West Virginia (it hopes) will have nine junior college transfers on the field when preseason practice starts a week from today — and I use the parenthesis because Dontrill Hyman, Mario Alford and Brandon Golson, almost inarguably the three best juco players, are not yet here. It’s an unusually high number for the Mountaineers, but it’s near the norm, if only slightly above, in the Big 12.
And if all goes well for the Mountaineers, they’ll find starters at punter, outside receiver, inside receiver, defensive end and linebacker. That doesn’t even account for possibilities at running back and center. WVU has players there who might be better or more experienced, or both, than what WVU has, though the coaches won’t complain if a juco takes a sopt there because, well, that’s the point of recruiting those guys.
It’s an experiment, of sorts, for the Mountaineers, but it’s a necessity, too, and one they’re starting to learn about only now. They may have a lot to learn about the Big 12, but, fortunately, the Big 12 has a lot to share.
Compared to the Big East, there are more junior colleges in the Big 12 region and there are more teams utilizing that talent in the Big 12. It therefore makes sense for WVU to again be on a level comparable to its peers. There’s also a necessity to address issues with talent or depth or maturity and juco players are a luxury. An available luxury. Don’t lose sight of that. This year, the Mountaineers chose to use juco players to fit needs and to add experience, but to also even out recruiting numbers. WVU has had big classes the past few years and will have smaller ones coming up, so the juco players and their graduation dates more or less ensure WVU will be able to keep the cycle even in two or three years.
It’s not as easy as simply signing a player and sending him out there, though that’s a big part of it because these players are supposed to be more mature physically, emotionally and footballaly. With that set of expectations, though, comes a set side-effects for those players. Two of the Big 12′s best (defensive) players are junior college transfers at Oklahoma State and TCU. Calvin Barnett and Jason Verrett are models for how it’s supposed to work, but they have physical and mental tales — and their are honest and fantastic tales — to tell. What they’ve been through speaks to how hard it can be for players like them, and also how the Mountaineers must consider these variables as they bring along their new additions.
Obviously, there are differences between freshmen and junior college transfers, and oftentimes that is a great benefit, but they also have important things in common: They’re new, they’re going to make mistakes and they’re going to learn, but they also want to be part of the team. Ask the subjects and the experts in the Big 12 and they’ll tell you it’s imperative juco players are treated right or it might go wrong.
“It can be hard because at first you don’t know a lot of people and you might not get along with some people, but at Kansas State, we say we’re a family and it’s true,” said junior Tyler Lockett, who never went to junior college, but has seen how his teammates have absorbed junior college transfers. “Everyone on our football team is pretty much cool with each other. We always go hang out after football practice.
“So we’re able to bring them in and talk to them like we’ve been talking to them since childhood years and I think that kind of helps them calm down and focus a little bit more and say, ‘I thought this was going to be hard.’ “