The shortest route isn’t always the best one. Sometimes a detour can be beneficial.
Nino Williams II was an All-American before he played a game at Memorial Stadium. Atiyyah Ellison had two years of growing pains out of the way before he joined the Missouri football team.
Victor Sesay underwent an attitude adjustment before he met Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. Damien Nash was a legend before he arrived in Columbia.
Rercruitment at junior colleges
When looking at the Missouri football team, it doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that Pinkel will keep recruiting the junior college ranks. After all, he has had great success with junior college recruits, which account for four starters and key reserves this season.
“It’s important for me,” Pinkel said. “In our situation, I said from day one we would have two to five junior college players a year. We will continue to do that.”
Finding the best match
Pinkel has hit the jackpot with his past two crops of junior college recruits. Free safety Williams, defensive tackle Ellison, defensive end Zach Ville and offensive tackle Steven Sanchez have earned starting jobs.
Tailback Nash and tight end Sesay are solid backups and the heirs apparent at their positions when the incumbents, seniors Zack Abron and J.D. McCoy, are gone.
“We have a philosophy of the kind of guys we want to bring in here, and then they have to fit our evaluation of what we want as far as the kind of people they are,” Pinkel said. “I think those players have helped us.”
Experince makes the difference
Sesay said having experience against high-caliber players gives junior college transfers confidence when making the transition to Division I. He also said it gives their teammates confidence in their ability to make an immediate impact, whereas a high school recruit is likely to redshirt a year and might not play a significant role for a year or two.
“Everybody looks at you and says, ‘Well, he’s about to start playing,’” Sesay said.
Williams, a junior college All-American at Tyler (Texas) Junior College, said he has no doubt that his experience in junior college has made him a better player at Missouri.
“Coming out of high school, you’re not as mature in age or physical ability,” Williams said. “I think taking the junior college route helps you to mature and gives you some experience against high-caliber athletes.”
Searching for specifics
Pinkel said he tends to look for junior college players at certain positions because they are more difficult to recruit. He also said he prefers to find junior college players who have redshirted.
“Generally, every year we look for a defensive back, a linebacker and a lineman because those players are significantly harder to find,” Pinkel said. “We like to bring in players with three years to play, too.”
Ellison, who came to Missouri as a defensive end but moved to defensive tackle after last season, fits both of those criteria. He credits his time at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College for much of his success.
“They basically instilled everything that I do now, like hard work, dedication and perseverance,” Ellison said.
Ellison redshirted his first year at Coffeyville and played his second year, leaving him with three years of eligibility when he arrived at Missouri. Ellison said the redshirt process at a junior college is one of the most trying times a player can go through.
“Being a redshirt at a junior college, you’ve got to do everything more than the regular players, and then you’ve still got to condition with them,” Ellison said. “The only thing you’re not doing is playing in the games. It’s either going to break you, or it’s going to make you a better player. I think in my case it made me a better player.
“I came into junior college at about 235 and redshirted that year. The next year, I was up to about 285-290. That helped out a lot.”
The experienced gained at the junior college level benefits more than the player himself, though. It allows his new teammates to expect an immediate contribution from the moment he arrives on campus. Ellison said expectations are higher for junior college transfers than for high school recruits.
“Yeah, and I think they should be,” Ellison said. “You didn’t just go to junior college just to do whatever; you came to become a better player and a better person.
“So, I think they should expect more out of you coming out of junior college.”