JUCO to the SEC:

JUCO to the SEC: “Like going from football hell to football heaven”

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Ramen Noodles. Every college kid in America is familiar with this … ahem … delicacy.

But when you’re a junior college football player, trying to maintain your playing weight, Ramen Noodles are just part of the challenge of being at the JUCO level. The other challenges?: Sometimes you’re thousands of miles from home, playing in front of just a few hundred fans. Staying disciplined, self motivated … it’s a heck of a lot harder to do at this level than rush for 1,000 yards or get 15 sacks. There’s very little fame, even though many of the guys playing around you are talented enough to make it to the NFL one day–if they can just stay focused, both academically and athletically.

It’s the bootcamp of college football. High school prospects in comparison get coddled, and a bit jaded by the recruiting process and the attention. Plus they’re teenagers. JUCO transfers are men.

There are several reasons players end up at a junior college. Usually, it’s because academics were an issue. A kid doesn’t qualify academically to play major college football and is placed here, either by the big school they originally committed to or maybe thanks to a connection with their high school coach. Sometimes, players transfer in because they were unhappy at–or were even kicked off of–an FBS roster. They feel they can do better, or play more. And there’s the third category–they just weren’t recruited coming out of high school.

In the case of two JUCO transfers who picked SEC schools, they were once at lower level Division I schools and frankly–they felt they could play at a higher level. Florida signee Drew Sarvary and Ole Miss signee Fahn Cooper. Sarvary was at FCS program Florida A&M, played on the offensive line in a blowout loss to Oklahoma as a true freshman–and held his own, individually. He wondered if he could play at a higher level in college and transferred to Tyler Junior College in Texas, and now he has two years left with the Gators. Cooper was at non-BCS Bowling Green in the MAC. He started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman, going against Florida and Virginia Tech and playing in a bowl game.

But Cooper wondered–am I an SEC caliber player? The answer after paying his dues at College of Dupage in Illinois? Ole Miss thinks Cooper is very much an SEC caliber offensive lineman.

“To be honest, it was kind of like a risk I took,” Cooper told Saturday Down South. “I feel like I saw an opportunity to move up, and it was something I’d been thinking about for awhile. I wasn’t even super confident. I wasn’t sure it would work out, but I stuck my head out there hoping it might work, and obviously it did. To be honest with you, if you don’t put yourself out there, nothing will happen. Bowling Green was a great experience, but I wanted more … And junior college just makes you hungrier, to want it that much more. Every time I come on that field now, I know it’s a blessing and an opportunity.

Cooper, whose family background is from Nigeria, was humbled by the experience. Now he’ll get to enjoy what it’s like to be in an SEC football program, with all the bells and whistles and facilities.

“When I was at Bowling Green, whenever we’d get something, new sweats or whatever, we always wondered about what Ohio State was getting right then,” Cooper told SDS.

“(Then in JUCO) we were sleeping on floors, eating Ramen Noodles. It’s humbling. Next year is going to be a fun ride. It’s kind of like going from football hell to football heaven.”

Chris Weatherd, who will sign with Tennessee in February out of Trinity Valley C.C. in Texas, was in that “unnoticed” category coming out of high school. He was originally from North Dakota, hardly a football hotbed, and frankly … he was skipped over. But now? Tennessee, Alabama and Oklahoma were just a few of the schools going after him. JUCO ball helped put him on the map.

Oh, and he loves Ramen.

“It’s the go-to food for everybody, I still eat those noodles to this day,” Weatherd told SDS. “We eat as much as we can when we’re in the cafeteria, too … But yeah, it’s different in junior college. Like, the crowd is a big part of the game, you know? They bring the energy and atmosphere. So coming from having 150 people at your game to 100,000 (at Tennessee) is a great deal. I get pumped up by the crowd, where (at Trinity Valley) during the regular season, the coaches would have to pump us up instead of the crowd. I think there will be a big difference watching film between JUCO and D-I, it’s mandatory to take notes. In JUCO, it’s relaxed. There’s no days off in D-I, and that’s really good to me.”

Xavier Dampeer, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman who played at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in the best JUCO league in the nation–Mississippi’s–agreed with all of the above. Dampeer will play for national title contender Auburn. He signed last week.

“I completely agree with what (Cooper) said, there are plenty of nights we eat the noodles and just go to sleep and had to wake up the next day ready to grind,” Dampeer told SDS. “Sometimes you’d be going hungry, that time of the night, but you had to be in with curfew. I made the best of it with every meal. It was all worth it, looking back on it now. When I get to Auburn, I’m going to appreciate everything.”

“I would have greatly appreciated this chance out of high school too, but I will even more now after going through what I did in JUCO ball.”





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