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October 30, 2012

Snyder working JUCO magic

MORE KSU: Visit GoPowercat.com

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Bill Snyder built Kansas State from Futility U to a national championship contender with his recruitment and development of junior college players. Then he retired.

After three years away -- and after the program started to slowly sink back to the bottom of the Big 12 under Ron Prince -- Snyder returned to the Wildcats. His second stint with the program is going the same way as the first with the team being chock-full of JUCO talent and in prime position to play for a national championship as the No. 2 team in the BCS standings.

Snyder said that his philosophy is not to compare where his players come from but how they can help the program succeed.

"Our feeling has been not to focus on community college versus high school players," he said, "but finding quality young people to fit into what we are doing and do what we need them to do.

Kansas State has been among the most active programs recruiting the junior college ranks. There are currently seven former JUCO prospects who are starting for the Wildcats -- not counting 2011 signee Justin Tuggle who had started but is now a reserve.
DE Adam Davis, Class of 2010
Four-star from Hutchinson (Kan.) C.C.

DT Vaikalafi Lutui, Class of 2011
Two-star from Walnut (Calif.) Mt. San Antonio C.C.

CB Nigel Malone, Class of 2011
Three-star from San Francisco (Cali.) City College

S Jarard Milo, Class of 2011
Walk on from El Dorado (Kan.) Butler County C.C.

OT Tavon Rooks, Class of 2012
Three-star from Corsicana (Texas) Navarro J.C.

CB Allen Chapman, Class of 2011
Three-star from San Francisco (Calif.) City College.

DE Meshak Williams, Class of 2011
Three-star from Hutchinson (Kan.) C.C.

"We look for quality young people who meet the demands of the program."

KSU's 29 junior college players on the team's 105-man roster is the most among FBS-level programs.

GoPowercat.com recruiting analyst Brian Gates said that the sheer volume of quality junior college programs within the state makes for a ready-made recruiting territory for the Wildcats.

"There are really good players at the junior colleges in this state, and so Coach Snyder does try to keep that talent in-state," Gates said.

Gates added that Snyder makes similar efforts into getting to know his potential older, more-experienced players.

"He and the staff spend time recruiting the JUCO kids and really getting to know them," Gates said. "They treat them just like the high school kids they are after and they don't just look at height and weight and bring a player in. The staff wants kids who fit and not just kids who are looking for an opportunity at early playing time."

But early playing time is something that cannot be overlooked, according to JCGridiron.com publisher Brad Hoiseth.

"Coach Snyder is not afraid to get kids on the field early," Hoiseth said. "That is certainly something a junior college kid looks at. Most of those guys aren't going to want to go and sit out for another year, and Kansas State has plenty of experience with getting guys enrolled, getting them playing time, and getting them a degree."

Hoiseth has been covering the junior college game since 1995 and has published his "Dirty 30" team rankings for the last eight years.

He said that the Big 12 has historically been very active in the junior college ranks, but Kansas State is among the leaders nationally.

"Snyder does a good job with making sure to be upfront with everyone," Hoiseth said. "He builds relationships with players and coaches, and he has some very well entrenched pipelines that will feed the program."

According to Gates, the reshaping of the program under Snyder, for the second time, had been slowed by the recruiting efforts of Prince.

"They really aren't close to having 85 scholarship guys just yet," he said. "Ron Prince left them in a bind, and balancing the numbers has been hard. What they are doing right now is pretty remarkable."

Balancing the roster is all a part of the process according to Snyder.

"We don't worry about numbers like that," he said. "We get young guys in the program and make them part of our family."

Pacing the Pac-12 with a dozen players from the junior college ranks, the Wildcats have not added stars to the team but have added depth with Willie Mobley and Brendan Murphy seeing playing time in all eight games and Drew Robinson and Lamar De Rego getting on the field in six. B.J. Denker finished off the victory over USC at the quarterback position after Matt Scott was knocked out with a concussion. The offensive line is also littered with junior college prospects. Oregon State and Washington State both are heavy into recruiting the junior college ranks in the conference with the Beavers having eight players on the roster and Washington State listing 11.

The Rebels lead the SEC with 20 former junior college players on the roster and several have made an impact on the field. Starting quarterback Bo Wallace came to the program from East Mississippi Community College. Also on offense, the Rebels rely on running back Randall Mackey who has carried the ball 52 times this season for 258 yards and three scores and has added 16 receptions and 251 yards from the backfield. On defense, Dehendret Collins is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and has 24 tackles in five starts. Wesley Pendleton has made six starts in the defensive backfield alongside Collins and made 13 tackles. Uriah Grant and Gilbert Pena have both made multiple starts on the defensive line and Aaron Garbutt has been on the field in all eight games this season.

Texas Tech is not far behind Kansas State in the Big 12 in terms of number of former junior college players, as the Red Raiders have 17 on the roster. It is odd that the numbers tilt more toward the offensive side than the team's much improved defense. Darrin Moore leads the team with 43 receptions and is second on the team with 440 yards and eight touchdowns. SaDale Foster is third on the team with 66 carries for 347 yards rushing as well as contributing eight receptions and three total touchdowns. Javon Bell is fifth on the team in receptions. Kicker Ryan Bustin is also from the JUCO ranks and has connected on 9 of 13 field goals. Defensively, Will Smith is third on the team in tackles and Bruce Jones has played in eight games and made 19 tackles.

Obviously the current plan in Lexington, whatever it is, simply isn't working. The Wildcats are struggling on the field and struggling in the living room. With three JUCO players on the roster and a seemingly empty cabinet of talent, taking the time to invest more in the junior college ranks could benefit the Wildcats as the coaches could put a more polished product on the field and offer prospects the opportunity to play in the SEC. Academics have held many teams back from dipping too much into the junior college product, but the NCAA and the NJCAA have made tangible progress in preparing more players to make strides toward degrees and getting players enrolled, and maintaining eligibility has become easier.
It is a stunner to suggest that a program located in one of the biggest of hotbeds for talent needs to take a look at the junior college level, but that may be what Miami needs. The program has struggled to recruit and develop defensive lineman and linebackers over the last several years and the play at the positions has not been very good. There are currently two junior college players on the roster and that number doesn't figure to go up dramatically as it would require a major change in philosophy and a sizeable amount of swallowed pride. Seeing kids for an extra year or two could really help here and could plug some immediate holes.
Of the Big Ten schools, Minnesota is already one of the more active players in the junior college market due to the limited crop of talent within its home state. The Gophers have seven players from junior colleges on the roster and a few more that have come to the program from the many lower level colleges in the area. Minnesota is spending a lot of time in Florida and having a hard time landing many players who want to come play in the cold weather conditions. The current class has only seven commitments and filling this class may come down to landing several ready-to-play guys from junior colleges. Academics keep this door pretty well closed at many other Big Ten schools; but Minnesota is a little less stringent in its requirements and so it can pull more players into the program. An influx of talent could be great as this program is dreaming of the Glen Mason days.

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