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Tabor College

Since his return to Tabor in 2010, Coach Mike Gardner has spurned another radical change of fortune as the head coach of the Bluejay football program.  In just three seasons, he has taken a program that was winless in 2009, to being the #19th ranked team in the nation, and the favorite to win the KCAC title in 2013.  Last year’s breakout season of his second tenure resulted in 8 wins, and the Bluejays are focused on taking the next step.

Out of the gate, the Jays will find out where they stand in a hurry.  They start the season in Lincoln, Nebraska to take on GPAC contender Nebraska Wesleyan, who is receiving votes in the pre-season national poll.  Then, the Jays hop right out of the frying pan and into the fire for a matchup vs. HAAC powerhouse, #11 Mid America Nazarene.

On the offensive side of the ball, third year coordinator Billy Hickman has put together an effective  flex bone attack focused on the ground game and moving the chains.  The Bluejay offense is led by Junior Simon McKee, Halstead, KS, who brings to the table two years’ experience as the starter, and a second team all-conference performance in 2012.  Behind McKee in the RB spot is Senior James Monroe, Browns Mills, NJ, a first team all KCAC selection in 2012.  Monroe has quietly amassed an impressive four year career at Tabor and is looking for his hard work to pay big benefits in 2013.  Along the offensive line, Tabor will miss the efforts of All-American Jon Michael Bergeron, along with long time Bluejay Andy Curtis, and will count on returners Andre Watts, Converse TX, and David Myers, a senior from Lancaster, CA to assume leadership roles on the offensive line.  Someone will need to step up and fulfill the role as leader at the center spot as well.  Coach Hickman welcomes back most of the starters in a unit that led the KCAC in scoring, and led the nation in rushing per game at 337.4 yards per game.  Other key returners include Roger Mujica, a senior WR from Orange, CA;   Kaden Anderson, sophomore WR from Clay Center, Ks; and Brandon Johnson, a Junior RB from National City, CA.

On defense, the Bluejays welcome new Defensive Coordinator Stephen Miller to take over a unit that was ranked third overall in the KCAC in 2012, and led the conference in points allowed, giving up 17.9 PPG.  Coach Miller comes to Tabor from William Penn a perennial contender in the MSFA West, where he coached the Defensive line and led recruiting efforts.  The Tabor defense loses a key player and leader in Chris Sandborn, in addition to two other full time defensive linemen, all who provided quality reps for the Jays on the inside.  However, some impressive talent returns for 2013, starting with Seniors Terach Antoine from Fort Pierce, FL, J.P. DeJesus, Bronx, NY, and Nik France out of Half Moon Bay, CA.  Both Antoine and France were all-conference players last year and they will look to lead the defensive efforts to an even higher level in 2013.  Another strong returner is sophomore linebacker Ben Gardner, who earned player of the week honors as a freshman last year for his efforts in a key win over Kansas Wesleyan in week 6.  Looking to fulfill a leadership role in the defensive backfield will be senior Anthony Daniel from Orange, CA.  Defensive lineman James Shephard returns for his third year in a Tabor jersey to round out the list of key returners for the Bluejay defense.

A huge part of their success in 2012 was the Bluejay’s propensity to cause turnovers and take care of the ball.  Their overall giveaway / take away ratio ended the year at +2.9, head and shoulders above any team in the conference; the ‘Jays at one point during the season led the entire nation, all levels including the NFL, in giveaway / take away ratio.  Whether last season’s turnover results were a planned strategy, or a stroke of good luck, Tabor will need to continue to be on the good side of that equation for their success to continue to grow.

On the downside, a huge part of the Jay’s success in 2012 was their ability to control field position.  The main reason for that success, kicker Joe Cannon, will not be returning to Tabor for the 2013 season.  Cannon also took care of punting duties, so the Jays are looking to fill both of those spots.

In 2013, expect the Bluejays to come out with a defined sense of purpose.  Coming up just short last year, the Jays have something to prove this year, and by the looks of it, they have many of the tools in place to do it.