If Nassau Community College's victory in the Valley of the Sun Bowl last December proved anything, it's that the Lions are a force to be reckoned with among national junior college football teams. The experts agree, ranking the Lions fifth in this season's National Junior College Athletic Association preseason poll.
But even that ranking might have undersold the potential for national dominance by Nassau this season. The proof can be found in the Lions' 66-56 season-opening victory over second-ranked Trinity Valley Community College last Saturday in Athens, Texas.
"It was the biggest win in program history,'' coach Joe Osovet said. "We've never been ranked this high in preseason in the history of the program. Playing the number two team in the country, in their hometown, in Texas, on the road, speaks volumes to where this group is in regards to getting it done. They [picked up] where they left off last year.''
The Lions return 51 players, including 14 starters from last year's team that finished 10-0 and defeated Scottsdale (Arizona) CC in the school's first bowl game since 1996.
They are led by sophomore quarterback Ben Holmes, the defending Northeast Football Conference offensive player of the year. Against Trinity Valley, Holmes threw for 236 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 63 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries as Nassau ended Trinity Valley's 21-game winning streak.
Another sophomore, Marcellus Pack, will be a key in the running game. Pack led the Lions in rushing last week with 94 yards on six carries.
"This group of sophomores play for 60 minutes,'' said Osovet, the JUCO coach of the year last season. "They don't care who it is, the conditions or the circumstances. They're going to give you 60 minutes, win, lose or draw, and let the chips fall where they may.''
Against Trinity Valley, Pack's 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave the Lions a 31-30 lead in the third quarter. Nassau had trailed 27-24 at the half. "That was the changing point of the game,'' Osovet said.
The Lions scored four more times in the third quarter, putting up 35 points in 15 minutes, and took a 59-44 lead into the fourth.
"We knew that we had them on their heels, just looking at it from a conditioning standpoint,'' Osovet said. "We just moved a little bit faster. They couldn't answer our tempo. There were holes that you could have driven a truck through in the third quarter.''
Nassau continues play next Saturday against Navy Prep in Newport, Rhode Island, then faces Monroe College in its first home game Sept. 12.