By Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
If area football fans needed another reason to head to Bulldawg Stadium on Saturday, here's one.
They might get a chance to catch the next great gridiron star.
It happened the first year of the CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl. Running back Brandon Jacobs, now in his seventh season with the New York Giants, ran for 225 yards and three touchdowns as he led Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College to a 49-14 win over Navarro College in 2001.
Two years later, Jacobs' future NFL teammate Jason Pierre-Paul helped Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College to a 30-13 win over Blinn College.
"Some of the finest football players in the country play in this bowl," said Jack Welch, Copperas Cove athletic director and the bowl game's director "What folks don't understand is junior college football is like major college football - it's the freshmen and sophomores of major colleges.
"It's like going to a Big 12 football game and you're seeing their second teams basically."
This year's HOT Bowl, the game's 11th edition, will feature Navarro College, last season's national champion, facing New Mexico Military Institute. Both teams are 9-2.
Both also feature plenty of talent heading to four-year schools next fall.
Players who are already committed include Navarro's Joey Searcy, who is 19th among junior college prospects according to the recruiting website rivals.com. The defensive tackle is headed to Baylor.
Searcy's teammate and fellow defensive tackle Calvin Barnett is 50th on the recruiting list and is committed to Oklahoma State. Other Navarro prospects are offensive tackle Tavon Rooks and defensive end Chris Martin, who are uncommitted but 11th and 12th among junior college prospects.
NMMI's top recruit is also a defensive tackle (Deylan Buntyn). He's committed to North Carolina State and 22nd in the rankings. Broncos' offensive tackle Daniel Glauser is 38th.
"The people that go to junior college are Division-I football players," Welch said. "They're not the smaller kids. They're all going to be four-year college ballplayers - most of them big-time."
Jesse Williams was last year's top prospect in the HOT Bowl - a 31-27 Blinn victory over Arizona Western. The former Arizona Western defensive tackle is now starting at Alabama, which could play in this season's BCS National Championship game. Sean Robertson, who starred at Cove before playing at Blinn, is now at Lamar University.
"These are horses," Welch said. "The advantage that we have is our players, our town and our local people get to watch a great college football game for basically the price of popcorn."