Terry Wilson and Matt Terrell just wanted to play.
The literal and figurative quarterbacks on their side of the ball, Wilson (QB) and Terrell (LB) did not want to sit out a year after transferring from their current Division I programs to another NCAA school. They had not been kicked out of their previous programs — Oregon for Wilson and Virginia for Terrell.
They were not academically ineligible.
They were just looking for another opportunity. Enter Garden City Community College, which head coach Jeff Sims deems Opportunity USA.
“My goal leaving UVA was to get to a bigger school, a more productive school, a school that has a base of winning,” Terrell said. “When I was leaving UVA, I didn’t really get those offers, so coming to Garden City I thought would get me an opportunity to get those bigger ones.”
Wilson was already at his “dream school” in Oregon, which had a base of winning, playing in two national championships since 2010. But he red-shirted as a freshman in 2016, and a little-recruited freshman quarterback from Eugene, Ore. — the home of the Ducks — won the starting spot and flourished, leaving Wilson as a guaranteed backup, with no real shot of becoming the starter for at least two years.
“It took a minute to gather up my options to decide if (transferring) was what I really wanted to do,” Wilson said. “But that’s what I thought I had to do to do what was best for me.”
But Wilson had just sat out a year from the sport he grew up playing in Oklahoma, and he didn’t feel like burning another year of eligibility.
“When you’re a red-shirt, you want to play so much and get on the field,” Wilson said.
Now they’re both Busters, in the southwest corner of Kansas, far away from the luxuries that Division I football provides.
“I feel like we’re spoiled (at NCAA Division I programs),” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of things given to us, and vice-versa here. We’re working for everything we get. Everything here at JUCO, you’re working for. At DI, you still have to work, but everything is given to you.”
The food. The gear. The equipment.
“It was pretty hard (leaving Virginia), I’m not going to lie,” Terrell said. “I had to step out on my own.”
There’s scores of people whose job at Division I programs is to help the players succeed on the football field and in the classroom.
There’s not just a strength and conditioning coach — though, GCCC is one of the few junior college programs in the country to have a strength and conditioning coach — there’s a team of strength coaches.
There’s tutors, and graduate assistants and directors of player performance. Those don’t exist at junior colleges, so the player is — in some ways — responsible for more things than at NCAA programs.
“It’s a grind,” Wilson said. “JUCO football is definitely a grind.
“The workouts, we’re working. I haven’t worked out like this in a long, long time. I love it. I loved the intensity of the workouts, the sprints. That surprised me.”
“The work load (in junior college) is probably the same (as Division I), when you look at the grand scheme of it,” he said. “The work load isn’t very different, but the equipment, the food you eat — there’s not a nutritionist on staff telling me what to eat.”
Terrell’s biggest adjustment to junior college football, he said, seemed to be fairly trivial to the rest of us.
“This is going to sound pretty stupid, but at UVA, I got a new mouthpiece every week,” Terrell said, with a laugh, “because I chew them up. They don’t give me a new mouthpiece here.”
The play on the field has been the thing to which Terrell and Wilson are most accustomed.
“I didn’t underestimate (the talent level),” Wilson said. “I was expecting some dogs, and that’s exactly what’s here. Every day at practice, it’s some competition. I remember doing 7 on 7, and if the QB doesn’t see anybody open, they take off with it and make something happen, and at the time it was live, and a safety come down and blew me up and I fumbled.
“It’s really, really hungry guys just wanting to be successful.”
The talent level did surprise Terrell.
“The level of talent that some people have, and some of the choices they made,” he said. “Guys who have all the talent in the world and making a poor decision. That has surprised me, and it makes me think about my choices and how those affect me long-term.
“Not everyone is a Division I athlete, but there’s a lot of guys out here who have the potential to be a DI athletes, and there are just a lot of Division I athletes.”
Terrell and Wilson will both be gone from GCCC after the season, able to now play immediately at any NCAA school they choose.
“I want to get to a ‘power five’ school, and I want a lot of competition,” Terrell said. “I want to work my .... off to win a spot — and a good education, of course.”
Wilson already has been to his dream school, he said, so he’s not sure what will be the next destination.
“I really don’t know … I want to end up somewhere I can be a great fit right away, and make the team better,” he said. “I just want to go make an impact for the team.”
The type of impact he felt like he couldn’t make at Oregon, sparking his transfer to GCCC.
“I’ve learned a lot here,” he said. “I mean, some people, with the NCAA rules, they have to sit out a year (after transferring), but if you want to get better, get those scholarships and make a name for yourself, I think JUCO ball is the way to go.”
It has been for Wilson and Terrell, at least.