High-profile transfers enjoying second chance at RMU, Duquesne
By John Harris
Published: Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 10:24 p.m.
The Duquesne-Robert Morris contest at the Colonials' Joe Walton Stadium is more than a showdown for local bragging rights. It's a redemption game for several players.
Local high school standouts Dorian Bell (Gateway) and Chavas Rawlins (Monessen) transferred to Duquesne, while Paul Jones (Sto-Rox) transferred to Robert Morris. Their original college choices were, in order, Ohio State, West Virginia and Penn State.
Another transfer, Duquesne junior defensive back Chris Johnson, played in 26 games in two seasons at Florida. A Florida native, Johnson chose the Gators over multiple offers, including Louisville, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. He is tied with Bell for fourth on the team in tackles.
Bell, a legitimate NFL prospect who led Duquesne in tackles in 2012, was the third-ranked outside linebacker in the country by Rivals.com. When Bell decided to transfer despite being one of the most-heralded recruits in Ohio State's 2009 class, he chose an FCS school located a few minutes from his home church.
“I talked it over with a couple people. They threw Duquesne in there. I really didn't know Duquesne was here — for real,” said Bell, a senior who left Ohio State after being suspended in 2011 for violating team rules. “They gave me the opportunity. It was the right choice to make.”
Robert Morris was the right landing spot for Jones following two frustrating seasons at Penn State. Unhappy after being switched to tight end, Jones — ranked No. 2 nationally among high school quarterbacks his senior year by Scout.com — wanted to play quarterback again. He now attends a school about 10 minutes from his home.
In five starts this season, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound junior has completed just under half of his passes for 987 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
“Paul went to Penn State as a highly recruited quarterback, but they wanted to make him a tight end,” Robert Morris coach Joe Walton said. “There's some kids that D-I schools make mistakes on. That's why when you say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, well, not always.”
Rawlins not only transferred to a smaller school, he also traded positions, moving from quarterback to receiver before playing a game. Enrolling early at West Virginia after considering, among others, Cincinnati, Duke, Illinois, Nebraska and Tennessee, he transferred to Duquesne after WVU quarterback coach Jake Spavital unexpectedly departed for Texas A&M. It was a busy summer for Rawlins, who also experienced the birth of his son.
“His perspective is unbelievable,” Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt said. “He comes from Monessen, goes to the big school — West Virginia — and enrolls early when he's only 17. And then with everything going on in his life, including the birth of his child, he changes positions. When I talked to Chavas and sat him down probably a week and a half into camp, he said, ‘I'll do anything to help the team.' ”
Bell, Jones and Johnson now start for their respective. Rawlins, the lone freshman of the group, has appeared in four games with one reception for 4 yards and one carry for 3 yards.
“I had the opportunity to play at Ohio State, and I screwed it up. I didn't follow team rules coach (Jim) Tressel had. That spring I was supposed to start, but I was suspended. I wouldn't say I chose the wrong place, but if I had it to do all over again, I would stay home and go someplace locally where my family was. I would take my time and really think about where I wanted to play football. I made that decision fast, not really thinking about what I had going on in the future, like with my son. A smaller school isn't a bad thing at all. It's going from 110,000 fans to a couple thousand fans, but why not? I had to make it work.”
“The best fit for me was Robert Morris. I have a lot of friends that go here. A lot of my teammates here I have known since high school. I didn't mind playing tight end at Penn State. At the same time, I wanted to go somewhere I could get a shot at my dream of playing quarterback. There was some D-I interest from a couple schools down south and out west. They were all options to play quarterback, but it came down to where I wanted to be. I'm happy at Robert Morris. I definitely feel like I've made strides to become a better quarterback.”
“Transferring was tough because of all the paperwork, looking for a new school. My son was born over the summer, so there was a whole bunch of different things going on. I didn't want to go too far away from home. I'm like 40 minutes from home now. Me and (Spavital) were close. We talked like every day when I was being recruited. It was pretty big when he wasn't there any more. He was pretty much the reason why I wanted to be there. I looked at Pitt (after leaving West Virginia), but they were full. I thought Duquesne would fit me better, so I came here. I'm liking it so far. No second thoughts.”
“I felt like I was kind of thrown into the fire at Florida and didn't get to really develop. You've got five-star and four-star guys everywhere. You get thrown in there, and you basically have one or two chances to do something. ... I remember one thing Louisville coach Charlie Strong said when he was recruiting me. He said you can be a big fish in a small pond if you come here. I would tell kids to take all their visits and do what is best for them and nobody else. ”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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