Bowl proved to be the national championship game, and Butler lost to Navarro College (Corsicana, Texas), 13-12, in freezing temperatures. While this year’s game isn’t for a national title, the feeling of being so close yet so far is enough motivation for Lawrence and the rest of the Butler teammates who returned for their sophomore seasons.
“It is very different now, because I had a lot of things to learn last year,” Lawrence said. “Now I know our playbook inside out, but I also believe my coaches molded me into a good leader.
“It’s my turn to lead my troops, and I won’t let them down.”
Butler (10-1) will attempt to be on the winner’s side when the game ends Sunday, as they face Trinity Valley Community College (Athens, Texas) in a clash of top-10 teams. The Grizzlies have won 10 consecutive games and enter Sunday ranked No. 3 in the NJCAA Top 20 poll.
Trinity Valley (8-2) will compete in its first bowl game since 2005. The Cardinals are ranked No. 10 nationally.
Lawrence, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash, leads the team with 67 tackles, 11 ½ sacks and four fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown. He and the rest of the defense will have to bring their A game in order to take down a Trinity Valley team that has scored 55 or more points three times.
The Cardinals feature one of the country's most consistent quarterbacks running the offense in Tucker Carter. A sophomore, Carter was named the Southwest Junior College Football Conference’s Offensive MVP. Defensively, Trinity Valley has several BCS-caliber players, including defensive tackle and recent Kansas commit Ty McKinney.
“Our guys in the locker room always stay focused and quiet before the storm,” said Lawrence, who currently holds offers from South Florida and Boise State. “Coach [Troy Morrell] always tells us to save the hooting and hollering for during the game.”
While Butler’s defense will look to shut down Trinity Valley, its offense is looking to make a statement of its own. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer, a transfer from Illinois, has 2,822 yards and 24 touchdowns and was named an all-Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference selection.
Whitmer’s primary target is 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore receiver Kendall Wrenn, someone who knows Trinity Valley well. Wrenn, another all-KJCCC selection with 55 catches for 1,159 yards and 12 touchdowns, played his high school ball at Kaufman, Texas, which is located roughly a half hour away from the Trinity Valley campus.
“Last year, I was more of a fourth receiver. I got playing time, but I got nervous,” said Wrenn, who has offers from Louisiana Tech, Memphis, Bowling Green, Middle Tennessee State and Ohio. “I had never played in front of that many people before. Now that I’ve experienced it, I know what it’s all about, and I know what it takes. I won’t let my team down.
“We’ve been telling everybody ‘One-11,’ which is all 11 players, one heartbeat. We’ve got to have each other’s backs.”
Both Lawrence and Wrenn said the team doesn’t speak much about last year’s loss in the bowl game, but the end result still resonates in the back of their minds. Defeating a team like Trinity Valley – a team that has beaten defending champion Navarro this season – will help exorcise last year’s demons.
“I want to finish this season with a win with my team,” Lawrence said. “These guys made me a better player on and off the field, and I need to show how good I can really be by showing off every aspect of my game.”
Wrenn added: “Last year was last year. We’re focused on Sunday.”