The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Still think “JUCO” football is “Last Chance U?” For whatever reason, there is still a stigma attached to playing sports at the community college level. Many student-athletes — and their parents — think junior-college athletics is beneath them. They clutch their pearls when they think of their child going to a two-year school.

The negative connotations surrounding community college football were further ingrained with the Netflix series “Last Chance U,” in which a film crew followed one junior college team for an entire season. Laney College-Oakland was featured in Season 2.

The reality is, for many JUCO athletes, community college athletics is simply a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Take the College of San Mateo football team, for example. On Wednesday, CSM defensive lineman Noah Lavulo, who wrecked shop during his time at Burlingame, announced on Twitter he has signed with San Jose State. That offer wasn’t there for him out of high school. Ryan Cooper, a sophomore defensive back who won a state championship with Wilcox-Santa Clara in 2018, announced he signed to continue his education and play football at Oregon State. At about the same time, Mason Starling, a sophomore wide receiver for the Bulldogs from Rainier Beach High School in Tacoma, Washington, announced he had signed with Cal.

CSM defensive back Noah Rodriguez, a sophomore out of Milpitas, and De’Aundre Cruz, a linebacker from Guam, both signed with State University New York-Stony Brook. Tre Hines, a sophomore wide receiver from Dublin, signed with University of Buffalo; Anthony Lamphere, a tight end from St. Francis, signed with University of Memphis.

You get my point. The list will grow — for both players from CSM and other community colleges around the nation.

Not everyone is ready for the rigors of four-year college — whether as simply a student or a student-athlete — right out of high school. Community college allows both types of students the chance to get exposed to the college lifestyle and how to navigate through it. I spent two years at a community college before going off to get my degree at a four-year school. I qualified for a four-year out of high school and spent one semester at a small private school before “bouncing back” to the JC level. It was there that I found my passion for journalism.

For many junior college athletes, it’s not the last chance, it’s the first chance and it’s up to the athlete to grab it.