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JC Talent Could Lift BYU to the Next Level

19 April 2013 Brett Richins
Former Cougar and JC Transfer Tim McTyre played three seasons in the NFL.

Former Cougar and LA-Southwest Community College transfer Tim McTyre played three seasons in the NFL.

A number of junior college players have made major impacts on the BYU football program over the years.

Players like Jason Buck, Tim McTyer, Omar Morgan, Jonny Harline, Todd Watkins and Andrew Rich are just a handful of notable Cougars who came to Provo following stellar careers at the junior college level.

In 2013, BYU has turned to the JUCO ranks more so than at any other year during the Bronco Mendenhall era, signing a total of eight junior college players. A lack of talent and depth on the offensive line, along with the lowering of the missionary age for LDS athletes to 18, created a void that necessitated some out-of-the-box thinking on the part of BYU coaches.

Bronco Mendenhall, like most head coaches in the FBS, would prefer to build his program primarily with high school recruits. However, recent developments have given the Cougars an opportunity to mine junior colleges like never before.

The hiring of former College of Canyons head coach Garett Tujague to coach the offensive line has flung the doors wide open to recruiting the talent-rich community colleges of Southern California. Tujague has been coaching down there for the past 20 years, including sixteen seasons at COC. He’s well known to virtually every junior college and high school staff in the area.

In addition to recruiting the high schools in sunny California, look for BYU to use Tujague’s connections and influence with the numerous junior colleges in the state in an effort to increase the speed, athleticism and depth of the program–particularly in the defensive backfield. The Cougars have always had challenges recruiting high school cornerbacks who possessed the speed and athleticism that would allow them to develop into shutdown defenders.

The opportunity to more effectively tap the junior colleges in So Cal could be a real game-changer for a BYU program hoping to make a splash in the upcoming playoff era of college football. If the Cougars are serious about making an appearance in the playoffs at some point, and having a chance to compete for a national championship, they are going to need better athletes–and more of them.

They say defense wins championships. Just imagine Mendenhall’s defense if he routinely had corners who could shut down their side of the field. The smart plan of action for BYU would be to recruit a handful of JUCO cornerbacks each year; start the top two players on the outside and then bring the third-best to the inside to start at free safety.

If Mendenhall’s defenses have had a weakness over the years, it has been against the pass. Last season, the No. 3 defense in the land was effectively attacked though the air by both Oregon State and San Jose State. Both games resulted losses for the Cougars. Improving the talent in the defensive backfield would allow BYU to field a defense that could keep the Cougars in any game they play, even against some of the very best teams in the country.

Of course, there are risks associated with bringing on junior college players. After all, there are reasons that those athletes aren’t already on Division-1 rosters. Often the issue with a player has to do with academics. Many JC players are where they are because that they failed to meet the minimum combination of grades and SAT or ACT scores required to be eligible to play major college athletics upon graduation from high school.

In recent years under Mendenhall, prospective BYU football players have had to meet a much higher academic standard than is required by the NCAA. This week, running backs coach Mark Atuaia has been in Polynesia preaching the “gospel” of Cougar football. He told prospective student athletes in American Samoa that they should expect to achieve a minimum GPA of 3.3 and an ACT score of 19 to be considered for a football scholarship at BYU. That higher academic bar at BYU is one of the main reasons that Mendenhall has tended to shy away from players who did not qualify out of high school.

Another reason that players end up in junior college is the fact that they were late bloomers. In today’s world of recruiting, Division-1 programs are on athletes early. The time for a prospective student athlete to earn himself a scholarship to play major college football is during his sophomore and junior seasons of high school. But some players don’t hit their athletic peak until after their prep years are over.

Sometimes it can be a real crap shoot as to whether or not a JC player can translate his game to the next level. There are often questions as to if the late bloomers have blossomed enough to contribute to a D-1 program. The advantage that a guy like Tujague brings to BYU is that he has had many years to develop an eye for JC players who can make the grade at the next level. He has seen what it takes for athletes from his program, as well as others, to make an impact on an FBS program.

Of course, for BYU there is also the added question of whether or not a prospect can live according to the school’s honor code. For many potential JC transfers, the BYU environment can be like moving to a foreign country. Yet, it’s worth noting that many non-LDS players, JC transfers among them, have had great success at BYU and have thrived in the unique environment there.

In the case of defensive backs, the Cougars have relied on a number of former JUCO players who had success on and off the field in Provo. The above-mentioned McTyre and Morgan were both non-LDS JUCO transfers who combined to create what many feel was the best cornerback tandem in BYU history. They were both star players on a 14-1 team in 1996 that finished the season with a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.

In recent seasons, former JC guys like Justin Robinson, Corby Eason, Brian Logan and Joe Sampson came to BYU as non-LDS players and ended up being key contributors in Mendenhall’s secondary.  LDS defensive backs like Rich, Ben Criddle and Preston Hadley were also plucked from the junior college ranks before making names for themselves in Provo during the Mendenhall era.

This season, Tujague’s connections delivered three JC offensive linemen on very short notice, filling a huge need for the program and bolstering the position that he was hired to coach. However, in the future, his most valuable recruits may play on the other side of the of the line of scrimmage.

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