Keeping Nassau Community College's strong football tradition going has been a top priority for head coach Curtis Guilliam.
Guilliam's Lions didn't disappoint last year as the squad finished 9-2. They were rewarded with a trip to the El Toro Bowl where they were edged by No. 12 Arizona Western 42-37.
It's a new year and a new season for Guilliam, who hopes a bevy of highly-touted recruits and several key returnees on offense can lead the Lions back to the post season.
The pressure will be on for NCC, which begins the year ranked 13th in the NJCAA preseason top 25 poll.
"We were ranked No. 3 at one point last season," said Guilliam. "It was an honor to get that high in the polls. We are hoping to keep it going this year."
NCC led the Northeast Conference in rushing and was second in scoring and total offense last season. If an experienced offensive line, led by Chad Mavety, Errol McCarthy and Haris Mrkulic finds its way early, the Lions' offense could be just as potent as it was last season.
"We always set the bar at a high level here," said the second-year head coach, who spent six years as an assistant coach before being elevated to the top position in 2012. "The success here goes back a long way."
The NCC ground attack will be led by 2012 All-Northeast Conference first-team selection Travis Lock. The sophomore from Lynbrook split time with Louis Johnson, but still managed to run for 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Troy Jones, a second-team All-Northeast Conference pick who threw for 1,191 yards and 15 touchdowns, is back at quarterback. His top returning target will be Antwane Grant (27 receptions, 5 TDs). Freshmen Kendall "Speedy" Thomas and 6-4 Staten Island product Malique Belfort will also be in the mix at receiver, Guilliam said.
Defensively, NCC lost a lot of production, but returns sophomore Lance McDowell, a 2012 All-Northeast second-team selection at defensive end.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
TRAVIS LOCK: Running back, sophomore, 6-0, 225
TROY JONES: Quarterback, sophomore, 6-3, 205
LANCE MCDOWELL: Defensive end, sophomore, 6-5, 295
CHAD MAVETY: Offensive line, sophomore, 6-6, 295
ANTWANE GRANT: Wide receiver, sophomore, 6-2, 210