When Gregory Junior’s name was called in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, with pick No. 197 overall, many Jacksonville Jaguars fans and NFL fans alike may have been surprised, as they may have been hearing Junior’s name for the first time in that moment.
However, the Jaguars believed in Junior — who played his college football at Ouachita Baptist University, a Division II program in Arkadelphia, Arkansas — and made the decision to spend a draft pick on the cornerback.
This past weekend, Junior officially began his career as a Jaguar. He participated in Jacksonville’s rookie minicamp, along with 41 other players.
While the pick may have been unexpected for casual viewers, for Junior and those close to him, it was a culmination of all of the hard work he put in throughout his football career and the pre-draft process. Junior, perhaps, had to work even harder to get noticed than prospects coming out of bigger schools.
“It’s a blessing, man,” Junior said after getting drafted by the Jaguars. “First off, I give all of it to God, man. He’s a true, living God. I’ve been through it all. It’s always been a dream, just an exciting moment for not just me, but for my family and my hometown, Crossett, Arkansas, and my school, Ouachita Baptist. I mean it’s just a blessing and it’s just the beginning.”
Certainly, Junior’s background is still relatively unknown by many Jaguars fans. With that in mind, Big Cat Country reached out to Ouachita Baptist Tigers head coach Todd Knight to learn more about who Junior is as a football player and a person, and to get educated on the university and its football program.
“I’m proud of Greg, and I’m proud of the tone he set in our program,” Knight said about Junior getting drafted by the Jaguars.
For some background, Ouachita (pronounced like “wash-a-taw” — “Just like you ‘wash’ your clothes,” according to Knight) Baptist competes at the Division II level in the Great American Conference. The Tigers compete in NCAA Division II’s Super Region Three.
Coach Knight, an Ouachita Baptist alum himself, took over the program in 1999 and enters his 24th year at the helm in 2022.
He has built a successful program, leading the Tigers to five Great American Conference championships (2011, 2014, 2017, 2018 and 2019), three undefeated regular seasons and several Division II playoff appearances. Additionally, seniors under Knight graduate at a 90 percent rate.
The Tigers won the GAC three out of the four years in which Junior was a starter. Ouachita did not compete during the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team finished 9-2 in 2021.
The football program has seen plenty of success under Knight. But as for the school itself, how would Knight describe Ouachita Baptist University?
“We’re a faith-based school,” Knight said. “What I mean by that — it is a private school — we’re the equivalent of a Baylor, is what we are. We’re just like a Baylor-type school...Baylor, the TCUs, the Wake Forests, that type of school. So faith-based institution, Baptist school, private school. So, you’ve go to go to class here and got to make your grades, that’s part of it, too — very, very good academics.”
Prior to taking over at Ouachita, Knight was the head coach at Delta State (Mississippi). Since joining the Tigers, Knight’s steady leadership and long tenure have led to the sustained success the Ouachita football program has enjoyed recently.
While Knight has had other opportunities brought to him throughout his career, he has chosen to stay in Arkadelphia and lead the Tigers for more than two decades.
“We’ve had opportunities (to go elsewhere), but it’s hard to leave a place where you have a chance to win, you believe in the academics, you believe in the overall purpose of the university — the faith-based education. You know, we’re about growing the total man — the mental, the spiritual, the physical — and it’s just been a great place to raise my family. I’m also a Ouachita graduate, and I played here as well.”
As for Junior, he was the first-ever player from Ouachita to be drafted into the NFL. The Tigers have had some undrafted free agents catch on with NFL teams in the past, more recently with tight end Phillip Supernaw (best known for his time with the Tennessee Titans) and wide receiver Julius Pruitt (Miami Dolphins). Pruitt currently serves as an assistant coach for Ouachita.
There have been players from Ouachita who have played professionally in the Canadian Football League (CFL) as well.
Ouachita’s most notable NFL alum, though, is safety Cliff Harris. He signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1970. Harris, who spent his entire career with the Cowboys, is a Pro Football Hall Of Famer and two-time Super Bowl Champion. In his honor, the Tigers currently play at Cliff Harris Stadium, which was built in 2014.
Junior has made history, though, as the only Ouachita alum who can say he was drafted to the NFL, and that is a big deal for the program.
Junior might have to adjust from playing at Cliff Harris Stadium, which holds under 6,000 people, to playing at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, which has a capacity of over 67,000 fans. But coming from Ouachita is important to Junior, and he doesn’t expect to be the last Tiger ever drafted, either.
“Just being able to represent Ouachita Baptist and the football program, I’m glad I’m the first person (to be drafted),” Junior said. “Hopefully there’ll be many more to come.”
Knight, who continually mentioned how proud he was of Junior, knows it is a benefit and future recruiting tool for his football program as well.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it (that Junior being drafted puts Ouachita football more into the national spotlight),” Knight said. “I think Greg Junior has added to the legacy of some of these other (UDFAs), but he was the first one drafted. I don’t how many Division Two players were drafted (this year), but it wasn’t many. When you look at that, I think that says a lot about our recruiting and our program.”
For those who are curious, there were five Division II players drafted in total in 2022.
Starting at the beginning, Knight knew right away that Junior was a player he wanted on his team.
Ouachita mainly targets in-state recruits first, and Junior, who played at Crossett High School in Arkansas, was on the staff’s radar early. The Tigers also recruit Texas and Louisiana heavily, but want to primarily build the roster through the talent in Arkansas. Knight praises the job recruiting coordinator (and offensive line/tight ends coach) Brett Shockley has done for Ouachita.
Coach Knight and his staff first noticed Junior during his sophomore year of high school, and started recruiting him heavily once he reached 11th grade.
Knight says that Junior is a “good student.” Junior graduated from Ouachita this past December with a 3.6 grade point average. On the field, Junior was an All-Great American Conference selection in 2021, but off the field, he was an academic all-conference player as well.
“This type of school (Ouachita Baptist) was attractive to (Junior) because he knew what an academic degree can do for you from Ouachita,” Knight said. “So the recruiting process was easy (with him).
“We brought in a lot of people he already knew because the Arkansas kids and north Louisiana kids and East Texas kids, they kind of all know each other. So, the old guys recruit each other, recruit the young guys, and it’s just kind of turned into a really nice recruiting situation for us.”
As for getting on the field, Junior immediately earned playing time for the Tigers. As a true freshman in 2017, Junior appeared in 10 games, recording 14 tackles and three pass break-ups.
“It didn’t take long (for Junior to find his footing in college) because he can run and jump with anyone in the country, at any level,” Knight said. “He’s powerful and he’s strong. And the other thing about Greg Junior, he’s smart. And I’ll tell you what, DBs take a bad rap sometimes, but you’ve got to be intelligent to play in the secondary. I mean, especially with what everybody’s doing on offense right now (with the passing game).
“Greg, he’s a smart player. He’s got a high football IQ. And then you put that with his explosiveness, he’s a good player. And immediately, he was a special teams gem (for us). And he will be at that (NFL) level, too.”
As a senior in 2021, Junior recorded 46 tackles, three tackles for loss and seven pass break-ups for the Tigers. Overall during his time at Ouachita, Junior recorded 128 tackles and one interception in 43 career games.
Of course, the biggest question mark for Junior is whether or not he can handle NFL wide receivers/skill players. There is obviously a huge jump from playing against Division II college football opponents, and then going up against the best football players on the planet in the NFL. Knight knows Junior will embrace the underdog mentality, though.
“Yeah, I think all my guys (who have played professional football) have a chip on their shoulder,” Knight said. “I think it’s about mentality. You know, that’s what’s been given to my guys, and they understand they’ve gotta earn it, it’s a grind. So I think that mentality has helped the guys before (Junior) and it’ll really help him, too.”
Junior didn’t get invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, but that didn’t stop him from impressing NFL scouts in other ways. There were 17 pro scouts at Ouachita’s pro day, which was directly due to Junior’s presence.
Coach Knight praised Jacksonville’s scouting department in particular, saying “they do a great job.”
Junior put up impressive numbers at his pro day, with a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, 18 bench press reps of 225 pounds, a 39.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-three-inch broad jump. He showed off his speed, explosion, strength and overall athleticism.
Greg Junior was drafted with pick 197 of round 6 in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 8.87 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 228 out of 2001 CB from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/4r7geFqB4O #RAS #Jaguars pic.twitter.com/7lK4sWTV5C— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 30, 2022
It took more than just an impressive workout at his pro day to get drafted, though. Junior’s résumé was about as good as you could hope for from a Division II program. He not only dominated the competition he faced there, but he also got invited to Senior Bowl and NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) Bowl, among others.
It was those opportunities where Junior proved he could compete with Division I athletes.
“(Junior) gets invites to, I think, three or four different bowl games, but naturally the Senior Bowl was the granddaddy. He also went to the NFLPA bowl practices. He didn’t play (in the NFLPA Bowl game), but he practiced. And I think that really helped him because people were saying, ‘Hey, we need to see you against Division One competition.’ That’s all they kept saying — ‘We’ve got to see you at a high level.’ A lot of people don’t realize how good Division Two is.
“Him going to the NFLPA practices before the Senior Bowl, I think was very helpful. I think Greg would tell you that, too. And I think he really started to shine there. He started to get very confident — ‘Hey, I can play with these guys. I’m just as athletic. I can do it.’ Then he went to the Senior Bowl and climbed the ladder there, too. He was covering some of the best players in the country.”
Junior showed off his special teams prowess at the Senior Bowl, too. He made the tackle on the opening kickoff during the game. If Junior earns a roster spot in Jacksonville, his special teams ability will be crucial.
No matter if a rookie is coming from a Division I powerhouse program, a Division II school or elsewhere, there is going to be an adjustment period for that player in the NFL. No player comes into the NFL as a complete prospect. Knight knows Junior has things to work on in his game at the next level, but the important thing is getting the experience, both mentally and physically.
“I mean, there’s not a guy out there that doesn’t have a weakness,” Knight said. “Everybody’s got something, and for Greg, it’s going to be experience, and a lot of people are going to say for him, it’s playing against the elite players.”
The questions about Junior’s competition level in college aren’t going to cease until he proves he can play with the top talent in the NFL. Knight knows this comes with the territory when you come out of a program like Ouachita, but that certainly doesn’t mean Junior can’t be a solid professional football player.
“No, we didn’t play, Alabama,” Knight remarked. “So, I think him getting experience early on, and (Jacksonville’s coaches) really bringing him in to develop him, I think that’s going to be critical. And I think that’s what they’ll do. They’ll probably try to work him hard on special teams, maybe in a nickel package, things like that, and try to get his feet wet and get him ready. And I know they can’t wait forever, but, I think they’ve got a good plan for Greg Junior and I think Greg’s ready to attack this thing.”
As for the cornerback’s strengths, Knight says Junior is a good tackler (but can always improve there), has great feet and has great ball skills. He also says Junior is good in his backpedal out of his stance and has the ability to break on the ball and make plays. All of this is in addition to Junior’s previously mentioned high football IQ and athleticism.
Knight credits Ouachita’s defensive backs coach Dionte Dean, along with defensive coordinator Roy Thompson Jr., for Junior’s development.
“I think he’s further along than a lot of people may give him credit for,” Knight said about Junior.
As for whether or not Knight believed Junior would be the first Ouachita Tiger to get drafted into the NFL, Knight began to get more confident as the pre-draft process went on. He knew Junior had the talent and work ethic, but it is rare for Division II players to get selected, so nothing was certain.
“It was a combination of people to make me think he was going to get drafted,” Knight said. “I knew he had a great senior year, but it’s still hard to get drafted (as a Division Two player). He had a great career, but it’s still tough. But, I talked to pro scouts who I trust, and I’ve got a good relationship with his agent as well.
“You know, a lot of Division One players, they can go in and have a great combine, and they’re done. I mean, they run, they jump, they do everything really well, they lift, it’s a one-day deal. If they do great there, they’re probably going to get drafted.
“For Greg Junior, he had to show résumé: NFLPA practice, Senior Bowl practice and game, Ouachita combine in front of 17 scouts. This deal is not a fluke. So once he was battle-tested in three different arenas, I mean, I was starting to get pretty confident about it. And so were some of the pro scouts, telling me that they really felt like he was a fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round guy, for sure — worst case scenario. And it started making me be more confident about it. But of course you don’t ever know until draft day.”
When asked about Junior off the field, Knight praised Junior’s leadership, but noted that he isn’t really a “rah-rah” guy. Instead, Junior does everything the right way and his teammates take notice.
“(Junior) was more of a leader by example until his senior year when he was more vocal,” Knight said. “I mean — even in special teams and meetings, speaking up, asking questions and really trying to help coach the young guys — I think he kind of transformed into that. He’s not a loud guy by any means. He’s not one of those guys who’s going to be boisterous, but he’s a good communicator and he’s a good leader, and I think when he says something, people listen to him.”
As for how Knight sees the rookie’s season going, he believes Junior will make Jacksonville’s active 53-man roster. He sees Junior carving out an immediate role on the special teams units, but also expects him to add depth in the secondary as the team’s fifth cornerback.
The Jaguars had a clear theme during the 2022 NFL Draft — selecting high-character players. Junior fits that bill.
“I think (Junior) will flourish (in the NFL),” Knight said. “The thing I would say about his character, too, Greg doesn’t have a lot of hobbies. I mean, his hobbies are lifting, running and studying the game. He’s not a party guy. He’s football player and he’s got high character.
“You’re not going to read about him in the paper, or see him doing something crazy on social media. This guy’s got his head on right. He’s going to make good decisions and the team will be first.”