North Texas Daily

Why junior college players are vital to North Texas football

Why junior college players are vital to North Texas football

September 13
18:42 2017

Over 20 players on the North Texas football team have gone through the junior college system on their path to get to a Division I school.

When head coach Seth Littrell was hired in 2015, the Mean Green brought in more junior college players than usual to try to obtain more ready-to-go athletes for immediate results. Those immediate results were seen quickly as the team went 5-8 last season and made a bowl game.

Against the University of Iowa on Sept. 16, five of the team’s 22 starters will have played at the JuCo level before coming to Denton to represent the Mean Green.

“I don’t know how different it is from JC to high school,” Littrell said. “[But] those guys obviously have a chip on their shoulder. They’ve had to go a different route and I know those guys are excited to get back to this level.”

Redshirt junior linebacker E.J. Ejiya went from Spring Lake Park High School in Minnesota to a junior college called North Dakota State College of Sciences.

In playing there, he did a few things. Ejiya made a name for himself, met a talented group of players and grew the already large chip on his shoulder Littrell said most JuCo players have.

“[It put] a big chip on my shoulder because I didn’t know what to expect going to junior college,” Ejiya said. “Looking back now, I met a lot of dudes who were either Division I bounce-backs or potential D1 guys. They just didn’t have the grades or got injured, but they were all guys like me.”

The experience is not an uncommon one, and he was determined to get his work done there to move on to the Division I stage. It’s a feeling most junior college players can relate to.

“It’s all about the struggle,” Ejiya said. “The mentality was like, get out. You have to play as a team but at the same time you have to ball out for yourself and get that D1 offer you always wanted.”

The process of recruiting and finding players like Ejiya is similar to that of a high school prospect. Except these players are typically ready to help now instead of in the future.

North Texas’ director of recruiting, David Stanklyft, understands the pros and cons of going after JuCo guys over high school athletes.

“A high school kid, you potentially have five years with them,” Stanklyft said. “Sometimes the hard thing with JC guys is you only get them for two years. But yes, they’re a little older, sometimes they’re a little more developed, so they fill an immediate role.”

While getting players who can come fill a void in the team right away pays off in the short term, it is not how the coaches want to be building their program in the long haul. The goal for every team is to fill the roster with players who can be developed and taught from day one.

“We really want to live with high school kids,” Stanklyft said. “We’re in a great state for that, so we really want to focus on those. Then if there’s a serious need, that’s when we’ll go get a JuCo kid.”

Stanklyft named two holes coming into the season the Mean Green were able to fill with junior college players who now start on a weekly basis. At defensive back, the team recruited junior Kemon Hall. On the offensive line, they brought in redshirt sophomore Sosaia Mose.

Along with Mose, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has redshirt sophomore receiver Jalen Guyton and senior guard T.J. Henson who both went from junior colleges to starting at North Texas.

“They’ve seen a college program and they know what goes into being a college athlete,” Harrell said. “They’ve done a lot of good things, and we just have to keep developing those guys and everyone as a team.”

The coaching staff has been able to balance development with immediate relief well so far in the early days of the Littrell era. With guys like Stanklyft digging and finding players like Guyton, Hall, Mose and Henson already, the program continues to thrive by taking a few chances on guys who slipped through the cracks.

“If you can get those guys that are a little more experienced [it helps],” Littrell said. “But [getting JC players] is not a science, it doesn’t always work out. We’ve been fortunate to have gotten some great players out of the JuCo ranks and they’ve done a good job for us.”

Featured Image: North Texas sophomore wide receiver Jalen Guyton (9) runs for a touchdown late in the game against Southern Methodist University. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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