0

Players find journey through junior college worth the wait

Photo by Derrick Mahone/File photo :: Former Lovejoy standout David Washington (left) and former Luella player Marcus Dallas (right) both needed time in junior college for different reasons — Washington to get academically eligible and Dallas to get better exposure. Now, both are headed to Division I schools.

Photo by Derrick Mahone/File photo :: Former Lovejoy standout David Washington (left) and former Luella player Marcus Dallas (right) both needed time in junior college for different reasons — Washington to get academically eligible and Dallas to get better exposure. Now, both are headed to Division I schools.

photo

Graphic by Brian Paglia

In the rankings of college football player factories, Georgia has emerged among the top 5 in the industry. This season the state has the nation’s No. 1 recruit in Grayson defensive end Robert Nkemdiche. It’s produced more four- and five-star recruits over the past five years than Ohio, Louisiana, Alabama and Pennsylvania, according to a recent article in Sports Illustrated. Georgia and Florida are the only state’s with three five-star recruits this season.

And yet, every year some high school seniors fall through the cracks.

Take Marcus Dallas.

The former Luella defensive end and tight end had all the classic signs of an under-the-radar prospect. He was athletic, but not freakishly so. He had good size — 6-foot-4, 210 pounds — but wasn’t overwhelming. He made plays for the Lions, but not an inordinate number that would shock recruiters into attention. And he played on a team that went 3-7 under a new head coach.

Signing Day 2012

As it gets closer to National Signing Day, the Henry Daily Herald will get you ready with a short series of football recruiting stories. Be sure to follow our special coverage leading up to Wednesday when local high school athletes make their decisions official.

Jan. 26: Juniors — the next big thing

Today: Journey through junior college

National Signing Day: Flipping commitments

As signing day approached in 2011, Dallas’ only offers were from Alabama A&M, Jackson State and a handful of NAIA schools.

Not quite what he had in mind.

Instead, Dallas signed with Reedley Community College in California looking for a second chance.

“I felt like my level was higher than D-II and NAIA,” Dallas said. “I was a good athlete. I just needed more exposure to college coaches. My senior year I kind of got lost in the shuffle.”

After two years at Reedley, everything changed for Dallas. He played defensive end full-time and mastered the skills of that position. He gained 30 pounds. He started to stand out on the field, making 47 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and a team-high 6.5 sacks this past season to earn first team all-conference honors.

Now, as National Signing Day on Wednesday approaches, Dallas has no worries. He’s already accepted a full-scholarship to Texas State, a Western Athletic Conference member, over 11 other offers from FBS and FCS schools.

Dallas has learned first-hand the benefits of taking the junior college route to a four-year college that players from the Southern Crescent know all too well. There were 15 players from Clayton and Henry counties on junior college rosters last season.

Each went to the JUCO ranks with their own motivation — whether to rebuild a tarnished reputation (Henry County’s Markeith Ambles), settle academic eligibility concerns or get better exposure.

“Junior college was a great route,” Dallas said. “It will humble you, but also make you a better player.”

“I think it’s a good option,” said Jonesboro coach Tim Floyd, who has sent three players to the JUCO ranks and says as many as four Cardinals players could sign with JUCOs this season. “Some may have had a set-back or two academically and they needed time to get back on track or a little more time to develop athletically. And that would give them time to do that.”

David Washington would agree.

If Washington had any concerns that he could handle the rugged play of SEC football, the former Lovejoy High standout is over that now.

Washington has spent the past two seasons horning his skills at Raymond Community College in Mississippi, where he has played against some of the best JUCO players in the country.

The SEC and ACC heavily recruits the Mississippi Association of Community/Junior Colleges (MACJC).

The 6-foot-2, 315 pound defensive lineman orginally signed with Kentucky two years ago after a standout career at Lovejoy High. However, after an academic issue, he had to enroll at Hinds, which is just outside of the capital city of Jackson.

Washington stayed commited to Kentucky until former coach Joker Phillips was fired during the season and the new staff didn’t stay in contact.

He will likely sign with Mississippi State this summer after receiving his associate’s degree. Washington is rated the No. 16 defensive linemen in the JUCO ranks by JCGridiron.com, a publication that tracks JUCO players.

“This is one of the toughest JUCO leagues in the country, and now I feel I’m ready to challenge for a starting job at any school,” Washington said. “We have SEC-type players in this league, which prepares you for big league football.”

Lovejoy coach Al Hughes has sent several players to major colleges, and says that the JUCO route has some advantages.

“It is not the ideal way for players to go, but I think it provides a good alternative for them,” Hughes said. “Some players mature kind of late. We try to use it when we feel the player has an opportunity to get back on track.”