All Lucas Orchard could do was sit and watch in 2014 as many of the Coast’s top high school football players signed to play on the next level.
Even though the center was a member of the Sun Herald All-South Mississippi team as a senior at Vancleave, he was overlooked by nearly all the community colleges.
In 2017, Orchard will be fulfilling his dream of playing Division I football.
Orchard signed with Southeast Missouri State in December out of East Central Community College and is already enrolled in classes in Cape Girardeau.
He had the option of taking a scholarship offer from Division II Delta State, but the chance to play for the Redhawks in their season opener at Kansas on Sept. 2 was too much to pass up.
“It’s kind of that cliché chip on the shoulder,” Orchard said. “I want to get out there and prove myself and play at the highest level.”
The 5-foot-11, 280-pound Orchard will be looking for playing time at center for the Redhawks this year.
Orchard received his opportunity to continue playing football following high school after he took part in a tryout at ECCC in Decatur in the spring of his senior year. He earned a scholarship offer and started at left guard for the Warriors as a freshman.
As a sophomore, he transitioned back to his natural position at center and made second-team MACJC All-State as the Warriors finished 5-5 and won the MACJC South Division.
SEMO, which competes in the Ohio Valley Conference, is very active recruiting the junior college ranks in Mississippi. Orchard was one of nine players who either attended high school or junior college in Mississippi who signed with SEMO for the class of 2017.
Orchard also received some help at SEMO from returning starting quarterback Jesse Hosket, a French Camp native who played with Orchard at ECCC in 2015.
“They really liked my tenacity,” Orchard said of the ECCC staff. “They were trying to get tougher on the O-line. They liked all I brought to the table.
“What really sold me is they play Kansas the first game of the year. I would love to compete at the highest level. It’s a great opportunity to do that, but I was torn between here and Delta State.”
The journey from unsigned high school player to Division I football signee has been quite the journey for Orchard, a cerebral lineman who hopes to get into coaching after he completes his college career.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” he said. “I felt like I was a pretty good player, but I was kind of overlooked for my size. There aren’t many 5-10, 5-11, 280-pound centers. That’s what held me back.
“Again, it was the chip-on-my-shoulder kind of thing. I got passed up on by local junior colleges and had to travel three hours from my house to play. But that pushed me. We won (a division title at ECCC) for the first time in over 45 years this year and we went 8-3 in my first year. We weren’t traditionally very good, but we made the playoffs both years.”