Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: With tougher eligibility standards coming, more recruits may take junior college path
Two months after completing a senior season at Houston that included 112 tackles, linebacker Everett Daniels is hoping an NFL career awaits. He’s also a semester away from a degree in psychology, so the former Sachse star feels like he’s in a pretty good place in life.
He got to that place on a route most high school football players don’t want to travel: junior college.
Daniels didn’t meet the NCAA’s academic standards for initial athletic eligibility, making him a “nonqualifier,” a term that applies to thousands of high school athletes across the nation each year. It could apply to even more when the NCAA’s tougher initial-eligibility requirements take effect in the fall of 2016.
“I wasn’t discouraged or anything,” said Daniels, who played two seasons for Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. “From the time I got there, I was focused. I was in the books. I was in summer school. I didn’t want to be just another guy.”
By “just another guy,” Daniels means he didn’t want to be one of the athletes who goes to a junior college and never makes it to a four-year school. Unfortunately, those stories are pretty common.
But three days before national signing day, when football players will sign with four-year universities and junior colleges, the success stories should also get attention.
Examples include Lake Highlands receiver Rodney Bradley, who signed with SMU but was a nonqualifier and played two seasons for Navarro College in Corsicana. He was a starter his final two years at Hawaii and was on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad during the 2011 season.
Lineman Robert T. Griffin had big-time scholarship offers during his senior season at Euless Trinity but was a nonqualifier and played two years at Navarro. He became the “other Robert Griffin” at Baylor and was a first-team All-Big 12 offensive lineman in 2011.
Richardson Berkner lineman Adrian Campbell signed with Arkansas in 2007 but didn’t qualify. If Campbell’s ACT score had been one point higher, he said last week, he would’ve been eligible.
“When all that happened, I was like in depression mode,” he said.
But he was still motivated by the goal to play college football and get his degree. He played one season for Butler County (Kan.) Community College, transferred to Tarleton State and was a Lone Star Conference second-team selection last season. He’s now training in hopes of making an NFL roster this year, and he already has a degree in kinesiology and is working on a master’s in business information systems.
“I just wanted to prove to everybody that going to a juco is not a setback,” Campbell said. “You just have to keep working hard.”
Former Cedar Hill receiver Cody Berry has worked hard to transform himself from a high school receiver into a starting safety at UT-San Antonio. Berry played two seasons at Pierce (Calif.) College before transferring to UTSA, where he’s a junior majoring in criminal justice.
Berry met the NCAA’s initial-eligibility requirements, but when he didn’t get scholarship offers from Division I schools, he used junior college as a way to prove himself as a football player.
No doubt about it, Berry said, junior college can be a grind.
“But juco is nothing to be scared of,” he said. “You’ve just got to go out there and focus and do what you’ve got to do. Something has to click in you, and you have to decide what you want to do.”
Something certainly clicked for Daniels, who will work out for NFL scouts during Houston’s Pro Day in March. He never took high school seriously. He didn’t graduate from Sachse and needed to pass the General Education Development (GED) test to get into junior college.
“In high school, I hadn’t ever really thought about going to college because my grades were so bad,” Daniels said.
But once Daniels got to Trinity Valley, he was ready for a sharp turn.
“I had had all my fun in high school,” he said. “I wanted to prove that I could be smart, too.”
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter at @mattwixon
Changes coming in eligibility standards
Current high school freshmen will be the first class to face tougher initial-eligibility requirements that go into effect for NCAA Division I in August 2016. Among the changes:
The required cumulative grade-point average in 16 core courses is being raised to 2.3 from 2.0. A GPA of 2.5 or higher could be required, depending on SAT and ACT test scores
Students must complete 10 of the 16 core classes before the start of the senior year
The NCAA will allow student-athletes who meet the current requirements but not the new ones to be “academic redshirts” as freshmen. They can receive scholarship money and practice but cannot compete.