MORGANTOWN - There was a time when Shawntel Rowell didn't think too highly of major college football players.
There was a time when he was envious of the way such players were just given the things he had to earn as a junior college player. A time when he wondered if they really had inside of them what he had inside of him, when he was upset the only thing they had that he did not was what ultimately separated them.
Rowell, a jolly big man who goes by "Shaq" and plays the defensive line for West Virginia, was headed to the big time in 2008. He played very well at Cleveland's Glenville High and was bound for The Ohio State University, which is what you called it if you were from Ohio and aspired to be one of the Buckeyes.
Rowell committed and signed on national signing day, but didn't have the right combination of grade point average and ACT score to get into the place he'd dreamed about as a kid, a big kid who sometimes approached 360 pounds.
His consolation was a spot on the Iowa Western Community College roster, not too far from the University of Iowa, where his older and smaller brother, Chris, played cornerback.
"I used to think Division I guys were spoiled because of the things we had to go through in junior college," Rowell said.
There are no free rides in junior college. You pay for your cleats and your gloves. You can't point to a rulebook and complain when you're going through the fifth straight day of two-a-days. You make your own meals. You make your own luck.
"It's pretty gruesome on your body," Rowell said. "You've got to be mentally tough to get through junior college. Either you want to do it or you don't."
Rowell wanted to do it. He saw what Chris was doing with the Hawkeyes and wondered what he might be doing with the Buckeyes. Very good players surrounded him in junior college, nine of which went to Division I schools.
Not fringe programs, either. They went to Iowa and Rutgers, Ole Miss and Baylor. In one season, Rowell controlled the middle, made 32 tackles and eight for a loss, had two sacks, forced a fumble and helped the Reivers to a 9-2 record, a No. 11 final ranking and a spot in the national semifinal.
From the same defensive line, Jared Ebert signed with Oregon and Lenard Williams signed with Washington State.
"Being here, it's almost like I'm playing with the same kind of guys," said Rowell, who was at Iowa Western for 18 months, but still earned his associate degree and has three years to play three seasons with the Mountaineers, which is a rarity for junior college transfers.