Road to NFL can go through JUCO
12:27 PM CDT on Tuesday, April 17, 2007
By RICK GOSSELIN / The Dallas Morning News
Quarterback Brady Quinn had four years on a college campus to prove himself worthy of the NFL. He did just that, starting all four of his seasons at Notre Dame and becoming the school's all-time leading passer. His achievements have placed him high on NFL draft boards this month.
Some players have three years on campus to prove themselves
0NFL-worthy. Jamaal Anderson didn't redshirt at Arkansas and still made the conversion from receiver to pass rusher. He led the SEC in sacks in 2006 and is now skipping his senior season to enter the 2007 draft. Like Quinn, he projects as a high first-rounder.
Some players have farther to go in their football careers and less time to get there.
Like Florida safety Reggie Nelson. He had to travel the junior college route, spending a year in Coffeyville, Kan., to qualify for a scholarship at a Division I school.
Nelson played one year at Coffeyville Community College, intercepting six passes, and two years at Florida. He intercepted six passes for the Gators in 2006. He won All-America acclaim and helped Florida capture the national title. Now Nelson is leaving his senior season on the table to turn pro.
His arrival at Coffeyville had less to do with Nelson as a football player than Nelson as a student. The Gators, in fact, placed him in Kansas.
"I didn't score high enough in the SATs," Nelson said. "There isn't too much to do [at Coffeyville] but work on your grades. That's what I did, and it turned out for me.
"I had a 2.0 in high school, and I just finished up with a 2.5 at Florida. I'm less than 30 hours away [from graduation]. Once I get going with my NFL career, I'll come back and finish."
Nelson also projects as a first-round NFL draft pick. He credits Coffeyville for helping him to mature as both a person and player.
Reggie Nelson had six interceptions for Florida last season.
"Coming out of high school, you're independent," Nelson said. "There's no one in junior college to tap you on your shoulder and tell you to get up and go to school. You're on your own once you leave high school."
East Carolina wide receiver Aundrae Allison, Mississippi State defensive tackle Antonio Johnson and Rutgers guard Cameron Stephenson also needed to take the junior college route to address academic issues.
Johnson was Division I-ready as a football player coming out of high school. All the schools in his home state of Mississippi were recruiting him, but he was forced to enroll at Mississippi Delta Community College.
Johnson failed ninth grade, which prevented him from playing football as a senior. He used his two years at Mississippi Delta to build his academic standing.
"Junior college was a big plus for me," Johnson said. "It gives you a second chance. I had to work harder than other guys to get to this point."
Stephenson's football career was resurrected at Harbor College in Los Angeles. He also didn't score high enough on his SATs, so he went to work for Federal Express out of high school. He spent a year there before returning to school and the football field.
"It benefited me in the transition," Stephenson said. "The coaching was another level up from high school. That made every step easier – from high school to junior college, from junior college to D-I."
Stephenson started at Rutgers as a senior and earned second-team All-Big East honors. Allison earned All-Conference USA in 2005 and caught 145 passes in his two seasons at East Carolina to attract the NFL's attention.
Allison spent two years at Georgia Military College before accepting a scholarship to East Carolina. He knew junior college would benefit him in the classroom, but he was surprised by how much it benefited him on the football field.
"There was a lot of talent there," Allison said. "I went to an independent [school], so we had players coming from all over. I played with the best talent in the North and the South – guys who could play on any Division I team. It helped my game a lot playing there."
Jerard Rabb is on the NFL draft board today because of junior college. He was a high school basketball player who realized his size (6-2) would probably prevent him from ever playing in the NBA.
So Rabb took up football at Saddleback College and earned a scholarship to Boise State, where he caught 75 passes in two years. He might never have developed into an NFL prospect at a Division I school. He would have had to walk on and then would have been buried on the depth chart.
"I got a transition period that you wouldn't get from high school to college," Rabb said. "A lot of guys don't get to play their freshman and sophomore years. I did."
There are roughly four dozen junior college transfers on the 2007 NFL draft board. The road to the NFL isn't always a direct route. But a side trip along the way can prove beneficial.