These are heady days in our little corner of the college football universe – Clemson riding high at No. 3, Georgia rebounding to No. 6 and South Carolina lurking at No. 13.
As impressive as that is, they’ve all got nothing on Georgia Military College.
The 6-0 GMC Bulldogs ascended this week to the No. 1 ranking among junior colleges – a undeniably lofty standard only enhanced by the fact that head coach Bert Williams’ team wasn’t even ranked in the NJCAA’s preseason top-20 poll. It’s the first time since 2008 that the Bulldogs have made it as high as even the top five.
“We had a long hard road to get there,” said Williams, a 1986 graduate of Westside who has been running the program in Milledgeville, Ga., since 1997.
The roads don’t come any longer or harder than they do for Georgia Military. A junior college independent, the Bulldogs travel far and wide to take on any program willing to play them. Williams and his team boarded a bus late Thursday afternoon to begin an 18-hour drive to Iowa Falls, Iowa, to play Ellsworth Community College on Saturday. They’ve already survived long bus rides to neutral sites in West Virginia (10 hours) and Mississippi (11) this season and come home with victories.
Three wins this season have come against top-10 opponents, including No. 2 Snow College in Week 2 and last Saturday’s 48-38 victory over Iowa Western, snapping the nation’s longest winning streak at 18 games.
It was that last triumph that jumped the Bulldogs from No. 5 to the top spot after losses the past two weeks from previous No. 1’s Mississippi Gulf Coast and Navarro.
“It’s recognition of a job well done against great opponents,” Williams said. “The fact that we’re independent and able to reach a No. 1 ranking when we’ve got nobody voting for us so to speak – all the conferences have a voter so there’s some ‘regionality,’ if that’s a word – that’s intrinsic in a lot of that. That’s one of the reasons we play who we play and as widely as we do so we can get the attention of voters in the various regions and show them what we’re capable of.”
What has grabbed everyone’s attention this season is Georgia Military’s running game behind freshman Jovon Robinson. The former Auburn recruit – whose commitment got entangled in an NCAA brouhaha after a guidance counselor at his high school in Memphis admitted to altering a transcript so he could be eligible – is tearing up the JUCO ranks with an average of 189.3 yards per game and 14 touchdowns that lead the nation.
And Robinson is about to be joined in the backfield more frequently by Akeem Judd, an Ole Miss signee who is getting back to full strength after being hobbled with a spate of nagging injuries.
“We feel like we’ve got two who are as good as any in the country,” Williams said of his Southeastern Conference-caliber backfield that is playing behind an experienced offensive line.
There’s no question Robinson is the biggest difference on a team that went 7-4 a year ago.
“Jovon is a very gifted runner with a great physical build for a tailback to go along with his speed,” Williams said of his star back. “He goes about his business with a quiet intensity. We knew he was a very good player. We didn’t necessarily expect him to have the impact that he has. (Judd) being kept out of the game plan has given Jovon more opportunity than we initially planned.”
Georgia Military is loaded with its share of Augusta-area talent as well. Former Lincoln County star Zireycus Letman is the team’s leading receiver as a freshman with 12 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore receiver Montez McGuire, from North Augusta, also contributes, while Butler’s Tayari Thompson has mostly a blocking role in front of the marquee runners as fullback.
On defense, Burke County’s DaVonte Lambertis is one of Williams’ top leaders, pacing the team with four sacks and three forced fumbles. He’s committed to playing for Tennessee next year. Freshman offensive lineman Justin Day, a former Kentucky signee from South Aiken, is waiting his turn behind a veteran group of returning starters.
“I love what we have going here in Milledge-
ville,” Williams said. “You have great athletes, great support and ability to do things the right way without undo pressure to take shortcuts.”
The success he’s had over the past 17 seasons at Georgia Military has kept Williams rooted in stability as his family grows up in one place. He has two sons – 12-year-old Zach and 16-year-old Parker.
“Do you ever have thoughts of moving up to something at an ACC or SEC school? At some point, sure,” he said. “That would be something interesting to me. ... But I’m not looking for anything until I get (my children) out of high school. It would have to be something awful good.”
For now, Williams and the Bulldogs have it as good as it can get – facing a chance to turn the No. 1 ranking into a national junior college championship shot. Ideally, the No. 1 and 2 teams get paired in a postseason bowl. GMC last won the junior college national title in 2001 and was runner-up in 2002 and ’05.
The Bulldogs’ toughest remaining test is next week against No. 4 Nassau Community College.
“The only thing I try to get my guys to stay focused on is taking care of Saturday,” Williams said. “Let’s not worry about anything we can’t control. I don’t like any talk about the next game or what may happen.”