D.A.W.G.S: Steve McCollom of ICC

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Determined, Accountable, Willing, Greatness and Swag is the philosophy the Independence Community College Pirates Linebackers live by. ICC is one of the best JUCOs in the country when it comes to developing players for the next level and focusing on the importance of further your education as a student-athlete. I spoke with Linebackers and Special Teams Coordinator Steve McCollom about his time at ICC, what makes the program so special, developing talent for the next level and much more.

How was the experience with “Last Chance U” coming into town? “

“It was interesting, there was a camera on you at all times. It was kind of weird at first but I just got back to doing my day to day stuff. Certainly, it would go through your head that this might be on national TV & “do I really want to say that?” but after each day went by, I really didn’t think like that. I wasn’t too much involved in it. They were with us this year for one of our games against Highland College. To be honest, I forgot they were there throughout the game. I was more interested in coaching. I will say you can tell what’s real and what’s not. Guys like coach Harris (Kiyoshia Harris Head Coach) coach Martin and JB (former Head Coach Jason Brown), and even Kailon Davis that’s who they are as people. I think for the most part there was authenticity but I also think somethings were played out for TV. 

“Talk about the success you guys had with coach Harris after Jason Brown resigned.” 

“I think when coach Harris took over, he had a plan and he had a good support staff that were working for him and the community was very supportive of him. He really owned it and with us, our biggest thing was establishing a good foundation of the program. So, we had to get rid of some guys that weren’t doing what they were supposed to do. So, when July came, all the guys that were becoming a part of the team were going to fall in line with all the guys that had already worked together, sweated together to create a good thing. We made it pretty hard on them, but they essentially earned their stripes and that forced our newcomers to come in and fall in line. We were able to get better every week and put a good product on the field and eventually win the conference. 

“Talk about keeping expectations high with a predominately new staff.” 

“I think that everything at a junior college is accelerated. If our kids do the right thing from start to finish, they are only there for 18 months. So, you don’t have to mess around you don’t have to be worried about little things. Everything is accelerated so the expectation is that you are here to get out of junior college. I tell guys all the time we are going to get you here, you’re going to graduate, you’re going to a Division I school and we are going to win some football games while we are at it. That’s really what I sell the parents on, what I believe in. Our rule as coaches at a good junior college is that we want to graduate them, give them another opportunity and win some football games. We take things on a week to week basis, never look too far ahead. We had a lot of talent that took us a long way, but we also had some good older leadership and some younger guys that really did a good job. We really had a team. You can ask anybody that played. They had a lot of success together and really believed in each other which helped a lot when things got tough. 

“How is the COVID-19 affecting your off-season workouts or recruiting trips?” 

“The biggest thing that is affecting us is our spring practice. Last year, we had over 100 college coaches come through so that allows a lot of guys to get exposure and on top of that all of our kids will be at home taking online classes. That is a little bit worrisome as a coach because in person we can watch them and make sure they are going to class, doing what they are supposed to do. I can monitor them as much as I want on my phone, but it’s not the same. It’s a little bit of ownership they have to take, but I think we have a good core. But those are the things that worry me is losing guys’ eligibility or he gets back home and isn’t in the best environment or something like that. Hopefully all this passes, there’s nothing you can do about it. The whole country is dealing with it, so you just have to accept it and put your best foot forward. 

“Talk about this year’s class of recruits moving on to the next level and how they developed over time.” 

“It was a combination of guys that spent time there and it a couple of guys that no one had ever heard of. The No. 1 player in the country, Dre Butler, who was a defensive end for us had offers in the spring because he hadn’t played yet. But he was a basketball player in high school and he was one of those guys that came in the winter and did everything right, physically he’s a specimen. As far as our defense was concerned, every starting defensive player signed a Division I scholarship, which is unheard of. It was a combination of us having success, those kids being recruited in high school and those coaches being in different spots. Four of our kids went to Maryland, so that helped out a couple guys. Just the exposure the show creates, you can’t pay for that type of exposure. Our quarterback went to TCU and (is) having success. Going forward, we are able to go on the road and tell somebody that our entire starting defense went Division I, that’s a really good tool. And we won the conference, it’s a pretty good place to be right now. 

“What is your message to your athletes coming out of high school to help them accomplish their goals?” 

“You have to be realistic with what you are asking the kids to do, but also keep in mind the opportunity you present them. A lot of these guys were getting 15-20 offers coming out of high school, but they didn’t make it academically. So no one was talking to them anymore. You just have to let them know that dream is still within your grasp you just need to take a different route. I was never able to go to a Division I school as far as playing, but I was able to coach and have success. You’re never going to have the perfect route, just continue to persevere, do what you’re supposed to do and, whatever opportunity you have, make the most of it. I talk to them the most about, ‘Remember why you are here. You’re at a junior college to get to the next level, let’s not make a mistake about it. You’re at a junior college to move on to a Division I school. While we are here, you’re going to act right in the community, graduate and try to win football games.’ So if I’m going into a home talking to a parent or player that’s having a little bit of trouble, I tell him; Hey, don’t forget why you are here, you’re here to get out, mom wants to see you do well, somebody made sacrifices. So always keep the end goal in mind but trying to have some fun and improve as a person while. 

What separates ICC from other JUCO’s around the country from a winning standpoint but as a development standpoint?” 

“It’s a combination of things. You can’t hide the fact that Netflix exposure has helped us because when you go into a home and say The Last Chance U show people feel more comfortable sending their child 18 hours away from home. Then it’s basically developing a relationship with other coaches. When your able to have success and able to get people to the next level, now you have results and now you have a program and a tradition. I would say what we do well is we graduate our players. We treat them with respect and we have their best interest in mind. Our weight and condition program is top-notch. We get after it, it’s in the core of our players and coaches. We make the best of what we have and we get good support in the community, which helps create success. We have a good atmosphere on gamedays. 

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