Temple coach Bobby Wallace needed a plan, and fast.
With Temple departing from the Big East Conference after the 2004 season, Wallace needed to devise a way to recruit players for the next two years.
While he would find some high school talent, his main conduit for players was junior college.
Some 25 players looking for an outlet to play Division I-A football were taken by Wallace’s serene and genuine manner.
Recruiting wisely, Wallace’s major emphasis on JUCO players was a coup over vaunted programs, like Nebraska.
The Web site JCFootball.com declared the Owls’ JUCO recruiting class as the best in the country.
Despite its longevity, Temple’s recent history hasn’t been much to rave about.
The Owls have neither been to a bowl game in 23 years nor had a winning season in 13.
Still, Wallace was a formidable force, recruiting some of the best talent available.
His smooth, southern accent combined with his honesty and loyalty managed to win many players over.
Wide receiver Buchie Ibeh, from East Orange, NJ, was lured by the close proximity to his family and offensive coordinator Dave Brock’s no-huddle spread offense.
Upon graduating from New Mexico Military Institute, Jamil Porter was getting scholarship offers from schools like UCLA, Oregon, and Oregon St. with programs regularly in the Top 25 rankings. But Porter overlooked their reputations, signing with Temple.
“It was closer to home,” said Porter, who is a Rochester, NY native.
“Coach Wallace showed a commitment to me, so I went with it. He was real faithful to me.”
Junior safety Sadeke Konte played with Porter at NMMI and was recruited by UNLV and Indiana, but chose the Owls for a few reasons.
“Mainly it was the competition in the conference, then it was the coaches,” Konte said. “Especially Coach Wallace, he was very genuine to me, and I see that every day.”
Konte can’t figure out why the city seems to have a chip on its shoulder.
Konte joined the Owls last spring as a mid-year transfer after graduation.
After participating in spring practices, he had impressed coaches with his ability, earning himself a starting spot.
While Konte seems fine on the field, off of it he is still learning to tolerate East Coast mannerisms and familiarizing himself with his new home.
“I’m from the West Coast, it’s very different to me, the East Coast in general,” Konte said. “People are a lot nicer where I come from and they seem to act like they care. Here everybody is doing their own thing.”
One of Wallace’s top recruits, Phil Goodman, who transferred from Sacramento City College, has a similar distaste for life in Philly.
Born and raised in Vallejo, Calif., coming to Philly was a whole new environment for the 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver.
“Honestly I don’t like the city of Philadelphia,” he said. “I really don’t like it, but it is what it is, for the most part. It is not California, it is a lot more rude.”
Off the field, living on a big campus is something Goodman had to get used to.
Positive differences he mentioned were bigger classrooms, student diversity and the cafeteria food.
Goodman is thankful for how helpful the veterans have been, and said they “tell you what you’re getting into with some of the classes. They just show you how to live out here, because this is a very big change, and a culture shock to guys coming from different areas like California.”
“The worst horror story I have is the caf,” Goodman added. “I got sick and spent a lot of time in the hospital and missed the beginning of camp. I told everybody to stay away from the caf if they can.”
Other JUCO players have had a smoother transition.
Not surprisingly, these players are from nearby.
Porter has few complaints with his new off-campus house.
Porter has been through four schools in the last five years, but has never experienced anything like Temple.
“At junior college you see the same people basically everyday,” Porter said. “You know people by their name, what car they drive. But here it’s different. I like the environment, I like Philadelphia period.”
Porter admitted he doesn’t get homesick, since his family is relatively close by.
In addition, the lures of city attractions are a far cry from the rocky, barren terrain of say, New Mexico.
Ibeh has a similar affinity with the city and campus.
“Center City is a good attraction. I like how the campus is set up too,” he said. “I love the city setting. I love to walk around and be out in the open.”
Like Porter, Ibeh is close to home, making the living transition easy. But life on the football field is a tougher adjustment.
The reality of big-time college football finally stung tight end Anthony Martinez minutes before the first game of the season at Penn State.
Former Temple great Paul Palmer gave a passionate speech in the Owls’ locker room before they set foot in front of 101,000 people.
Martinez, who played in New York at Hudson Valley Community College, said hearing people like Palmer and Wallace preach about the importance of the games had an impact on him.
“In junior college the games are serious, but to see it on their level, the history behind Temple-Penn State,” Martinez said. “It was an incredible experience.”
Moreover, the perks of playing at this level are a welcoming surprise.
“The hotels, the meals, the snacks they bring you,” Martinez added. “The little things like Nike being sponsored by them, giving you cleats.”
Goodman is also enjoying the luxuries of playing Division I-A ball.
“This is what you dream about coming to Division I football, as far as having everything personalized and taking care of for you,” Goodman said. “The practice facilities, just everything, it is truly big time.”
Goodman was brought here to be a number one receiver, a go-to-guy.
He has welcomed the transition from going to dirt fields and small locker rooms to the plush confines of Lincoln Financial Field.
“There is nothing that compares to Lincoln Financial Field, nobody has played in a place like this, as far as coming out on the field to the smoke, that is an adrenaline rush in itself,” Goodman added.
Most of the JC players noted a considerable difference in speed and size they had to adjust to at the I-A level.
In addition, Ibeh said the talent level is much better and it has made him into a better player.
The biggest adjustment, though, was the assortment of plays and schemes they had to absorb.
“There is a lot more thinking as far as reading and responsibilities on plays,” Goodman said. “It is more than just running and catching the rock, with the detailed schemes, and it changes every week.”
Martinez concurred and lauded the veterans on the team for assisting the newcomers in making the transition a little smoother.
“I came here in February, and they helped us learn the offensive system,” Martinez added. “There wasn’t a lot of segregation between JUCO’s and guys that came here as freshman.”
Since arriving, a handful of JUCO transfers have been able to step right in and contribute.
Despite their progression, the Owls still remain winless going into this Saturday’s matchup at Louisville.
According to Wallace, many of the JUCO’s are doing well, but the players who couldn’t attend spring practice are still catching up.
Goodman, who did not attend spring practice, has looked spectacular.
After back-to-back 100-yard games receiving, he has 17 catches for 278 yards.
“Goodman’s showed what he can do,” Wallace said. “He’s very talented.”
Since the injury to RB Makonnen Fenton, Porter has gotten a lot of touches and made his first start against Cincinnati.
Ibeh is coming along slowly and got his first catch as an Owl last Saturday night.
Quarterback Walter Washington, who joined the team for summer camp, still needs time to be groomed, but has looked fine in a limited role.
He’s completed 3 of 4 for 101 yards and gained 74 yards rushing.
Konte has been one of the top players on defense, registering 18 tackles, two sacks and two pass break-ups.
If he keeps it up, he could be picked as an all-conference selection.
“I think I’m in a better position than a lot of people, I’ve had two years of playing ball,” Konte said. “I appreciate having the ability to start, and I’m loving every minute of it.”
Jason Haslam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Sitkoff can be reached at Phil14367@aol.com.