The start of the Dodge City Community College football season is a little over four months away, but new head coach Gary Thomas and his staff are already getting a jump on what they need to do to succeed in the upcoming campaign.
Thomas takes over the reigns from his time at the College of DuPage in Illinois. The Chaparrals finished No. 8 in the country and won the Citizens' Bank Bowl in Pittsburg before their coach decided to move to coach the Conquistadors.
Anyone hoping for a quick fix will have to understand building the program back up will take some time as pieces to the puzzle come together.
"We finished No. 8 in the nation last year and that didn't happen overnight," Thomas said. "In the last six years at DuPage, we won 41 games. Dodge City won around 10."
Thomas said he was fortunate to bring a few players and coaches from DuPage to help the transition; especially since he came from a program that didn't give any athletic scholarships.
"The transition has been relatively smooth," Thomas said. "It's great to be around people and a place that values collegiate athletics and student athletes, and gives us the resources to operate our program properly.
"(The DuPage players) will be immediate factors in helping build this program. They understand my expectations; they know how to carry themselves as collegiate student-athletes, and they know how to win.
Thomas said the Conqs have 38 players in the program during the spring practices as the coaches have weeded out players who couldn't meet the expectations of the program.
Among the returning players include six offensive linemen who received playing time last season as freshmen with Thomas singled out former Red Demon Marcos Gutierres as an intense and solid player.
The head coach has also praised some of the defensive players during the spring session: linebacker Todd Middleton (another former DCHS player) for his oriented detail; linebacker Jacob Brashers for his leadership role and hard work; and defensive back Tyrone Wright for his athleticism.
"We have a nucleus of returning players that are working very hard in the offseason," Thomas said. "I am impressed with their mental and physical toughness."
The coaches are trying to improve all three facets of the Conqs' game as the team tries to recover from a winless season where they scored 13.4 points and gave up 46.6 points per contest last season.
Thomas said the college has made a commitment to helping the team train at a higher level with the addition of new electronic technology and equipment on the football field, as well as a new practice facility.
The coach said it's a change of philosophy and the players' belief on how they operate each day.
"We have spent the spring semester trying to change everything about this football program," Thomas said. "We have changed the way that we lift weights. We have changed the way we attack academics. We have changed the way we act on campus and in the community.
"We have even changed the paint on the walls."