The NCAA is split into 3 division levels. All with different rules for coaches to follow and different number of available scholarships based on sport. Add the NAIA and the NJCAA, and there are more opportunities for HS student-athletes than one might think. However, one of those division levels not only can be more beneficial than the others, but has the most bias towards it from student-athletes, parents, travel/club coaches, and HS coaches. Junior College. What is it? Who is it available for?
Well, there are far more positives than the so-called negatives associated with JUCO athletics than what you’ve been hearing in the stands. No prospect or family is above the JUCO route if it presents itself as the better option for a student-athlete. Just be open-minded and not let ego, status, or entitlement get in the way.
There are many myths and misconceptions about Junior College when it comes to the recruiting process.
Myth #1 – JUCO is only for academic casualties
There are many student-athletes who play their respective sports at a JUCO and still have very good academic credentials. Recruit Look’s Jordan Phillips, 2015 C from Riverview HS (FL), signed with St John’s River State College (FL) after graduating HS with a 6.53 GPA and became the starting catcher her freshman year at SJR. “I wasn’t ready for D1 or D2 softball coming out of HS.” said Phillips, “I’ve been able to refine my skills at the JUCO level, and the experience has also allowed me to delay my graduation one more year so I can be eligible in the spring and then transfer to a 4-year program after May 2017.”
Myth #2 – JUCO is a last resort
“JUCO can be a good route for late bloomers (prospects slow to develop physically) who will only compete with 18-19 year olds instead of 21-22 year olds.” said longtime Head Baseball Coach at College of Central Florida, Marty Smith. “Playing JUCO for kids will ***Keep the Dream Alive*** for those who wish to play D1 one day. All JUCO players in Florida can play somewhere.”
Myth #3 – I’m better than settling for a JUCO
“Not all players are guaranteed to be a 4 year or even 3 year starter at a 4 year institution, going the JUCO route gives you the opportunity to get on the field right away, develop, and make yourself a 4 year starter as you move on to a 4 year institution.” said Andrew College (GA) Baseball Recruiting Coordinator, Brock Moss.
Myth #4 – JUCO doesn’t have scholarship money
For example, there’s only 11.7 athletic scholarships available at D1 baseball programs and only an average of 9 athletic scholarships available at D2 baseball programs. In other sports, there is less athletic money available for scholarships than baseball. Many JUCO athletic programs have more money available than NCAA programs. “There are differences between scholarship and non-scholarship Junior Colleges, and athletes must understand what those differences are.” said Feather River College (CA) Asst Football Coach, Byron Hughes. “Some JUCOs offer scholarships, but they can only play a specified amount of players from out of the state that they’re located in (NJCAA), while other JUCOs do not offer scholarships but have zero restrictions on who they can play (CCCAA). Understand that being offered money shouldn’t be the only factor in picking a school. Recruits should also consider playing time at the next level, which will help their exposure to 4-year universities.”
Myth #5 – JUCO isn’t competitive enough
Probably the biggest myth and misconception about JUCO is the level of competition isn’t good enough. In the right situation, either based on sport, geography, or both…there are some high profile JUCO programs that can help a student-athlete get ready for a 4-year program. “It’s about at-bats and innings.” said St Petersburg College (FL) Head Baseball Coach Ryan Beckman. “I’ve seen undrafted guys get drafted and walk-ons sign with 4-year programs after playing JUCO. A JUCO roster and financial limitations gives players the chance to play.”
In the 2015 and 2016 classes, several RecruitLook athletes were able to transfer to D1 programs after realizing the benefits of the JUCO route, keeping their grades up, and performing on the field or court for D1 coaches to take notice, offer, and ultimately land a JUCO transfer for these classes. Here are a few of the JUCO recruiting success stories.
Erik Thomas – Basketball : Forward : Thomas went to Baton Rouge CC, and later transferred to the University of New Orleans in 2015, where he was the leading rebounder and 2nd leading scorer in his 1st year with the Privateers. The former 5A Player of the Year from Wesley Chapel HS (FL) in 2013 said this: “JUCO gave me an opportunity for more exposure to 4-year programs so that they could recruit me and fulfill my dream of playing D1 basketball.”
Luke Heyer – Baseball : Third Base : Heyer played at College of Central FL, and recently signed with the University of Kentucky in 2016 after not being heavily recruited at all coming out of Durant HS (FL) in 2014. This past season he hit .358 w/ 12 HR and 61 RBI which led to offers from schools in the SEC and CUSA.
Jake Gagain – Baseball : Catcher : Gagain played at Santa Barbara CC (CA), and signed with the University of Kansas after redshirting in 2014, playing sparingly in 2015, then ultimately hitting .298 w/ 3 HR and 19 RBI in 2016. SBCC has transferred 40 players to D1 since 2011. “One of the best decisions I’ve made was going to SBCC and playing Junior College baseball for Coach Walker. I can’t wait to be a Jayhawk. Rock Chalk!” said the 6’4″ catcher who graduated from Newsome HS (FL) in 2013.
Bentley Easley – Football : Defensive Line : Easley played at Coffeyville CC (KS), and signed with the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 2016. The 6’3″ 320-lb prospect from Newsome HS (FL) in C/O 2013, spent time at 2 JUCOs with an offseason shoulder surgery in between both stops before ultimately signing with the CUSA program over 7 other FBS/FCS offers.
Remember to be open-minded, entertain all division levels, and find the school that is the best overall fit for you. What you see on TV isn’t always as glamorous as you may think. Most student-athletes are big fish in a little pond and like that environment…which JUCO athletics can provide. Not to mention it can keep costs down for parents for 2 years after HS. JUCO has and will continue to prove it’s worth for so many student-athletes…even though it won’t be the top story on ESPN each season.