By Eric Moses
Head coach Colton Bryant explains why junior colleges offer student-athletes the opportunity to develop and still reach the next level.
Regardless of what you’ve heard from coaching staffs across the country, Columbia State women’s soccer head coach Colton Bryant knows the “Division I or bust” mentality is incorrect. How does he know? It starts with Bryant’s own background.
When he was a player, Bryant committed to Kentucky. But an ACL tear lost him a scholarship to play for them. Turns out, this was a blessing in disguise.
Bryant’s mindset had to change after the injury. He focused on controlling the controllable — with Div. I soccer now out of reach, he decided to play at an NAIA program, Martin Methodist College. Two years later, after a third knee injury had him switch from the field to the coaching staff, Bryant helped Martin Methodist take home the NAIA national title. He still truly believes it’s the “best division in the country”.
Today, as a coach of a new junior college soccer program (currently playing their second season), Bryant provides opportunities for his athletes to grow on the field and, more importantly, in the classroom. His thinks of his job as a developer — his task is to push players in all aspects of life and get them noticed by larger programs.
“It’s not just about the sport, it’s about academic success, too” said Bryant. “In Tennessee, we have the best nursing program in the state. Not Vanderbilt, not Tennessee, but little Columbia State.”
During recruitment, he tells coaches and possible recruits how his program doesn’t focus on the level they’re playing at. To him, it’s similar to working a 9 – 5 job. You need experience. If an athlete comes to his program, they’ll get actual, on-field experience at the collegiate level. And two years down the road, they’ll stand a much better chance at getting into a Vanderbilt or a Georgia because of it. Makes sense, right?
“Throw out the division, recruits,” said Bryant. “‘If [Columbia State] competed in Division I, would you come here?’ If the answer is yes, then follow that instinct over the stigma of division.”
There’s another key component to the appeal of junior college soccer: tuition and cost of living. Compare tuition between Vanderbilt and a community college nearby. In two years, a player would be looking at saving something like $30K while still gaining experience. Now he or she can step into a Division I program, knowing they have what it takes. They’ve already developed their game and found their natural position. Being $30K less in debt than the person lining up across the field is a really nice bonus.
Bryant wants student-athletes to know the truth about junior college-level play — there are endless benefits. “I’ll continue to do the little things to make my program more appealing to the naked eye, and we will always provide top-notch training to those athletes committed to us,” said Bryant.
But high school and club coaches need to be telling their players too. There’s no need to only look for Division I programs. To learn more about Columbia State women’s soccer, or get in contact with Coach Bryant, visit their website.