Out of high school, edge rusher Travez Moore weighed 235 pounds and stood 6-foot-3. He’s now 6-5, 256.
The high school version of tackle Badara Traore got his most recruiting interest from Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan. This fall, he had 32 scholarship offers, including 11 from Southeastern Conference programs.
Oh, what a difference junior college makes.
On Wednesday, LSU signed three junior college players, its largest collection in a single class since 2013. Moore, Traore and guard Damien Lewis all signed with the Tigers during Day 1 of the early signing period, giving the program more JC players in one class than it signed in the previous three classes combined (two).
A reason for the surge is twofold. One, the Tigers need immediate impact depth on the offensive and defensive lines because of attrition and graduation. Two, its new coaching staff isn’t as averse as the previous staff in dabbling in the JC pool.
As the new early national signing period kicked off Wednesday LSU officially landed several of its expected commitments. Here are the latest n…
“JC guys are important to us,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always recruited JC guys. Those guys we’re recruiting (and signed), I would think they’d come in and play.”
The 6-7, 310-pound Traore is seen as an immediate option at tackle next year, a potential replacement for senior left tackle KJ Malone or right tackle Toby Weathersby, a draft-eligible junior. Moore could slip into the rotation at the hybrid edge-rushing/outside linebacker Buck spot, where draft-eligible junior Arden Key is expected to leave a void. Lewis, meanwhile, provides depth at a position group that lost five players to transfer last offseason.
They all plan to arrive in January and participate in spring practice — all the more reason to expect significant playing time for at least Moore and Traore in 2018. In fact, LSU may rely on as many as six players next season who arrived from somewhere other than high school.
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Defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko (Texas Tech), receiver Jonathan Giles (Texas Tech) and tight end Thaddeus Moss (NC State) sat out this season after transferring from a major college. The Tigers also signed Division II kicker Cole Tracy earlier this week.
At LSU, though, the junior college route isn’t often used.
The Tigers signed just 11 junior college players over the previous decade, and six of them developed into regular starters — none more notable than quarterback Zach Mettenberger. One never enrolled, another never played a down and three others served mostly as reserves.
The junior college pool can be risky. High school prospects choose the route for a variety of reasons, some of which paint two-year college players with a broad brush: They failed to qualify academically; found trouble off the field while in high school or at a major college; or they were so lightly recruited as high school players that they believed they needed more time to develop into a Division I recruit.
There is no secret what the No. 1 reason is that talented players choose the JC road.
“Grades,” said Byron Dawson, the head coach at Evangel and former LSU defensive tackle. “That’s the most common factor for sure.”
That was the case with Moore, a Bastrop native, and Traore, from outside of Boston. Moore committed to LSU for the 2016 class before needing two years at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi. He developed into the nation’s No. 6 junior college prospect overall. He was No. 664 out of high school.
Traore, eighth-ranked among JC players this cycle, needed time at two New York junior colleges. He followed his junior college coach, Joe Osovet, from Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York, to ASA College in Brooklyn.
They join a program that has not signed and enrolled a junior college player since 2014: tackle Jevonte Domond and tight end Colin Jeter.
The big fish in LSU’s signing class waited until the end to make their splash.
Junior college recruiting is not necessarily a regular practice at major conference schools in talent-rich states. Louisiana, for instance, produced 444 football players in the past decade who signed with Power 5 conference programs. Throw in the abundance of talent at neighboring Texas, and LSU has plenty of high school options.
So why hit the junior college market?
“Fit a need. Or just could be a player that’s off the charts,” Orgeron said. “We had some needs and went out and filled them.”
Tom Luginbill, a recruiting analyst and sideline reporter for ESPN, said programs typically recruit at the JC level because they need immediate help, often from a more mature player.
“You’re expecting that player to come in and immediately contribute if not be a starter," Luginbill said. "Downside: You’re not going to have him for very long. You’re not building long-term depth.”
There is another downside, too.
“If we’re going to be fair, often time with JUCO players, there’s baggage involved,” Luginbill said. “They’ve taken different paths. That background could jump up and bite you.”
The perception about junior college players is unfair, recruiting experts say, and it’s changing, too. Proof is in the numbers.
During the first two weeks of preseason camp in August, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes did not have enough healthy scholarship linemen to cr…
JC signings saw a surge earlier this decade, increasing 37 percent from 2008-13, according to an ESPN.com story. This year, the best programs in the nation are inking JC players.
Ohio State signed the top-ranked junior college player in this year’s cycle, and Alabama signed the second-best JC prospect in Saivion Smith, a familiar name to LSU fans. Smith, a Florida native and at one point the No. 1-ranked prospect in the nation while in high school, spent one season at LSU before leaving for junior college.
SEC teams signed more than half (six) of the top 11 junior college players and one-third (13) of the top 41, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. Last year, one SEC team, Mississippi State, signed a whopping eight junior college players.
During the early signing period, LSU was the only team to ink two of the top eight JC players.
“One big thing is, Ed Orgeron is confident in his ability to recruit JUCO players,” said Shea Dixon, a recruiting reporter for Geaux247, the 247Sports’ site covering LSU. “Often JUCO recruiting gets a bad rap. There are a lot of really talented players in JUCO. Not every player is in JUCO because of missteps. If you look across the board, Alabama and Clemson have recruited JUCO well.”
No one has recruited the JC ranks as well as longtime Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, Luginbill contends. KSU has 20 junior college players on its current roster.
Snyder resides in the rare state that is home to multiple junior college football programs. Only eight others can claim to have two or more JCs that play football: California (69 schools), Mississippi (14), Minnesota (10), Kansas (8), Arizona (7), Texas (6), New York (6), Iowa (4) and North Dakota (2).
“Based on talent,” Luginbill said, “I’d rank them California, Mississippi, Kansas and Texas.”
Junior college success stories are plentiful.
At least four Heisman Trophy winners went to a community college at some point: Cam Newton (Blinn College in Texas), O.J. Simpson (City College of San Francisco), Roger Staubach (New Mexico Military) and Mike Rozier (Coffeyville Junior College in Kansas).
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers attended Butte College in California before he joined Cal, and Josh Heupel, a former All-American quarterback at Oklahoma and current head coach at UCF, went to Snow College in Utah.
“Cam Newton's situation changed the whole ballgame for junior college players,” Hutchinson (Kansas) coach Rion Rhoades said in an ESPN.com story posted in 2013. “There's been enough success with guys like Cam Newton that those places have to feel good about taking a chance. If they've done their background check, they think he's a good kid and verify that he's good enough as a player, then they're more willing to recruit JC kids than ever before.”
LSU junior college signees
Junior college signees
Junior college state
OT Badara Traore, DE Travez Moore, OG Damien Lewis
Mississippi (2), New York (1)
DL Travonte Valentine
S Jeremy Cutrer*
OT Jevonte Domond, TE Colin Jeter
Arizona (1), Texas (1)
OL Fehoko Fanaika, WR Quantavius Leslie, TE Logan Stokes
Mississippi (2), California (1)
QB Zach Mettenberger
DE Kendrick Adams
P Derek Helton, DL Akiem Hicks
*did not enroll
Number of football-playing junior colleges by state
- California: 69
- Mississippi: 14
- Minnesota: 10
- Kansas: 8
- Arizona: 7
- Texas: 6
- New York: 6
- Iowa: 4
- North Dakota: 2
Ten states have just one junior college football program: Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah.