Junior colleges not always the answer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Sports Editor

For years, college football programs have dipped into the nation’s two-year institutions for players who can compete at the Division 1-A level.

But occasionally these athletes are just "quick fixes" to a reoccurring problem.

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The reason?

Most players who come in on scholarship from a community or a junior college have already completed two-years of eligibility. Their first year in a major college program is usually spent attempting to learn what is required of them, whether it be on offense or defense. Only when they are seniors can these players be expected to make a significant impact on the playing field.

And after that year, they’re gone. Graduated.

In rare cases junior college transfers get a chance to take their talents to the NFL, (such as Brundidge’s Cornelius Griffin), the CFL, or arena football. Or maybe they just get a degree and fade from the limelight.

In the past, Jackie Sherrill, head coach of Mississippi State, has built his teams around defense and the running game, utilizing star junior college transfers to a greater degree then other programs.

MSU has 18 on its roster. In contrast, Troy State, in just its first year of Division 1-A and a program that has nowhere near the scholarship total of the Bulldogs, has just five.

Second-guessers of Sherrill wonder whether or not loading his team with two-year players as opposed to building up a solid core of sophomores and freshmen, has finally caught up with the 11 year head coach.

The Bulldogs’ (1-3) lone win of the year came over Memphis, 30-10, in the season opener.

"I think they (MSU) knew early they had some problems when they had to come back and beat Memphis. I think they knew were going to have to mesh better as a team in order to beat some of the other people on their schedule, such as Florida," said Blakeney.

That didn’t happen.

Mississippi State has since dropped its last three games, all to Southeastern Conference opponents. The above-mentioned Gators routed the Bulldogs’ 52-0 in Gainesville on Sept. 29.

Although junior college players can grant immediate help, TSU head coach Larry Blakeney said they can also hurt your program in the long run.

"You have to always worry about chemistry and I’m sure Coach Sherrill worries about chemistry every year to," said Blakeney. "Especially when you have a bunch of new guys and most of them are juniors. When you have a heavy junior or senior class each year, you don’t know how that’s going to affect your team as far as who’s going to lead, who’s going to be negative, who’s going to do what."

Freshman, and prep school players, are with a coach from the beginning. Barring injury, academics or an early departure into the professional ranks, high school freshmen are immersed in a program for four years. Sometimes five, in case of a redshirt.

Although his coaching staff will recruit the junior colleges, Blakeney said collecting a strong freshmen class each and every year is the Trojans’ goal.

"We want to build our program on recruiting freshmen, developing them and redshirting as many as possible," he said. "For junior colleges we want to look at where we have needs…to fill in gaps where we’ve lost players or didn’t recruit players. That’s where we want to go with our overall philosophy."

Blakeney, also in his 11th season at Troy State, and his Trojans (1-3) travel to Starkville to play Sherrill and the Bulldogs this weekend.

Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.