JUCO Signing Day

Winning JUCO Player of the Year is not always a key to future success 

by Brandon Rush | @BrandonRush twitter logo | brandon@3PSMag.com

The National Junior College Athletic Association this week named their 2014 Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year as Navarro Junior College running back Ke’aun Kinner and Trinity Valley Community College linebacker Courtney Finney took home the respective honors. Both players parlayed their successes into Division-1 scholarships in the NCAA’s midyear signing day, as Kinner will transfer to Kansas and Finney heads to North Texas.

Winning the award does not always equate to post-JUCO success, but there are many tales of accomplishment after moving on.

One such story that is misconstrued is that Heisman winner and current Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took home this award during his time at Blinn Junior College, but Newton’s success was tied to a JUCO national championship, not the offensive player of the year award. The award in 2009 went to Jasmin Hopkins, running back from Fort Scott Community College, who ended up having a solid career at Northern Illinois, but never made it to the pros.

Every year teams get immediate impacts from JUCO transfers, and over the last few seasons some have become household names. Mississippi quarterback Bo Wallace and Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters won the NJCAA award in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Wallace spent one season at East Mississippi CC before cranking out over nine thousand passing yards in three seasons in Oxford. Waters lit up the JUCO ranks at Iowa Western Community College prior to taking over the helm for the Wildcats.

Two of the largest success stories came almost a decade ago when NFL veterans Rudi Johnson and Kelvin Hayden took home the award, moved on to power five conferences, and ended up having lengthy careers as a pro.

Johnson was a star at Butler County Community College in Kansas well before he wore the orange and blue for the Auburn Tigers, winning a pair of national titles with the Grizzlies. After winning the 2000 SEC Player of the Year award, Rudi was selected in the 4th round of the 2001 NFL Draft and ended up earning a starting spot when Corey Dillon got injured in 2003. In 2004, Dillon got traded to New England and Rudi posted a Bengals record 1,458 rushing yards (which still stands today) and earned a Pro Bowl nomination.

Over seven seasons in Cincinnati and one in Detroit, Johnson ended his career with 5,979 rushing yards and 49 touchdowns.

Kelvin Hayden however took a longer road to the National Football League.

Hayden won the offensive award in 2002 as a wide receiver at Joliet Junior College in Illinois where he finished with 17 touchdowns in two seasons including the 2002 NJCAA national title, and continued that role his first season in Champaign. Before his senior season, he was converted to cornerback and flourished in his new role.

Despite only 11 games on the defensive side of the ball, the Indianapolis Colts selected Kelvin in the 2nd round of the 2005 NFL Draft. His first professional interception came against Rex Grossman in Super Bowl XLI, which he returned for a touchdown, helping the Colts win their first title since moving from Baltimore.

Hayden spent six seasons in Indianapolis before rounding out his career with one season in Atlanta and three with Chicago.

Sadly though, for every Johnson and Hayden who move on to continued glory at the NFL or even major college football level, there are many more like Marc Dunn, Jimmy Oliver, Cade Cooper, and Dustin Looman who never ended up at a Division-1 school and now probably have day jobs like the rest of us.

The NJCAA Award has a storied history, but is not always a pathway to success, for some it is the end.

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