- Associated Press - Thursday, January 6, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. (AP) - When No. 1 Auburn faces second-ranked Oregon in the BCS title game, the Tigers’ two biggest stars will be junior college transfers.

It’s a path many players take to major college football, though it’s one just about all of them would rather have avoided.

In most cases, they find themselves in towns such as Wesson, Miss., or Brenham, Texas, because they didn’t make the grades in high school to qualify to play at a four-year school. That’s why Auburn All-American defensive tackle Nick Fairley ended up at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi after he graduated from high school instead of going straight to Auburn.

In some cases, like Cam Newton‘s, they land at a JUCO because things didn’t work out for them at a big school.

Mississippi State assistant Tony Hughes, a former junior college coach, says JUCOs are “a second chance for kids.”

Or, as Auburn assistant Trooper Taylor puts it, “a last chance.”

Fairley is the typical junior college transfer in many ways.

He grew up in Mobile, Ala., and was recruited by Auburn when Tommy Tuberville was the coach. He wanted to be a Tiger, but he didn’t qualify academically, so it was off to Co-Lin in Wesson, just outside of Jackson, Miss.

Non-qualifiers such as Fairley _ and Auburn starting cornerback Demond Washington _ must graduate from a two-year school to be accepted into a major college football program under NCAA rules.

“Actually, it was kind of frustrating at first,” Fairley said Thursday. “And then I went out there and, ‘Wow, why did I have to go here?’ JUCO, it was a great eye-opener. I went in there and it kept me levelheaded, humble.”

Brad Franchione, who was Newton’s coach at Blinn College in Brenham, said at junior college many of the players come from families and neighborhoods that don’t provide much structure or discipline. His players often need far more guidance off the field than they do on it.

“I have always felt like at Blinn that is was my job to teach 18 year olds what the word ‘courtesy’ meant, what the actual definition of being a man meant,” he said.

Franchione said many of the players he gets are intimidated by classrooms and teachers. It’s not just a matter of teaching them math and English, but teaching them how to be students.

“The football part of my job was the most fun part of my day,” he said.

Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner, ended up at Blinn after he left Florida, where he was stuck behind Tim Tebow and had legal problems. He was arrested in November 2008 for having a stolen laptop. The charges were eventually dropped when he completed a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders.

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