EMCC Lions to open 2022 season at No. 6 in NJCAA Division I preseason football rankings

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2022

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Ranked in the preseason top 10 nationally for the 11th time in the past 13 years, the Lions of East Mississippi Community College will begin the upcoming football season sporting a No. 6 NJCAA Division I preseason ranking. The preseason national rankings were announced Monday by the NJCAA office.

EMCC’s 15th season under the direction of head coach Buddy Stephens is scheduled to kick off on Thursday, Sept. 1, against the Wolves of Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Game time is slated for 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus

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Among the 11 times that the EMCC Lions have been ranked among the NJCAA’s top-10 preseason football teams during the Stephens era (since 2008), the five-time NJCAA champions were tabbed the nation’s No. 1 preseason team six times during the eight-year span from 2012 through 2019.

Including preseason and final rankings as determined by the NJCAA, East Mississippi was ranked in 118 consecutive NJCAA football polls during the nine-year period (2011-19) prior to the Lions’ 2020 opt-out season due to health concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That nine-year span saw EMCC rated among the NJCAA’s top-10 teams in 90 of 100 weekly polls, including 74 weeks ranked in the top five.

During the team’s 13 seasons of competition (2008-19 & 2021) under Stephens’ guidance, the Lions have been represented in the NJCAA’s weekly football poll 90 percent of the time. Included among EMCC’s 131 weeks (out of 145 total weeks) of being listed among the NJCAA’s football national rankings have been 110 weeks (76%) ranked among the top 10 and 81 weeks (56%) within the top five nationally.

Showcasing an overall head coaching record of 125-18 (.874), including a 10-year composite record of 101-10 (.909) dating back to the 2011 season, EMCC’s Stephens will open the 2022 campaign ranked fifth among the NJCAA’s winningest active head football coaches. The three-time NJCAA Coach of the Year recipient also ranks second all-time in career winning percentage for NJCAA head football coaches with at least 100 career games coached. He also currently ranks tied for 30th on the NJCAA’s all-time career wins list and is fifth in Mississippi junior college football history.

A year ago after not playing the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, the 2021 EMCC Lions rebounded from not being preseason ranked for the first time since 2008 to record their fifth unbeaten regular-season slate since 2011. Last season’s 9-0 start also secured the program’s 10th MACCC North Division title outright during the Stephens coaching era. Following last year’s heartbreaking 42-41 overtime home loss to 10th-ranked Hinds in the MACCC Football Semifinals, East Mississippi finished the 2021 season with a No. 6 national ranking in the final NJCAA Division I football poll.

Other teams from the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC) that received recognition in this year’s NJCAA DI preseason football poll included Northwest Mississippi (No. 4), Hinds (No. 8) and Jones (No. 12). Mississippi Gulf Coast received votes.

Reigning NJCAA DI football champion New Mexico Military Institute remained atop the poll in this year’s preseason rankings, followed by No. 2 Iowa Western Community College, No. 3 Hutchinson (KS) Community College and No. 5 Snow College.