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Junior Colleges Prepare Young People Both Athletically and Academically

By Michael T. Benson
When Snow College faces Butler Community College of Kansas today in the 2nd annual Zions Bank Top of the Mountains Bowl in Rice-Eccles Stadium, fans will be treated to a level of football that sometimes goes unnoticed and unappreciated by some within our state. But for those familiar with the junior college game in Utah, many recognize the invaluable experience young student-athletes gain from beginning their collegiate careers in places like Ephraim or St. George.

This year’s match-up between BYU and Utah – one of the most exciting games of this storied rivalry – saw both rosters laced with student-athletes who transferred into Division I programs as juniors. Dan Beardall, Utah’s kicker, honed his skills at Snow before heading to Salt Lake. Nate Miekle, BYU’s punt returner and receiver, was a first-team academic while at Snow College and was recently named to the ESPN all-Academic team by virtue of his 3.85 GPA in business management.

One often hears coaches state their preference for players to be part of their programs for the full four years as undergraduates. The national trend is just the opposite: recent statistics show that, on average, students completing a bachelor’s degree in the United States now attend 2.5 different institutions during their training. And who can argue against game experience gained by student athletes who choose the junior college route as a way to launch them into some of America's top programs? No amount of practice at a four-year institution could have ever prepared Brett Ratliff for his superb performance against BYU as compared to the game experience he gained as a starting quarterback at Butte College during his first two years.

A list of schools where student athletes from Snow College have transferred in the past two decades is a ranking of some of America's finest institutions, both in terms of athletic reputation and academic distinction. They include Cal-Berkeley, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Brigham Young, Utah State, Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, Boston College, Oberlin College, and Cornell.

Paul Peterson, Snow’s starting quarterback three seasons ago, went from playing against the Gila Monsters of Eastern Arizona in places like Thatcher to defeating the vaunted Irish last year in South Bend as the signal caller for the Boston College Eagles. Paul, and his wife Meagan, are both now graduates of Boston College and part of a worldwide network of BC alumni. To top it all off, Paul was named Boston College’s “Person of the Year” by the student paper for his athletic and academic achievements. Not bad for a young man from Bingham High who walked on at Snow College because no in-state schools offered him any scholarships.

Even the Ivy League, long known for its sterling reputation and inherent academic snobbery, has recognized the benefit of culling the best and brightest from two-year programs as a way to bolster their teams. One such player – Brian Romney at Cornell – was named to the all-Ivy League team last year for his accomplishments as a wide receiver and punt returner.

I had the chance to see Cornell defeat Dartmouth in November and noticed that Brian was the ONLY junior college transfer on either roster. Nonetheless, given Brian’s performance both in the classroom and on the gridiron, three current Snow players are being considered by Cornell, Yale, and Columbia. I’ve since learned that Ivy League coaches have been so impressed by the experience, maturity, and accomplishments of Brian that they are now actively recruiting from the juco ranks.

Most significantly, Brian maintains that the rigor of the pre-med program at Snow – coupled with the small class sizes and instruction from full professors – prepared him most ably for competition with classmates at Cornell when he transferred in as a junior. Brian is one semester short of graduating from Cornell and is currently applying to medical school.

The beauty of a school like Snow College within the larger Utah System of Education is that along a broad spectrum of options, there are various points of entry for students of all abilities, interests, and aspirations. And in a place as unlikely as Ephraim, one of our slogans is, “Start here – go anywhere.” For those student-athletes fortunate to do well within the Snow College football tradition, our track record speaks for itself.