For junior college reclamation projects, signing day is step off bathroom-locked bus
Some of the most talented players work at improving their games and lives in the junior college ranks
It was about the time the bus carrying Garden City Community College's national junior college champions stopped for the group to urinate by the side of the road that the realization hit home.
Glory has its limits.
"We had a stretch of no bathrooms," Broncbusters coach Jeff Sims said. "The entire team peed on a fence in the middle of New Mexico."
You want to play in the big time? It's not all Heisman poses and stocked training tables. More like bladder-challenging bus rides. Lots of them. There is a whole subculture at the junior college level that gets its due today.
Wednesday was junior college National Signing Day for mid-year transfers. It continues for the next month. There isn't nearly the hype associated with the "real" National Signing Day in February.
But when those recruiting classes are announced in full two months from now, try to remember what some of the players have been through.
Garden City, located in the extreme southwest corner of Kansas, is a national powerhouse. I embedded with the Broncbusters program in February for a look at that junior college culture.
I decided to circle back and catch up after No. 1 Garden City beat No. 2 Arizona Western 25-22 to claim another national title on Dec. 3.
Just don't ask about that glory. When Garden City departed for Yuma, Arizona, earlier this month, forget about a chartered flight. The school had secured buses, all right. They had bathrooms, too. But they were locked. The school didn't want to pay to have them cleaned.
That mandated open-road potty breaks that led to the entire team lining up against a fence in New Mexico. Don't even ask about having to go No. 2.
"It ain't like this is Candyland," Sims said.
Not even close. Junior college athletes are a foundation of major college football. They are invaluable. This time of year they come armed with a two-year associates degree, usually ready to fill holes in lineups.
Kansas State's Bill Snyder may be the best all-time at junior college recruiting. He has turned junior college signees into All-Americans and NFL draft picks.
Possibly the NFL's hottest player, Kansas City's Tyreek Hill, went to Garden City before transferring to Oklahoma State. Hill later admitted to assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. He finished his college career at West Alabama, a Division II school.
Take too many junior college transfers and you upset the delicate balance of a roster. In two years -- instead of the usual four or five for a high school player -- you could find giant holes in your depth chart.
On the other side, junior colleges can be the last resort for some athletes. Hocking College, a junior college in Ohio, had as its quarterback Trent Mays, who has done time in jail. He must register annually as a sex offender.
Receiver Jayru Campbell came to Garden City having done six months in jail for assault. Broncbuster linebacker Alex Figueroa was booted from Miami after being accused of sexual battery.
Figueroa says the sex with a female Miami student was consensual. Next year, he is likely to transfer to a Division II school where he will earn a degree.
"We don't go 10 for 10," Sims said. "We go 10 for 30. We brought in 20 other guys who had issues. We sent them home."
Nevertheless, this year Garden City became the first junior college team in eight years to win back-to-back national championships.
"We're supposed to get up at 5:30 in the morning [to leave]," Sims recalled. "We had three guys late, we took them all off the bus and had them all do 100 up-downs."
"We put them back on the bus. ... We have to drive four hours, we get out and take a bathroom break. We get back on the bus, we drive to Albuquerque and practice at the University of New Mexico.
"Then we get back on the bus and drive to Phoenix and get to our hotel at 1 in the morning. When we got to the hotel, they had messed up our reservations. They had us at a hotel in San Antonio."
The hotel problem was eventually solved. The Broncs went to a Phoenix Suns game and practiced at a local high school. Teachers sent along schoolwork. The hotel was the only place with WiFi. That's a lot of downtime when the bus ride alone from Phoenix to Yuma was 3 ½ hours.
"We did about 100 walk-throughs and then we went to a banquet and then we played," Sims added. "Then we won the game and get back on the bus and drove 18 hours back."
There were about 150 fans to greet the team, which was then rushed to appear in the city's Christmas parade.
That's just another chapter in some future book to be. Sims has spent 22 years coaching at the NAIA, junior college, Division II and FBS levels. He came to Garden City from Indiana where he was Kevin Wilson's director of player personnel.
"About once a week one of the staff members would say, 'Tell me a juco story.' I would tell them a story. About Week 7 ... I said, 'You think these stories are from my career in juco. That's 2008, brother. One year, brother.'"
Remember all of this now that Wednesday is in the books. That's the first day when the likes of Mike McGinnis can make their decisions. The talented linebacker quit Miami a couple of years ago, returning home to New Jersey to support his family.
His father, Mike, had declared bankruptcy. He hadn't spoken to his mother in five years. Siblings were depending on him.
"Family first," McGinnis said.
He found a spot at ASA College in Brooklyn. The for-profit junior college is located in the heart of a bustling New York borough. The weight room -- in the basement of some dorms -- is three blocks away from the classrooms. The practice field is 40 minutes away by bus at a local high school.
"Everything is transient," coach Joe Osovet said.
There are no home games.
"I didn't know much about the juco scene," McGinnis said.
He quickly found out. Osovet, a friend of Sims, arrived from nearby Nassau Community College in April. One reason: Osovet was done with one part of the struggle. He says he couldn't offer his 2014 Nassau signing class "a stick of bubble gum" in regards to scholarship money. Still, the Lions went 10-0.
Nassau's 2015 season opener included a 35-hour bus ride to play Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. Nassau beat a Trinity team that featured Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans, 66-56.
Osovet arrived in the spring to find the likes McGinnis, a 4.0 student who has been through hell. During a recent heart exam, McGinnis' father was found to have leukemia.
"The best I can describe it is, it's a good way to build up athletics and academics," McGinnis said of junior college. "He helped me out a lot. Coach was very kind and very patient."
McGinnis' life is about to change again. A kid who had sat out of football for a year to support his family, a two-time all-conference junior college player, will soon hit the reset button.
On national junior college signing day, McGinnis was scheduled to decide between signing with Texas, Indiana or New Mexico. He has delayed that decision but will make one soon.
"I don't care if you're at Harvard, Michigan or ASA," Osovet said. "If you've got a 4.0, you're doing something right. Those are the reasons why you love doing this.
"Can you save them all? You can't."
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