Junior college players are riskier than high school athletes because they are more likely to have academic issues and only have two years typically to make their mark compared to the four or five years that a high school player gets. With their experience playing junior college football however, JUCO players are more likely than lower- or middle-tier high school recruits to come in and make an immediate impact in college. In the first part of this two part article, we will look at the successes of junior college running backs at Utah. Part two will look at the successes and failures of JUCOs at other positions at Utah and will look at some of the incoming JUCOs for 2015 as well.
Utah typically recruits and plays more JUCO players than their Pac-12 counterparts. This could be for several reasons. Programs like USC, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State, Stanford, and Washington can all get immediate impact players from the high school ranks because they can land the elite four- and five-star recruits. Utah does not often land elite high school athletes, so they rely on JUCO players to fill immediate needs. Utah also has relatively easy admission requirements compared to some of the other Pac-12 schools, meaning it is easier for JUCO players with dodgy academics to qualify at Utah (then often succeed academically). Several of Utah's standout junior college players last season originally committed to other Pac-12 schools out of high school before going the junior college route, including Devontae Booker (Washington State), Tevin Carter (Cal), and Kaelin Clay (Cal). Utah's strategy of late has been to sign underrated high school players and develop them into stars. When these high school players fail to pan out, Utah supplements positions of need with immediate impact JUCO prospects. This strategy has provided Utah with success, but if the JUCO prospects do not pan out or do not make it to Utah, it can cause problems (look at 2013 when Booker, Carter, and Clay all did not qualify academically for example).
One position that has been considerably strong for JUCOs at Utah is running back. Former American River College running back Devontae Booker is just the latest in a long line of successful JUCO running backs at Utah. In his first season at Utah, Booker ran for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading to being named an first team all-Pac-12 selection. As a senior, he is being picked by some as a dark horse Heisman candidate.
Before Booker was the tandem of Bubba Poole and Kelvin York in 2013. Poole finished as the leading rusher with 607 yards, but York led the team in rushing touchdowns with six. Poole came to Utah from Saddleback College. He graduated from there in only one year and reported had interest from Pac-12 programs like Oregon had he stayed the full two years. York was highly recruited out of junior college and was committed to USC for awhile before decommitting and choosing Utah over Washington. He finished as Utah's second leading rusher in both 2012 (behind John White IV) and 2013. Poole still plays for Utah and was the second leading rusher behind Booker last season and could be the starting slot receiver in 2015.
John White IV is arguably Utah's most successful JUCO running back right now (though Booker will likely change that after this season). The Wolfman came to Utah via L.A. Harbor College and set the school single season rushing record with 1,519 yards in 2011. He followed up his strong junior season with 1,041 yards. He was named second-team (2011) and honorable mention (2012) all-Pac-12 in his two seasons at Utah. He is currently finding success in the CFL.
Matt Asiata, the former Snow College running back, was not Utah's leading rusher in 2009 (missed much of the season with an injury) or 2010, but he was the leading rusher in 2008 and was second on the team in 2009 and 2010. The years Asiata was not the leading rusher it was Eddie Wide III, who was not a junior college player. Asiata rushed for 695 yards in both 2008 and 2010. Asiata was averaging over 100 yards per game in 2009 before his season-ending knee injury. He is currently playing in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings.
Utah's top rushers in 2004 and 2005, Marty Johnson and Quinton Ganther, were both from the JUCO ranks. Johnson came to Utah from Butte Junior College, and Ganther came from Citrus College. Both were junior college All-Americans. Johnson ran for 802 yards in 2004 and Ganther had 654 rushing yards. In 2005, Ganther was the main back running the ball and had 1,120 rushing yards. Ganther played in the NFL from 2006 to 2010. Johnson helped mentor incoming Utah freshman Marcel Brooks-Brown.
Utah's great history of JUCO running backs could continue with Joseph Williams, who comes to Utah from ASA College. He will get a second chance at Utah after originally committed to UConn out of high school, he was kicked out before his sophomore season because of an arrest. Williams will likely be No. 2 on the depth chart behind Booker this season and could see the majority of the workload in 2016 after Booker graduates.
Be sure to stay tuned for part two where we look at the successes and failures of other JUCOs at Utah. We will also touch a bit on incoming JUCOs and JUCO recruiting.