When you are going to make a trip of more than 1,200 miles from home, it is nice to have a traveling companion along for the ride and headed to the same destination.
For that reason, among others, when Camden High head football coach Brian Rimpf was selling senior linemen Javaris Holliday and Derrick Leonard to college recruiters, he admitted to trying to sell the two 290-pounders --- who play on opposite sides of the football --- as a ‘two-‘fer.’
All parties got what they were looking for when Hutchinson Community College in Kansas signed Holliday and Leonard to National Letters of Intent during a ceremony held inside the Camden High School library. They will be the first two Bulldogs to play junior college football in Kansas since former CHS defensive tackle Darrius Clark headed to Coffeyville Junior College which led to his signing with MEAC entry Bethune-Cookman.
Both Holliday and Leonard hope to follow a similar path by signing with a Division I program in two years. To do that, the vehicle will be Hutchinson Junior College.
“It’s a comfort for those two and, it’s also a comfort level for us coaches. We kind of wanted a package deal for those two guys,” said Rimpf, who guided the Bulldogs to an 8-4 season and into the second round of the AAA playoffs in 2018.
“Kansas is a long way from home and both these guys aren’t nervous about leaving home. We feel that they will succeed out there. The likelihood of them succeeding increases with both of them out there. Hopefully, they will be roommates or, live close by each other in the dorm and will hold themselves accountable.
“We think it’s going to be a good deal for them. Those coaches at Hutchinson really look out for their guys and a lot of their players have signed with Division I schools.”
Coached by Rion Rhoades, who is entering his 14th season at the helm, the Blue Dragons are one of the nation’s top junior college programs. This past season, they ranked eighth in the final National Junior College Athletic Association football poll.
Hutchinson also has a strong track record for placing its players in four-year programs. Two Blue Dragon alums, --- Cordarrelle Patterson, a Rock Hill native who played at Tennessee, and Gerald Everett, who played at UAB --- met in the Super Bowl LIII with Patterson’s New England Patriots defeating Everett and the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta.
Leonard, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound offensive tackle who was selected to and played in the inaugural Columbia Metro Bowl in December, said going to school and playing alongside Holliday will be nothing new for him.
“We’ve been friends since elementary school and his dad and my dad are friends. It’s nice to have somebody out there who I know,” he said.
Holliday is a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive end who was selected to and played for the North teams in the Touchstone Energy North-South All-Star game played at Coastal Carolina University in December. A cousin of former CHS and NFL defensive end Vonnie Holliday, this past season, Javaris saw time in the wildcat position behind center when Camden went to its “rhino” package. He ran for three touchdowns while adding a two-point conversion run as a senior. He did not attempt a pass even though he said there was a play which called for him to throw the ball in the heavy set in which linemen and linebackers were sent into the offensive backfield on short-yardage situations.
“That was one of the highlights of my high school career. Getting touchdowns period, that’s a big man’s dream,” Holliday said of his time taking snaps, an idea which he said started one day at practice.
“We were just messing around in practice and we were trying new stuff. I can throw the ball real well and I would throw it before practice. The coaches saw that I could handle myself back there and they just threw me back there one day at practice.
“I wanted to throw it but they never gave me the shot,” he added with a smile.
Rimpf does not expect Holliday to attempt a pass at Hutchinson, either. He did say that his two-year starter is a talented defensive player who can play on the edge or, in the middle of the line.
“In a four-down defense, Javaris will be an inside guy, a nose, a three-technique guy. In a three-down defense, he can play any of those three positions,” Rimpf said. “Everybody is multiple these days with four-down and three-down packages.
“Javaris is still growing. He still has some baby fat on him … he’s baby-faced and he has room to mature.”
While Holliday went from a defensive player to seeing time on offense last fall, Leonard went in the other direction. He started his Bulldog varsity career as a defensive lineman. When injuries thinned things on the offensive line, Leonard made the switch to playing on that side of the football. He never looked back on that move.
“I wanted to tackle people but I wasn’t that big and I wanted to start so, I went to offensive line and I started the past two years. It was better for me. I flowed right into it,” he said. “I played left tackle and right tackle. I just got bigger, faster and stronger in the weight room. On the field, I just tried to be dominating every game that I played and tried to do my best.”
With the help of time spent in the weight room, Leonard transformed his body. He added more than 30 pounds to his frame and quickly became a staple along the offensive front line.
“Give credit to our coaches. We had Derrick on the defensive line and then, we had an injury on the offensive line and, by necessity, we moved him over to offensive line,” Rimpf said. “Coach (offensive line coach Louis) Clyburn said, ‘This is where he needs to be. He’s pretty good at it.’
“He was right. Two years later, Derrick started every game for us and made it into an all-star game. He played pretty well.”
Saying Leonard “looks the part of an offensive tackle” and proud of the work he did to get to this day, Rimpf said Leonard has a high ceiling at the next level.
“Derrick has really changed his body. He got bigger and a lot stronger; all that helps you on the field,” he said. “Height is a big deal (for college coaches and offensive linemen.) Derrick’s tall and colleges want tackles to be tall. Derrick is 6-foot-4 with long arms.
“The college game has changed to where there is a lot more passing so you have to be a good pass protector. He moves run and runs well for a guy almost 290 pounds.
“His lack of experience at the position is something he has to work on and will be something those coaches will work with him on. He’s able to be molded. He doesn’t have a lot of bad habits. Coach Clyburn did a good job with him and taught him the right way to do things. He’s a guy who can really improve in college as his body continues to develop and as he gets more comfortable with the game.”
For Holliday, things changed when he was a junior and he continued on his upward trend this past season. He admitted that he became serious about football after his sophomore year and was a man on a mission to change everything about himself.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Javaris, as a person, but our coaches deserve a lot of credit, too, Rimpf said. “Coach (Earl) Chaptman running the defense and coach (Joey) Hendrix coming in last year as a defensive line coach helped him. Coach Hendrix has been a tremendous mentor. Javaris was a guy coach Hendrix took under his wing, saw the potential in him and told him what he could be and Javaris responded.
“Our coaches all have had a role in Javaris’ success. The light turned on for him and it was a great and successful transition for him.”
Hutchinson, Rimpf said, will help both Holliday and Leonard on the field and with their schoolwork. “Javaris was highly recruited and is going to Hutchinson to get better both on the field and in the classroom. He may be looking at a Division I scholarship when it’s all said and done,” he said.
In Holliday’s case, he was someone who attracted attention from several four-year programs only to need seasoning with his schoolwork. Leonard, by virtue of his position shift, could be considered a late bloomer.
“It was the best situation for me and I just wanted to get away from Camden for awhile,” Holliday said of his decision which came after both he and Leonard meeting with HCC co-defensive coordinator/linebacker coach Nathan Powell, who recruits the region for the Blue Dragons. Last season, Hutchinson listed four players from the Carolinas on a roster which is made up, primarily, of players from the Southeast.
“I met coach Powell, the linebacker coach at Hutchinson. He’s a pretty cool dude,” Leonard said when asked the reasons for his final decision to attend Hutchinson. “A lot of other schools didn’t notice me when I put my film out there. Hutchinson reached out to me and coach Rimpf reached out to them.”
Sending players to four-year programs and, in several cases to the NFL, was one of the selling points for Holliday. “That played a big part in it. The proof is in the pudding, basically. If they can do it, I can do it, too,” he said.
Holliday and Leonard admitted to being a tad nervous on signing day. Both young men now have a path designed to get them where they want to go in the near future.
“This is a very big day,” Leonard said after signing his paper with Hutchinson. “I hope I can go D-I and then, to the NFL, from there.”
“I just wanted to make my mom proud. She’s going through a lot right now and I don’t want to be a burden to her,” Holliday of his focus.
“I want to go to a Division I college. Signing today … it’s a relief. I’m not going to let nothing hold me back.”