Juco watch: Navarro (Texas) College

CORSICANA, Texas – Last Saturday’s 54-34 win against Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College was more than just another victory for Navarro College. It served as a direct message for upcoming opponents.

Championship or bust.

Navarro entered the game as the No. 12 team in the NJCAA poll and earned a 20-point victory against a Hutch team that was ranked No. 10 in the poll and that had compiled 616 total yards against then-No. 17 Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. The efforts bumped the Bulldogs from No. 12 to No. 9 in the latest poll, as they rest during their bye week.

There’s a level of determination in the eyes of the Bulldogs that make them a contender not only for the Southwest Junior College Football Conference title, but also for an NJCAA national championship. Navarro won a national title in 2010, and head coach Brian Mayper feels it can happen again with the crop of talent he has this year.

“We talked about having no excuses in everything we do. That’s been our motto since we started in the summer,” Mayper said. “Anything we do wrong, we do 12 up-downs. That’s the number of games we want to play; the 12th game will be the bowl game.

“Hopefully, we’re ranked high enough to play for a championship. We just have to take care of things one game at a time.”

Mayper, who took over head coaching duties this season for Nick Bobeck, was part of the Navarro staff in 2010. Mayper, in his second stint with Navarro, traces the program’s success to 2007, when he was on staff under Ray Woodard, who now is the head coach at Lamar. Five years ago, Mayper said the atmosphere of the program made a change that has held strong.

“We ended up finishing fourth in the nation that year, and we created an atmosphere of winning,” Mayper said. “It kind of caught fire throughout the campus. Our baseball team, basketball team and cheerleaders were all national champions.

“Coach Bobeck and his staff over the last four years took it further by winning a national championship. It’s been established, and we’ve just got to keep it rolling in the right direction.”

Linemen leading the offensive charge

The Navarro offense is loaded with FBS-caliber players, and Mayper believes it all starts with a big, physical offensive line.

Tackle Aleon Calhoun is a 6-foot-7, 345-pound truck who has multiple offers, including Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi State. Calhoun and versatile lineman Mitchell Bell (6-4, 320), who recently picked up an Arkansas offer, have been impressive in the two wins. Mayper added Zach Fondal (6-5, 290) might have the most upside of all the tackles, and Carter Wall (6-5, 290), a TCU transfer and another versatile lineman, will be a force once he’s fully healed from a knee injury.

Quarterback Darian “Stump” Godfrey leads the Bulldog offense and played at New Mexico and Hawaii before coming to Navarro. Mayper said Godfrey “might be one of the best JC quarterbacks I’ve ever been around.” Godfrey is a slippery, game-changing quarterback who can make plays with his arm and his feet.

The Navarro backfield has a pick-your-poison feel to it. Traylon Shead, a 6-2, 230-pound running back, played at Texas before transferring. While Shead provides the power, Tyler Middleton brings the quickness. Both backs are expected to get major looks by the end of the season.

Wide receivers Chris Jones, Tony Drake, Eddie Johnson and Jordan Jolly give Godfrey plenty of options in passing situations. Jones, another Texas transfer, has an Arkansas offer. Drake, a Colorado State transfer, is a dangerous threat in the slot. Johnson, a Baylor signee out of high school, can play receiver or tight end at 6-3 and 220 pounds. Jolly caught two touchdown passes in the win against Hutch.

One of Godfrey’s favorite targets, however, might be his tight end. Gerard Shillow is a 6-3, 240-pound tight end/H-back hybrid used in multiple ways for Navarro. He has great hands and runs great routes, and he can serve as a solid decoy in a motion setting.

Defensive players making an impact

Navarro’s defense features a bunch of playmakers looking to quickly catch the attention of all college recruiters. Defensive ends Michael Jolivet and Arnold Blackmon lead the charge.

Mayper called Jolivet (6-4, 225) one of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the SWJCFC. He verbally committed to Houston in July. Blackmon (6-2, 235) has been impressive thus far and had an interception for a touchdown in the season opener against Arkansas Baptist (Little Rock, Ark.). Defensive tackle Antonio Wright (6-1, 305) also is a player to watch. Tulsa is high on him.

The linebacker corps is led by inside backer D.J. Simon, an athletic playmaker who plays larger than his 6-1, 220-pound frame. Outside backers Steve Orisakwe and Malcolm Howard also are expected to get FBS looks. Howard is a walk-on who has earned Mayper’s respect.

The secondary is somewhat young, but free safety Thomas McDonald has been an early standout. McDonald is a tall, rangy safety at 6-4 and 170 pounds, and he’s received early interest from Texas State and UTSA.

Navarro freshmen to watch

In addition to Middleton and Jones, Navarro is looking at a bright future with its freshman class. Speedy running back Tim Wright and offensive tackle Tim Hines (6-5, 305) were highly recruited out of high school, and receiver James Washington, a walk-on, has gained Big 12 interest with his play in the spring.

Another walk-on, cornerback Malcolm Smiley, is expected to be a contributor in the secondary. Fellow cornerback Sherman Gilbert has a chance to be a big-time recruit as both a cornerback and special teams returner.

Player spotlight: Traylon Shead

At 6-2 and 230 pounds, running back Traylon Shead is built like a linebacker -- some might even say a small defensive end.

It was Shead’s size and ability to get into the end zone that made him a high-profile player out of high school. Before signing with Texas in 2010, Shead held the Texas state high school record for career touchdowns (141). Johnathan Gray, now a freshman with the Longhorns, broke that record last year.

While things didn’t work out at Texas, Shead is using the juco experience to once again become that player every college desired. He showed his worth last week against Hutchinson, rushing for 129 yards and three touchdowns.

“Sitting on the sidelines for two years, you have to just go back to the basics,” Shead said. “I’d lost everything, so when I got here, I knew I had to just go from scratch.”

Shead currently has offers from Arkansas, Purdue and New Mexico, and he has interest from South Florida. That list grows with each outing on the field. In every game, Shead shows that he can mesh power and durability with quickness and elusiveness.

“I’ve compared him to an Eddie George-type running back,” Navarro coach Brian Mayper said. “He’s an upright runner, but it’s going to take three guys to tackle him. One guy’s not going to tackle him 1-on-1. He’s just a big-time running back.”

Shead said he doesn’t hold any grudges from his departure from Texas, choosing to learn from it rather than dwell on the past. He said coming to Navarro has made him relive the player he once was -- a driven athlete determined to make a difference for himself and his team.

Shead is hoping his efforts will parlay into another opportunity to play FBS ball -- preferably one with a big-stage reputation.

“My dad always told me not to set my goals short,” Shead said. “I want to get back to a D-1 school, and I know that whenever I transfer, I have to go in hungrier than when I transferred here. I have to be the hungriest guy on the team.”