Division I schools flock again to Kansas junior colleges
By DAVE SKRETTA
EL DORADO -- Troy coach Larry Blakeney might as well have bought a house in Kansas. Or at least rented a nice apartment within driving distance of its many junior colleges.
Blakeney has been around long enough to know the number of Division I prospects that schools in the Jayhawk Conference spit out each year. He's gone after many of them in the past, as have more high-profile schools such as Auburn and Florida State.
So it was little surprise that he began plugging holes on next year's team by taking a trip to the Sunflower State. And by the time national signing day rolled around Wednesday, and all the letters of intent were collected, six of his 19 prospects were from Kansas junior colleges.
"We felt like we needed some immediate help in certain positions on defense, and offense," Blakeney said, "and you know, we found the answer we think at the community college level."
Three of his answers came from Butler County Community College, one of the most dominant JUCO programs in the country. The rest came from Hutchinson, Dodge City and Coffeyville.
The six prospects headed to Troy represent a fraction of the nearly four dozen players from the Jayhawk Conference's eight schools to sign letters of intent with Division I schools.
"They have great coaching. They compete at a very, very high level," said Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who signed defensive tackle Owen Williams out of Butler and highly regarded offensive tackle Dontavius Blair out of Garden City Community College.
"We're excited because they're talented players," Jones said. "They've come in already. They're good people, and they have a very, very good skill set already established in terms of the strength and conditioning program and the total development of the individual."
That's one of the lures of community college players: They're ready to step in immediately.
In most cases, they have one or two years of experience -- along with mental and physical maturity -- that gives them an edge over high school prospects. And that means that someone like Blair, whom Rivals.com ranked the seventh-best JUCO recruit in the country, can step into the starting lineup his first year on campus.
This isn't a new trend. The junior college in Kansas have been producing Division I stars for years, many of whom have gone on to sterling NFL careers.
Take wide receiver and return man Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Two years ago, he was playing for Hutchinson, and then spent a year at Tennessee before electrifying fans on the professional level.
Or take a look at the two teams in the Super Bowl. Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle James Carpenter and Denver Broncos defensive tackle Sylvester Williams both came out of Coffeyville.
There are numerous reasons why players end up at Kansas junior colleges. Some fail to qualify academically, others were lightly recruited -- or not recruited at all. Still others use the JUCOs as a way station between D-I schools, as was the case with Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.
He began his career as a cornerback at Georgia, but was dismissed from the team. Marshall ended up at Garden City, in the quiet and secluded southwest corner of the state, where he was able to focus on school and football. He ultimately switched to quarterback, threw for more than 3,000 yards in his only season and, well, the rest is history.
Marshall led the Tigers to the SEC championship and a spot in the national title game.
He wasn't the only product of Kansas junior colleges to help the Tigers go from 3-9 in 2012 to 12-2 this past season. Defensive back Brandon King, linebacker Kenny Flowers, defensive tackle Ben Bradley and offensive lineman Devonte Danzey all played in the Jayhawk Conference.
"With the community college guys, we're talking about immediate needs that we believe each one of them has the capacity to do fill," said Kansas State's Bill Snyder, who built his program in the 1990s largely on his ability to unearth such talent.
He hasn't stopped, either, landing six more Kansas junior college recruits this year.
Then there's Troy, which actually steered a couple players who failed to qualify to junior colleges, and then were able to keep their pledges. That formed the basis for the six-player haul that Blakeney hopes will be able to help immediately.
"Needs and experience," he said. "We had some needs, we knew we had to address them, and we felt that this was the best way to address them."