JUCO bowls show depth of AZ prep football talent

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                </div>  Arizona is known for having one of the best junior-college football systems in the country.  One reason is the depth of high school talent at the skill positions that […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Arizona is known for having one of the best junior-college football systems in the country.  One reason is the depth of high school talent at the skill positions that spills over into the local JUCO programs, where the schools benefit from being available to athletes who need a stepping stone to the four-year level – not necessarily because of a lack of talent, but often due to academic deficiencies that need to be improved.

A couple of bowl games over the weekend did a good job illustrating that point.

In the Valley of the Sun Bowl, Scottsdale Community College freshman quarterback Tyler Bruggman delivered a 20-yard strike to his wide receiver, Shaquan Curenton, in the final two minutes of the game to seal a 42-34 upset win over No. 11-ranked Central Lakes College from Minnesota.

Bruggman is a 2013 graduate of Brophy Prep in Phoenix and gravitated to the junior college game after giving Division I ball a try at Washington State and then Louisville.  He redshirted his freshman year at WSU and served in a back-up role at Louisville.  So he decided to return to Arizona to use the JUCO system to build some on-field experience.

He was named the azcentral Player of the Year in his senior season at Brophy after wrapping up a prep career that included 2,803 yards passing and 33 touchdowns.  He had his share of D-I offers to consider before picking the Cougars.

But junior college turned out to be a better option, offering a chance to adjust to the speed of the college game and build a resume in the process.  Scottsdale Community College (7-4) became the beneficiary of that decision.

This year he threw for 1,457 yards and 15 touchdowns before leading the Fighting Artichokes (no, that really is their name) to Saturday’s bowl win by completing 17 of 30 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns.  That final victory enabled the ‘Chokes to close out their 2015 season on five straight victories.

And while Bruggman was picking apart the Central Lakes secondary, the SCC defense was stifling a team that had been averaging 500 yards and 57 points a game.  They forced five turnovers and used a couple of interceptions in the fourth quarter to put the lid on the Raiders’ drive attempts.

While the Valley of the Sun Bowl was taking place at SCC Stadium, the team that beat Central Lakes last year in the El Toro Bowl was also enjoying success across town at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium.  Arizona Western College was back again at the El Toro Bowl and faced with a situation similar to that of SCC.

AWC (7-4) was also unranked and facing a top JUCO team in No. 4-ranked College of DuPage (8-2) from Illinois.

And the Matadors, too, were able tor rely on their defense to pull of a stunner against DuPage by limiting the Chaparrals to a paltry 125 yards of total offense to help clinch the 14-5 upset victory.

Arizona Western, a Yuma school, used a two-quarterback system this year, with redshirt sophomore Trent Hosick sharing the load with true freshman Emanuel Gant.

For Gant, a high-profile college prospect who graduated Tempe High School last year with record-setting stats during his prep career, it was a great opportunity to work alongside a seasoned veteran as he adjusted to the college game.

The 6’3″, 230-pound signal caller threw for 3,141 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior, leading Tempe to a 12-1 record, but reportedly got just one college offer, from Prairie View A&M, an FCS school in Texas.  He finished at Tempe as the only high school quarterback in Arizona to have thrown for more than 1,000 yards.

Since he didn’t get the kind of offers he was expecting, Gant chose the JUCO route and committed to play at Arizona Western, which was coming off an 11-1 season and a No. 5 national ranking.

Hosick has concluded his AWC career, so center stage could belong to Gant next year.  Unless, of course, he has drawn the interest of one of those D-I schools he was hoping to attract last year.

But so far, both Bruggman and Gant have benefited from their decision to use the junior-college game to help them in their quest to find a spot on a D-I roster.

And that makes it a win-win for the athletes and the Arizona schools.