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Junior College Football, Why Purdue Needs More From Juco Level

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I got a chance to speak to Coach Martin from #LastChanceU and Punter Brian Pennell about Junior College.

Purdue has two incoming players that are coming from the Junior College ranks.

Geovonte Howard, a 3* cornerback from Kilgore Junior College out of Texas and DaMarcus Mitchell, a 3* 6-4, 255 Pound linebacker from Southwest Mississippi Community College.

Both are built like grown men and more than likely, will be plug and play guys at their respected positions.

These two will also be the only two former Junior College players that will be on the active roster this coming season. Quite frankly, I think we need more on the roster.

Howard and Mitchell, our incoming junior college players, will be expected to play a lot of snaps, as well as being leaders, as they will be some of the older players on the defense. It is a tall task, as they are both newcomers but will have a chance to be leaders since they have that college experience.

A Tweet from Coach Martin at Independence Community College got me thinking last night, what exactly do these guys go through?

Having players on your roster that have some experience already, as well as guys that have gone through trials and tribulations of trying to make it is priceless.

Junior College isn’t for every one, hell it isn’t for most people. But the guys who make it out come out as better men and players because they are lead by men such as Coach Martin and Coach Harris at Independence Community College.

I got a chance to talk to Coach Martin from Indy to pick his brain at how the Juco Level works and why it takes special young men to get through Junior College.

  1. What does a normal day look like for a Juco Coach/Athlete?

“Depending on the time of year a player in our program day day will start at 6:00 AM.

We start our day with meetings, breakfast, practice or weights. Once we finish our physical activity for the day the players have the day to focus on classes and go see tutors.

Later part of the day consist of unit, position meetings, walk thru, and dinner. Student-athletes usually have a few hours to do any additional school work, come talk ball in the office, or handle any other business that needs to be taken care of. We have a curfew checks every night and room checks periodically. We as coaches follow this schedule too. (I’m actually in study Hall with my DB group right now)

The one major difference between the coaches and players is we have to stay a few steps ahead of the student-athletes. Meetings structure and material, practice schedule, and scripts, weekly test must be done in advance because we are with our players the majority of the time. If you aren’t at least a day ahead you are putting you and your program in jeopardy of not performing well.”

2. What are some challenges faced at the Junior College Level?

“There is a plethora of issues at the JUCO level! I feel one of the main issues is trust. A lot of these young man have went thru trials & tribulations that have led to trust issues. If a man hasn’t been involved in your life, it can be hard to listen to coaches demands, requirements, and expectations.

Dealing with players that have been enabled because of their talent is tough. It’s a hard reality for some players to accept that they aren’t the best anymore and you don’t need them if they can’t follow our rules.

We deal with young men that haven’t been out of their home city! So going to college over a 1000 miles away can lead to being home sick.”

3. Do you believe Juco players have some qualities that kids that go straight from HS to FBS lack?

“Once you play JUCO football you have more of a appreciation for the bells and whistles you find at Division 1 level, but typically your mindset is you don’t need it because you have learned how to get it out the mud!”

4. Your thoughts on Juco changing the season to the spring... How do you see this effecting the recruitment of your guys? Positives and Negatives of it.

“At Indy, we put a huge emphasis on graduating our guys and that’s why we signed 40 guys to four year schools from our team last season. JUCO season being moved to the spring will hurt our program because we have so many mid year graduates, but the reason you go to a JUCO is for the opportunity to advance to a 4 year school with as much time on your academic clock as possible. It is the players job to perform on the field and in the classroom.

As coaches its our job to recruit and reload. I feel we do well at recruiting and if we want to compete for another Jayhawk championship we must continue to have success landing the big fish.”

5. Do you believe FBS schools recruit Juco players as much as they should or could more players find their way to FBS than what they currently do.

“I believe FBS coaches do a great job are recruiting JUCO players. I don’t know the exact number, but I know we have had well over 100 guys sign to a D1 program over the last 4 seasons. So if you produce, they will find you!!”

I also got the chance to ask similar questions to former local Harrison Raiders’ kicker/punter, Brian Pennell. Brian went to Independence for one season, where he punted the ball 47 times for an average of 38.6 Yards Per Punt, pinning 17 of them inside the 20. Brian has been accepted into Purdue for academics and will try to walk on to the team with a try out when the fall semester starts (try outs are usually during summer, but COVID pushed the date back). In comparison, our primary punter, Brooks Cormier averaged about 40 yards per punt.

1. What does a normal day look like for a Juco Coach/Athlete?

“A normal day is practice at 6 am in the summer and 8 am in the fall. Then go eat, go to class and have a workout after all our classes are done. After workouts we eat again and then have meetings at 8pm.”

2. What are some challenges faced at the Junior College Level?

“Some challenges I faced while at juco was fitting in the the different people there. There are so many different cultures there and all have different sayings and ways of doing things. Another challenge while at juco was the food there, it wasn't very appealing”

3. Do you believe Juco players have some qualities that kids that go straight from HS to FBS lack?

“Some qualities juco players have that high school kids don’t are fighting through adversity at its darkest hour.”

I want to thank Coach Martin and Brian for giving us a small insight on what Junior College looks like.

Listen, I am not here to say we need to overhaul the roster with JuCo guys. But, filling some positions of need with guys that have experience and are a bit more of a plug and play guy isn’t always a bad thing.

I would personally love to see us recruit a bit more offensive lineman from junior colleges. I know we tried this past season and struck out a bit, but we should definitely still look at that in the future.