Plenty of fan bases collectively groan when they find out their schools are pursuing top junior college prospects. However, the stigma may not be fair nor in the best interest of the programs that they follow. Several junior college prospects have proven to be incredibly valuable during the past five seasons.
Cam Newton won a national title and Heisman Trophy in his only season at Auburn.
Here are perhaps the five biggest difference makers over that time that started out in the junior college ranks. This list easily could have been much longer and players such as Bruce Irvin (West Virginia), Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee), Jason Verrett (TCU), Menelik Watson (Florida State) and Jesse Williams (Alabama) made cases for inclusion as well.
Auburn QB Cam Newton, 2010 (Brenham, Texas/Blinn College) – Newton was the No. 63 composite prospect in the country out of Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake when he signed with Florida in 2007. However, after two seasons in Gainesville he made his way to Blinn and helped the Buccaneers win the NJCAA national title. The No. 2 overall junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings, he chose Auburn over Mississippi State and Oklahoma.
Newton had one of the most spectacular seasons in history, setting the then-single season record for most yards in the SEC while helping the Tigers to the BCS national championship and winning the Heisman Trophy. Newton decided to declare for the NFL Draft after only one season at Auburn and was the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2011.He was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and also earned a Pro Bowl invitation.
Nebraska LB Lavonte David, 2010 (Fort Scott, Kan./Fort Scott C.C.) - David originally hailed from Miami (Fla.) Northwestern, one of the top talent-producing programs in the country. However, he ended up at Fort Scott where he picked the Huskers over the likes of Baylor, Kansas State and Tennessee.
In his career at Nebraska, he posted two of the top five single- season tackle totals in school history and was an All-American as both a junior and senior. In fact, his 285 career tackles ranks No. 4 all-time in Cornhusker history and he did it in only two seasons. David was a second-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011 and finished this past season with a team-high 139 tackles.
Auburn DT Nick Fairley, 2009 (Wesson, Miss./Copiah-Lincoln C.C.) – Fairley attended high school at Mobile (Ala.) Williamson before making his way to Co-Lin. He redshirted his first year there so he made his way to Auburn with three years of eligibility remaining. The No. 19 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite junior college rankings in the class of 2009, he had a modest sophomore season for Auburn before becoming perhaps the most dominant defender in the country as a junior.
He helped Auburn to the BCS championship and set school single-season records with 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. He was a consensus All-American and won the Lombardi Award. He was drafted in the first round by the Detroit Lions in the 2011 draft with the No. 13 overall pick but has been inconsistent so far in his pro career.
Lavonte David had back-to-back All-American seasons at Nebraska.
Utah DT Star Lotulelei, 2010 (Ephraim, Utah/Snow College) – After originally signing with BYU out of Bingham (Utah) South Jordan in 2007, Lotulelei failed to qualify and set out a year before making his way to Snow. After a solid career there, the 247Sports Composite No. 26 overall junior college prospect chose the Utes over BYU, Oregon State and Utah State. He came to Utah with three years of eligibility and quickly established himself as an all-around defensive tackle.
He started half his sophomore year and was named the top defensive lineman in the Pac-12 as a junior. As a senior this past year he was a consensus first-team All-American after tallying 42 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles. Most mock drafts project him to be one of the top five overall picks of the 2013 NFL Draft.
South Florida DE Jason Pierre-Paul, 2009 (Fort Scott, Kan./Fort Scott C.C.) – Pierre-Paul attended Deerfield Beach (Fla.) HS before making his way to College of the Canyons in California. He tallied 14 sacks as a Freshman All-American before transferring to Fort Scott and recording 10.5 sacks as a sophomore. The No. 1 overall 247Sports Composite junior college prospect in 2009, he chose South Florida over the likes of Arizona, Kansas State and Nebraska. Though he missed some of the 2009 fall camp while eligibility issues were being worked out, he easily earned the starting job and ended his junior year as a first-team All-American by several publications after recording 16.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
He decided to forego his senior season and was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the New York Giants with the No. 15 pick. As a second-year player in 2011 he recorded 16.5 sacks and was named an All-Pro as he helped the Giants win the Super Bowl.