JUCO Transfers Who Have Dominated College Football This Spring
College football is a game of second chances. Maybe a player didn’t have the grades coming out of high school. Maybe he clashed with his coaches. Maybe he just wasn’t a good fit at his first program. That’s what the junior college ranks are for.
A junior college stint is the perfect way to improve your academic standing, repair your image or maybe just get noticed after falling through the cracks of the recruiting process following your prep career. Countless players have made the transition from junior college obscurity to big-time stardom, and a number of players are poised to follow them in 2016.
Here’s a look at eight junior college transfers who dominated the FBS level this spring and are set for big seasons in the spotlight.
Virginia Tech QB Jerod Evans
Long before Justin Fuente emerged on Virginia Tech’s radar, he had Jerod Evans on his. Per Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times, the talented dual-threat quarterback got to know Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen, who were concerned about replacing potential NFL early entrant Paxton Lynch.
When Fuente landed at Virginia Tech to replace Frank Beamer, Evans followed as his first official VT recruit, and it was a long time coming, as Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College coach Brad Smiley told Bitter:
"They reached out at Memphis when it looked like Paxton might be going to the league and said, ‘You’re our guy. You’re the best we’ve seen in the country. And then when coach Fuente’s name started coming up for all these other jobs, he actually reached out, they said, ‘Whatever happens, wherever we’re at, you’re the best we’ve seen. So you’re the guy we’d love to have, wherever that may end up being.'"
This spring, Evans competed with junior Brenden Motley (who started six games last fall as an injury replacement for Michael Brewer, throwing for 1,155 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions).
Fuente was tight-lipped about his quarterbacks and didn’t name a starter following spring, but Evans had a much better day in VT’s spring game, throwing for 104 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Motley completed four of 10 passes for 19 yards and was sacked three times.
The Hokies will run a fast-paced scheme this fall, and Evans is the perfect fit. Expect him to make a big impact in the ACC immediately.
Baylor DT Jeremy Faulk
Baylor has major opportunity on its defensive line. The Bears lost all four starters from 2016, including hulking defensive tackle Andrew Billings, who left early for the NFL. However, Art Briles and his staff found some answers this spring, most notably in defensive tackle Jeremy Faulk.
Faulk began his career at Florida Atlantic before transferring to Garden City (Kansas) Community College and was incredibly productive, making 87 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in the junior college ranks.
He has an impressive 6’3”, 295-pound frame and should make an immediate impact. Faulk established himself as a starter this spring and will be an excellent addition to the Bears defense.
Memphis QB Riley Ferguson
Memphis rode Paxton Lynch and Justin Fuente to unprecedented success, piling up 19 wins and a pair of bowl bids over two seasons. But Lynch is off to the NFL as a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos, and Virginia Tech plucked Fuente to replace Frank Beamer as the next head coach.
So the Tigers moved on, naming Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell as their new head coach. Norvell will keep the fast-paced spread style that Fuente favored, and his starting quarterback could come from in state (well, after a detour to Kansas).
Riley Ferguson began his career at Tennessee but never cracked the starting lineup and transferred to Coffeyville Community College. Last fall, he threw for 2,942 yards and 35 touchdowns.
He excelled in competition against Brady Davis and Clay Holgorsen this spring, completing 15 of 20 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ spring game. Ferguson is the favorite to start under center and keep Memphis’ momentum going in 2016.
Auburn QB John Franklin III
Three years ago, Auburn and Nick Marshall came within an eyelash of winning the final BCS National Championship, leading late before Jameis Winston connected with Kelvin Benjamin for the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left. Marshall was an excellent fit in Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense, working the read-option and passing with aplomb.
The Tigers have struggled to replace him, however. Last fall, Jeremy Johnson and Sean White combined to throw 11 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, and Auburn finished 7-6. 2016 is an important year for Malzahn’s staff.
It’s time for John Franklin III. Franklin, who measures in at 6’1”, 174 pounds, started his career at Florida State before transferring to East Mississippi Community College. He showed dual-threat skills, throwing for 733 yards and seven scores and rushing for 451 yards and nine touchdowns.
This spring, he displayed excellent speed and a solid grasp of the offense, holding his own with Johnson and White. Franklin has yet to win the starting role, but he’s the closest thing Auburn has had to Marshall, and that’s a huge positive for his chances.
Florida RB Mark Thompson
Florida head coach Jim McElwain has several key holes to fill in his offensive backfield this spring. The Gators have a quarterback competition, but 1,035-yard rusher Kelvin Taylor’s NFL departure also leaves a void at tailback.
Backups Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett were not impressive as freshmen, combining for 338 yards and four touchdowns. That created an opening that Dodge City (Kansas) Community College transfer Mark Thompson took advantage of. He is a power back, standing 6’2”, 242 pounds.
He has speed and power and solid juking ability, displaying all three in Florida’s spring game, as he rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown on five carries while also catching three passes for 25 yards. At the very least, Thompson has carved out a role for himself in Florida’s offense this fall.
TCU WR Taj Williams
TCU hung out the “Help Wanted” sign at wide receiver this spring. The Horned Frogs had great success with the Air Raid offense last fall, averaging 42.1 points per game, No. 7 nationally. But with top receiver Josh Doctson off to the NFL as a first-round pick and No. 3 receiver Kolby Listenbee following him as a sixth-round pick, Gary Patterson’s offense needed reinforcements.
One of the best candidates to excel is junior college transfer Taj Williams. The Tallahassee, Florida, native was highly productive in two seasons at Iowa Western Community College. He piled up 128 receptions for 1,593 yards and 20 touchdowns in two seasons.
This spring, the 6’3”, 180-pound wideout got his feet wet at TCU and has already established himself as a starter. He’ll likely thrive in the fast-paced system, no matter who’s throwing to him in 2016.
Utah QB Troy Williams
Utah won 10 games last fall, but little of the credit should go to the Utes’ quarterbacks. Quarterback Travis Wilson threw just 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, and Utah averaged just 180 passing yards per game as a team. Both Wilson and backup Kendal Thompson have graduated, leaving an opening under center.
Transfer quarterback Troy Williams is an intriguing option. He began his career at Washington, making one start in 2014 before transferring to Santa Monica (California) College and throwing for 2,750 yards and 31 touchdowns as a sophomore. He has two years of eligibility remaining and competed against Brandon Cox and Tyler Huntley.
Even though Williams missed the second half of spring with an arm injury, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham saw enough to call him the "most impressive" quarterback on the roster, per Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune. That’s high praise. Expect Williams to be Utah’s starter in 2016, assuming he’s healthy.
Texas Tech WR Derrick Willies
Texas Tech is an attractive destination for receivers. The Red Raiders’ Air Raid offense is highly prolific with quarterback Patrick Mahomes at the controls. Last fall, Tech averaged 389.2 passing yards per game, No. 2 nationally. The Red Raiders have opportunity: 2015’s leading receiver, Jakeem Grant, was a sixth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins after catching 90 passes for 1,268 yards and 10 touchdowns.
That leaves an opening, and Derrick Willies is poised to take advantage this fall. Willies began his career at Iowa before transferring to Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College. He excelled there, reeling in 49 receptions for 1,155 yards and 15 touchdowns.
While No. 2 and No. 3 receivers Devin Lauderdale and Ian Sadler return, Willies established himself as a potential starter in spring. He’ll put up big numbers with Mahomes throwing to him this fall.