Colorado Springs, CO – Fresh off of the program's fourth national title in seven years, East Mississippi's head coach Buddy Stephens has been named the 2017 Spalding® NJCAA Coach of the Year, announced by the NJCAA Football Coaches Association on Wednesday.
Stephens led the Lions to an 11-1 record, including a 31-28 victory over No. 2 Arizona Western in the Mississippi Bowl to capture the program's fourth national title since 2011.
"I would like to thank (NJCAA Executive Director) Chris Parker and his staff at the NJCAA office along with Spalding for their continued sponsorship with the NJCAA," Stephens stated following the announcement. "I want to also extend a sincere appreciation to (EMCC President) Dr. Tom Huebner, (EMCC Director of Athletics) Dr. Randall Bradberry and to EMCC's Board of Trustees for having the foresight to envision the importance of athletics at the community college level. Anytime we receive an award here at EMCC, it's always a staff award. We're very excited about this award and about the year we've had, and we're equally enthusiastic about the future of East Mississippi Community College."
2017 saw Stephens extend his NJCAA best winning percentage to .882 with a career record of 98-13. The Lions have reached double-digit victories in four of the last five seasons under Stephens' watch.
The potent Lion offense outscored its opponents by an average of 23.2 points per game in 2017, a campaign that saw East Mississippi win its final four games all against ranked opponents, including a Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges (MACJC) state title.
East Mississippi boasted a pair of NJCAA All-Americans, announced by the NJCAA Football Committee on Tuesday. Defensive back Duke Upshaw earned first team honors while place kicker Taylor Crabtree was an honorable mention recipient.
East Mississippi Athletic Director Randall Bradberry commended Stephens for his dedication to the school and the community of Scooba. "From a personal standpoint, I am extremely proud for Coach Stephens because this has been one of his best years coaching here at EMCC. His strong leadership has been instrumental in the consistent football success we're continuing to enjoy here at East Mississippi Community College."
The postseason award is the second of Stephens' career after earning the prestigious honor following the 2014 season.
In 2001, Stephens began his NJCAA coaching career as an assistant at Pearl River (Miss.). After seven years with the Wildcats, he was brought on by East Mississippi as head coach in 2008.
A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Stephens was a standout offensive lineman at Pearl River before moving on to NCAA Division II Delta State. Stephens continued on as a graduate assistant with the Statesman after earning his bachelor's degree. He landed a full-time position at Louisiana-Monroe where he earned a master's degree in 1992 before embarking on a successful high school coaching career in Alabama and Louisiana.
About the Spalding® NJCAA Football Player of the Year Awards
Since 1990, the NJCAA Football Coaches Association has recognized the top football player in the country with the NJCAA Football Player of the Year award. The award was split into an offensive and defensive honor beginning in 2000. Spalding® partnered with the NJCAA in 2013 to become the title sponsor of both awards.
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