Football players find home at SRJC

Jenna Burkman, Contributing Writer

Chris Collins sits at a table outside the Bertolini Student Center at Santa Rosa Junior College, waiting patiently for his friends to get out of class.

Collins, 20, has travelled all the way from Baltimore to play football. It’s his second year at SRJC and he’s  leaving at the end of the semester, hoping to transfer and continue playing football.

Baltimore is approximately 3,000 miles away. It’s a six-and-a half-hour flight or a four-day drive. What would make Collins want to come to a community college clear across the country?

“Back home, my grades were not very good in high school. I wanted to get away from all the distractions so that I could really focus on football here,” Collins said. “I also knew that the junior colleges in California were known for their football programs.”

Collins is one of many SRJC football players recruited from states like Oregon, Florida, Maryland, Texas and Georgia. Many of these athletes either had high school coaches with an SRJC connection or know someone who’s previously played here. Like Fairfield, Calif. native Blake Richmond, who heard about SRJC from his brother.

“My brother [Cameron] played at SRJC for one year, so I was already familiar with the junior college,” Richmond said.

Richmond, 18, has been well aware of SRJC’s football program. “We have good coaches who put in their time and effort everyday because they are passionate about what they do.”

SRJC is known for its football program and is a member of the NorCal Football Conference, considered the best conference in the state and one of the top conferences in the nation.

Head coach Keith Simons has been at the SRJC for more than 15 years, leading the team to 10 bowl appearances. During his tenure, the Bear Cubs finished seasons ranked in the state top 20 poll 10 times and nationally ranked eight times.

For the past 14 years, SRJC coaches have produced conference players and MVPs, regional MVPs, state players of the year and NFL players. Koa Misi who attended SRJC in 2006 was drafted by the Miami Dolphins as the 40th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Misi became the highest drafted SRJC football player in history. After hearing his success story, it’s no wonder student-athletes are attracted to this school.

Aside from the football, one thing athletes have to take into consideration is the process of actually moving here. “It was definitely a transitional process moving here. At first it was a struggle. Also, it is more expensive to live here because I am from out-of-state, and it was a lot harder because I came here by myself,” Collins said.

In comparison, football player Spencer Morrow had a much easier time moving to Santa Rosa because he lived only an hour away.

Even though most of the players are quite satisfied with the football program here, many of the athletes experience culture shock. Santa Rosa’s social environment is completely different to where these athletes are from.

Along with the differences of Santa Rosa, a few players said they did not feel welcome at SRJC. They said they felt like outcasts, are looked at funny and are still trying to get used to the culture.

“The people here are so different from Baltimore,” Collins said. “From their personalities, to the way they dress and the way they act. Just everything. There is a lot more diversity where I’m from.”

On a brighter note, Collins likes the fact that the school has a great campus. To him, SRJC looks like a small university.

Morrow admires the campus as well. “My favorite thing about the JC is the huge library,” Morrow said. “I have never seen a library with four stories before. I was amazed. I also like that there are tons of computers that are accessible to all students.”

Even though Morrow said he does like SRJC, it is common for him to feel out of his element. “When I walk through the campus at school, sometimes I feel like I am an outsider or something,” Morrow said. “But when I’m out there on the football field, that’s where I feel like I’m at home.”