While most players throughout NFL history have come from the FBS ranks, the path to the NFL does not always go through the powerhouses of the SEC and Big Ten. In fact, some of football’s most well-known stars throughout history started their college careers at the junior college level.
JUCO is overlooked when considering the college football landscape as a whole.
Even Division III has gained a niche in college football circles for producing some of the best dynasties in college sports history (Mount Union, Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mary Hardin-Baylor.)
Meanwhile, JUCO players have contributed to some of the best moments in NFL history. A recent NFL MVP winner hailed from a California JUCO school, while one of the league’s best running backs of all time got his start playing at a junior college.
These are the best NFL players who played JUCO football.
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Best JUCO Football Players Currently in The NFL
Aaron Rodgers – Butte Community College
Before he was an NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion, Rodgers was a lightly-recruited prospect from northern California. With no D1 offers out of high school, he took a scholarship from Butte Community College, a JUCO school near his hometown.
After throwing for 28 touchdowns and nearly 2,500 yards in his lone season there, Rodgers transferred to UC Berkeley and has since carved out a Hall of Fame-worthy career with the Green Bay Packers.
Tyreek Hill – Garden City Community College
Hill may now be one of the best wide receivers and playmakers in all of the NFL, but he’s faced a tough uphill battle to get to this point. Dealing with family issues, trouble in school, and crime has led Hill through a maze that is quite unique for a player of his level.
Enrolling at Garden City out of high school due to poor grades in the classroom, Hill was an elite running back, while excelling in the passing game as well. He ran track for the school as well.
A year at FBS school Oklahoma State was overshadowed by more off-the-field issues. Still, the coaches at West Alabama liked Hill enough as both a person and a football player to bring him onto their roster. Since college, Hill has starred for both the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins, winning a Super Bowl with Kansas City in 2020.
Alvin Kamara – Hutchinson Community College
Now a star NFL playmaker, Kamara’s collegiate career looked promising when he enrolled at the University of Alabama.
But he fell behind a deep running back depth chart and took his talents to Hutchinson Community College, a Kansas junior college. His NJCAA All-American season attracted the interest of the Tennessee Volunteers, where he went on to continue a stellar college career.
Gardner Minshew – Northwest Mississippi Community College
Minshew’s road to the NFL has been one of the toughest of any player in the game today.
Entering college, he had several leads at FBS programs – Akron, UAB, and Troy – but each fell through for a different reason. Minshew even enrolled at Troy but was gone from the school before the next football season began.
Searching for an opportunity, Minshew came to Northwest Mississippi, where he ended up winning the NJCAA National Championship. After a stint at East Carolina, Minshew had a record-setting year at Washington State, setting multiple school and conference records and finishing in fifth place in Heisman Trophy voting.
Antonio Gibson – East Central Community College
Gibson’s talent truly shined at the JUCO level, where he played two seasons for the Mississippi-based JUCO. At East Central, Gibson excelled as a running back, pass catcher, and kick returner.
Upon landing with the University of Memphis, Gibson became one of the program’s best special teams players.
Lavonte David – Fort Scott Community College
The long-time Buccaneers linebacker has excelled on the football field at every stage of his career. David was slated to attend FBS school Middle Tennessee State University but ended up enrolling at Fort Scott, a Kansas JUCO.
He took full advantage of playing at the JUCO level, becoming an award-winning and championship-game-appearing player. He led his team in tackles during his first year at Fort Scott as well.
David parlayed his success at Fort Scott into a record-setting career for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and eventually, as a Super Bowl winner for the Bucs.
Montez Sweat – Copiah-Lincoln Community College
Drafted in the first round by the Washington Commanders in 2019, Sweat had his own unique journey to the NFL.
In between playing for two of college football’s premier programs – Michigan State and Mississippi State – he enrolled at Copiah-Lincoln. He racked up 5 sacks in 9 junior college games before transferring to Mississippi State.
Jaylen Watson – Ventura College
Jaylen Watson began his college career as a little-known recruit at Ventura College – a junior college in California.
2,385 miles from his hometown of Augusta, Georgia, he made a name for himself and garnered various Division I offers. He signed a commitment to USC, his dream school.
There was just one problem: his grades weren’t good enough.
So he went back to his hometown to work at Wendy’s and get his grades up to make himself eligible.
A few years later, he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Kansas City. Here’s the full story of how it all went down: Jaylen Watson’s Journey From Wendy’s Drive-Thru to Super Bowl Champ
Best JUCO Players in NFL History
O.J. Simpson – City College of San Francisco
Before he ran into trouble with the law, O.J. Simpson was a star with the Buffalo Bills, and before that, as a running back at USC.
But before playing for USC, poor high school grades led Simpson to the City College of San Francisco, where he was an All-American player as both a running back and a defensive back.
Warren Moon – West Los Angeles Community College
The CFL and NFL star finished his college career with immense success at the University of Washington. Before coming to Seattle, Moon enrolled at West Los Angeles Community College, with larger four-year colleges skeptical of his ability to play quarterback.
At West LA, Moon became one of the best JUCO signal-callers of his era.
Cam Newton – Blinn College
Before winning a national championship but after backing up Tim Tebow, Newton won an NJCAA championship at Blinn College in Texas.
Newton’s success at Blinn directly led to his recruitment by Auburn, and since then, he has gone on to a stellar NFL career, including winning the 2015 league MVP award.
Jason Pierre-Paul – College of the Canyons / Fort Scott Community College
The two-time Super Bowl champion played FBS football at South Florida.
But before playing for the Bulls, Pierre-Paul lined up on defense for two different community colleges: College of the Canyons (California) and Fort Scott Community College (Kansas). The pass-rushing legend earned All-American honors at both of these JUCO schools.
Other notable JUCO alums:
- Byron Young – Georgia Military College
- Roger Staubach – New Mexico Military Institute
- Mike Anderson – Mt. San Jacinto Junior College
- Cordarrelle Patterson – Hutchinson Community College
- Keyshawn Johnson – West Los Angeles Community College
- Frank Gifford – Bakersfield Junior College
- Nick Fairley – Copiah-Lincoln Community College
- Chad Kelly – East Mississippi Community College
- LeGarrette Blount – East Mississippi Community College
- Charvarius Ward – Hinds Community College
- Luis Perez – Southwestern Community College
- Byron Pringle – Butler Community College
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Check out the rest of our small school-to-pro series:
- D2 Players in the NFL
- D3 Football Alums in the NFL
- NAIA Football Players Who Made it to the NFL
- JUCO Players in Major League Baseball
- JUCO Players in the NBA: Now & In Years Past
- FCS NFL Players: Now & Through History
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