The Blitz: JUCOs in NFL Draft, Where will UIW land, Is Tarleton following Sam Houston to FBS?

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If you are a fan of Texas small college football, I have good news. Today marks the beginning of a weekly series to keep you up to date on the offseason happenings of the small college programs.

NFL Draft update

The 2022 NFL Draft concluded last Saturday and had three former Texas small college athletes drafted, with another 20 players either signing a free agent contract or receiving an invite to a team’s rookie minicamp.

Former Cisco College and Texas A&M defensive end Micheal Clemons was selected by the New York Jets in the fourth round. However, former Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe didn’t wait long after Clemons to hear his name when the Patriots drafted Zappe with the 32nd pick in the fourth round.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted cornerback Zyon McCollum with the 15th pick in the fifth round. The former Sam Houston standout was the only Bearkat drafted, but SHSU had multiple players receiving attention following the draft.

Wide receiver Jequez Ezzard signed a free agent contract with Washington. In addition, the Houston Texans signed defensive back Tristan McCollum, and defensive lineman Joseph Wallace received rookie minicamp invites to Kansas City and Arizona.

Former Lone Star Conference mates Tarleton, and Texas A&M-Commerce had two players sign free agent contracts. Texans’ defensive backs Devin Hafford and Benjie Franklin signed with the Patriots and the Jaguars, respectively. Franklin was a standout at Navarro before transferring to Tarleton.

After signing with the Dallas Cowboys, offensive lineman Amon Simon will remain close to home following a brilliant career with Texas A&M-Commerce, while fellow Lion, defensive back Kader Kohou, signed with the Miami Dolphins.

Other players who signed free agent contracts are defensive back Trevor Denbow (Navarro) with the Colts, wide receivers Kaylon Geiger (Navarro) and Jerreth Sterns (HBU) with Tampa Bay, Rayshad Nichols (SFA) with the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker Jack Gibbens (ACU) with the Tennessee Titans, and Storey Jackson (Prairie View A&M) with the Cowboys.

Players receiving invites to a rookie minicamp are former Blinn wide receiver Keric Wheatfall (Eagles), Howard Payne wide receiver Jake Parker (Patriots, Jaguars, Chiefs), UIW wide receiver Trevor Begue (Chiefs), UIW running back Kevin Brown (Ravens), UIW defensive lineman Brandon Bowen (Chiefs), former Blinn defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson (Giants), and Lamar defensive back Divine Buckrham (Steelers).

Where will UIW land?

Realignment news continues to dominate the FCS ranks, with Matt Brown of ExtraPointsMB.com reporting that WAC officials were on UIW’s campus last week, with the Cardinals possibly being swayed to remain in the Southland Conference.

Brown reported that decreased travel is one of the factors UIW is considering, along with the Cardinals' need to spend more money on their operational budget to keep up with their fellow WAC members. I have heard from industry sources that budget-related concerns were one of the key issues keeping UIW from joining the group of four schools from Texas that initially left the Southland for the WAC.

If UIW chooses to remain in the Southland, the WAC would need to form another scheduling alliance to keep an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. However, Brown reported that low-level conversations have begun between the WAC, Southland, and the ASUN on a possible football alliance.

Is Tarleton following Sam Houston to FBS?

Brett McMurphy of actionnetwork.com reported that Conference USA seeks to add more members to replace Cincinnati, Houston, and Central Florida. C-USA is set to add Sam Houston, Liberty, Jacksonville State, and New Mexico State in 2023.

However, McMurphy reports that C-USA representatives heard formal presentations from Tarleton and Eastern Kentucky at its conference basketball tournament but have decided against adding either school at this time.

Tarleton is about to begin its fourth and final year transitioning to FCS from Division II. However, a transition to FBS would be difficult for the Texans football program in the short term because of the money needed to fund 85 scholarships.

As for football facilities, Tarleton is in decent shape for a move to FBS with a stadium expansion currently underway.

Mining the Portal

Sam Houston received a commitment from former Cal Poly offensive lineman Wade Willet last week, while Missouri running back Simi Bakare received an offer from the Bearkats. In addition, former HBU defensive lineman Kyler Baugh announced he is transferring to Minnesota for next year.

Quick hits

Our college football insider Mike Craven sat down with Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler for the Republic of Football podcast. The interview begins at the 31-minute mark.

Texas College named Jarrail Jackson head football coach on Friday. Jackson was offensive coordinator at Tyler Junior College last year and is replacing former Dallas Cowboy Greg Ellis, who coached the Steers for one season. No reason was given for the departure of Ellis.

Texas Wesleyan broke ground on a $16.5 million football and track stadium located a block north of E. Rosedale Street between Binkley Street and Nashville Avenue. The stadium will be named after Karen Cramer, a member of the Texas Wesleyan board of trustees who pledged $5 million to kick start the stadium.

NJCAA announced the location for five bowl games for the 2022-2024 seasons. The Champs Heart of Texas Bowl will remain at Ernest Hawkins Field on the campus of Texas A&M-Commerce. The other games are the Wool Bowl in Roswell, N.M., Scooter’s Coffee Bowl in Garden City, Kan., Salt City Bowl in Hutchinson, Kan., and the Graphic Edge Bowl in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

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