'Hard to believe': Former MCCCD football players speak out on decision to end program

On Monday, we learned the Maricopa County Community College District will discontinue its football program.

Citing financial concerns and a lack of state support, the MCCCD said its football programs at Phoenix College, Scottsdale Community College, Mesa Community College and Glendale Community College will end after the 2018 season.

But according to a pair of former MCCCD football players: Without the chance to play football at the community-college level, their dreams of making it to the NFL might not have become a reality.

"It was kind of hard to believe, because there's such a market for those like myself (to get) a second chance," said former Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Deuce Lutui, a Mesa High School alum who began his college career at MCC. "If you're behind on grades if you just need that extra fill-in year, junior college provides that for these kids.

"I'm just speaking from experience of going from the bottom to all the way up. It's such a make-or-break, and junior college provided that for me, and many other kids, as well."

Tempe McClintock High School alum Dan Manucci was a quarterback at MCC before he moved on to play Division I college football at Kansas State and with the Buffalo Bills in the NFL. Today, he trains local high-school athletes, including Perry High School quarterback Brock Purdy, a top national recruit who committed to Iowa State on Wednesday.

"I think of all the quarterbacks that I train and all the guys that I played with who went to Mesa Community College or SCC or Glendale or PC and went on to D-I schools and had the opportunity to grow in the junior colleges," he said. "Guys that were 6'4, 6'5, they put the weight on, get the experience and get the reps (in junior college).

"I think the opportunity to move on now, at least in the state of Arizona, is pretty much going to be gone after this 2018 season."

For the sake of young football players in the Valley who need that bridge between high school and Division I football, Manucci and Lutui hope this is not the end of junior-college football in Maricopa County.

"That's the thing that's sad, because that's the life I grew up chasing," said Lutui, who went on to play NCAA football at USC and was selected by the Cardinals in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. "I needed it. I needed that community college because that was the next step for me out of high school. I wasn't quite there, but the junior-college level provided me that extra year that I needed.

"I remember my (MCC) coach saying, 'Hey, don't you forget: This is college football you're playing right now.' And it was true. The same competitors I saw at the junior-college level were right there at the Division I level. These guys like Aaron Rodgers were junior-college guys. There are many other junior college athletes in the NFL that needed that jump."

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