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Grant Traylor: Hard path of a 'juco' player

Aug. 22, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

It's a term everyone surrounding college football or any college athletic program has heard.

"Yeah, he's a juco kid."

But, what exactly does it mean to be a junior college -- a.k.a. juco -- player?

After speaking with a pair of Marshall University's junior college players, it was quickly learned that being a juco kid is anything but an easy path to the NCAA Division I game.

For instance, take Marshall linebacker Neville Hewitt and defensive end Arnold Blackmon.

Both are solid players who Marshall head coach Doc Holliday thinks will contribute greatly to the Thundering Herd's success this season.

It isn't necessarily just their skill level, but their passion for the game and their joy about getting the opportunity at a Division I program -- something many players take for granted.

Not Hewitt or Blackmon -- and here's why.

"Junior college guys, we know how bad it is in junior college," Hewitt said. "When we finally get here, it's like 'Wow!' Everything is nice. Because of that, we like to go hard. That's all we know because in junior college, it's cutthroat and it's nasty."

Everyone is trying to get noticed and everyone is trying to be seen.

But Blackmon described the difference between guys who make it from the rigors of junior college onto the field and those who fall by the wayside.

"When you go to juco, it's a mindset of getting through it," said Blackmon, a 6-foot-1, 242-pound defensive lineman. "I've seen a lot of guys come in and just be there -- there was one guy there for six years -- but if you come in with the right mindset anywhere, you can be successful."

It isn't a lesson that is easily learned, but it is the most valuable lesson for guys that have to go through it.

Both Hewitt and Blackmon arrived at Marshall in similar fashion -- hungry to get on a Division I field after going through the rigors of the junior college program.

Upon their arrival, they were roommates.

It was there they learned of each other's past -- right down to the point where they played each other in a junior college bowl game prior to coming to Marshall.

Blackmon got bragging rights on his roommate as Navarro College (Texas) scored late to earn a 30-23 win over Hewitt's Georgia Military College team.

"When I got here, he was my roommate and he knew where I was coming from and I knew where he was coming from," Blackmon said. "It's a pleasure to be around him, and for him to understand that juco aspect of things, it's just a plus."

Earlier this week, Hewitt was rewarded for his effort with the removal of the red stripe from his helmet.

It was a major milestone for the 6-2, 220-pound linebacker.

"Coming where we came from, I can't stop smiling," Hewitt said. "It gave me more energy. I wanted to practice again."

Often times, the term "juco" comes with a negative connotation from those in the sports world because it means kids had issues -- whether grade-related or otherwise -- in high school.

In many cases, however, those same players are invaluable to a program because the ones who are special not only have talent, but they also have motivation.

They've been through the struggle.

And, given a second chance at a Division I dream, they aren't going to go lightly and let it slip away once more.

After the path they've traveled, there's no chance they'll let the one way to their dreams go down a Dead End road.

WOW! IT'S HERE: Move-in Day for Marshall University freshmen was Wednesday afternoon and a planned orientation ceremony also commenced in the evening.

Several of Marshall's freshmen football players left practice early to attend the proceedings, where head coach Doc Holliday was one of the speakers.

Grant Traylor is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or gtraylor@herald-dispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).

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