While most NFL stars are plucked from the FBS ranks, the path to stardom is different for everyone. Spending a year or two at junior college has often paid dividends for numerous athletes, as factors such as subpar grades or trouble off the field have prevented many from jumping straight to a major program. Here are eight NFL Hall of Famers who got their star at a junior college.
Warren Moon - Quarterback
The reason Moon did not immediately attend a major program had nothing to do with his high school academics or performance on the field, as the Los Angeles native received scholarship offers from USC and Arizona. However, these schools did not believe he could continue to be a signal caller at the next level, asking asking him to switch positions. Adamant in his ability as a pocket passer, Moon chose to attend West Los Angeles College. After setting records during his two seasons there, the future Hall of Famer was recruited by the Washington Huskies, where he would win the 1978 Rose Bowl and continue to make history in both the CFL and NFL.
Frank Gifford - QB/RB/WR/DB
Despite his eventual status as an NFL legend, Frank Gifford was facing difficulty just getting into USC back in the late 1940's. Lacking the necessary high school grade-point average to become a Trojan, the Santa Monica-born Gifford decided to continue playing at Bakersfield, where he quarterbacked his way to a Junior College All-American selection. At USC, Gifford got his start playing safety, but was also given opportunities on offense at tailback and receiver in his senior year. His versatile playing style was a main reason the New York Giants selected him as a first rounder in the 1952 NFL Draft, going on to become one of the greatest players in franchise history.
Jim Taylor - Fullback
Before he was able to play at LSU, future Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor had to suit up for the Hinds Junior College Eagles, located in Raymond, Mississippi. During Taylor's freshman year in LSU, he failed to pass a single class, forcing head coach Paul Dietzel to find a solution. Given that Taylor's talent was simply too good to pass up, the school decided to send him to Hinds in 1955, then known as LSU's "farm team". Next season, Taylor would return to Baton Rouge and was named a First Team All-American in his senior year, before becoming an MVP and five-time Pro Bowler under the stewardship of legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi.
Larry Allen - Offensive Tackle
Few players in NFL history, let alone on our list, have had a more unlikely journey to football immortality than Larry Allen. Although he failed to graduate from high school, Allen managed to make his way to Butte College, where the lineman's freakish strength and stellar technique carried him to Junior College All-American Honors in his sophomore year, his final J.C. season. After a transfer to Division II Sonoma State, Allen was picked in the second round by the Cowboys. Over the course of over fourteen professional seasons, Allen was a key pillar of an overpowering Dallas dynasty, being named to the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team.
O.J. Simpson - Running Back
After his rise to nationally-recognized celebrity, murder trial, and eventual prison stint, it is easy to forget that O.J. Simpson was arguably the best running back in football over the course of his eleven-year NFL career. However, before the man formerly known as Juice was breaking tackles for the USC Trojans, he was a two-way player at the City College of San Francisco, after leaning towards joining the Army for a time. Poor grades were what ultimately forced the gifted runner to the JUCO circuit, where he would eventually become a J.C. All-American. Following his outstanding Southern California tenure, Simpson became a five-time All Pro for the Buffalo Bills.
Walter Jones - Offensive Tackle
Initially hoping to join the Florida State Seminoles as a tight end, Hall of Famer Walter Jones did not meet academic requirements. Instead, he played as a lineman (primarily) at Mississippi's Holmes Community College in 1993, where he would dominate his opposition over the next two years. After his outstanding JUCO tenure, Jones was able to transfer to FSU in 1995. Despite playing just one season in Tallahassee, the Alabama-born athlete made quite the impression over the course of just twelve games, culminating in the Seattle Seahawks selecting Jones with the sixth pick in the first round. Nine Pro Bowls, a Hall of Fame jacket, and a place on the NFL's All-Time Team are just some of the accolades he would earn over thirteen seasons as a professional.
Roger Staubach - Quarterback
It may be surprising to find out that Roger Staubach's first collegiate season in 1960-61 was spent at a JUCO school, the New Mexico Military Institute, and not Navy. To prepare for his entry into the Naval Academy, Roger the Dodger went to NMMI, where he broke the school's single-season passing yards record while scoring a total of eighteen touchdowns through the air and with his legs. After joining the Midshipmen the following season, Staubach would win the Heisman in 1963, becoming the first former J.C. player to take home college football's most prestigious award. When he returned from military service in 1969, Roger was finally eligible to suit up for the Dallas Cowboys, despite being a 27-year old rookie at the time. As the face of America's Team, Staubach would go on to win two Super Bowls en route to his eventual enshrinement in Canton.
Aaron Rodgers - Quarterback
Although his playing days are far from over, Aaron Rodgers is a surefire lock for the Hall of Fame. However, back when he was in his senior year of high school, Rodgers received just one offer to play in college: a walk-on scholarship at Illinois. Instead of accepting, he decided to stay close to home in California and played a season at Butte College, the same school Larry Allen attended. While on a scouting trip, Cal's head coach Jeff Tedford uncovered Rodgers and offered him a scholarship. After a successful two-year career in Berkley, Rodgers was selected by the Green Bay Packers. The rest is history: Two MVPs, a Super Bowl win, and (eventually) a gold jacket. Today, Rodgers still has plenty of love for the school that gave him a chance to go pro; in 2019 he made a major donation to the Cal football program and started a scholarship fund for one junior college transfer each year. Additionally, number twelve is always proud to represent Butte and his JUCO roots: