MILLEDGEVILLE, Georgia (GMC JC RELEASE) - The 2013 NJCAA Football National Championship will be decided on Dec. 8 in Biloxi, Miss., when No. 1 ranked Georgia Military College takes on No. 2 East Mississippi Community College.
This national championship game will have a distinctly local flavor for the GMC Bulldogs hoping to bring home their second national junior college crown.
This year's championship game features former central Georgia area high school standouts Donte Beckham (Baldwin County) and Taylor Payne (GMC Prep), who have made major contributions to the Bulldogs' 11-0 season and opportunity to play for a national title.
Other local players that have made an impact for GMC this season include: Maurice Martin (Dublin), Austin Christopher (Veterans) and Josh Abrams (Mount de Sales).
"We always look to the local area to see if there are some guys that can come in here and be successful," Bert Williams, GMC head coach and athletic director, said. "When we find guys locally that can help us get to the level we are this year, we do everything we can to give them that opportunity."
Beckham played for the Baldwin Braves and started most of the year at defensive back and punt returner for GMC. He tallied 40 total tackles, four passes broken up, one forced fumble and blocked one kick in the regular season.
The Baldwin County product loves his first year in the program. The JUCO level quickly taught a step it up mentality.
"You've got to be bigger, faster and stronger," Beckham said. "You've got to be focused and know what's going on the field the whole time."
Williams said after the third game, Beckham got comfortable making good decisions as the lead punt returner.
"Donte has done everything we've asked him to do. We've been very pleased," the GMC head coach said.
Payne, a former GMC Prep School player, has contributed to the Bulldogs' success this year with 31 tackles and a blocked kick in his freshman season.
The local standout adjusted well to the collegiate level of play; though, admits it was a struggle at first.
"There's a lot more competition, a lot more competition and practices are extremely hard," Payne said. "So, that was a big adjustment that I had to make."
GMC's cadet corps has made a meaningful impact.
"The same way they try to make us be a better person makes us a better football player," Beckham said.
Members of the football team at GMC are required to enroll in the SROTC training program, and this makes a significant difference.
"One of the big reasons for our continued success is the training our student-athletes receive through their participation in the GMC Corps of Cadets. They have grooming and appearance standards, high expectations for their personal conduct, and are expected and trained to be men and women of character," Williams said. "We have a different approach, but it really pays off for our athletes."
Like Beckham, Payne agrees that the student-athlete experience at GMC is like no other.
"Football-wise, it helps me mentally and physically; dealing with the Cadet Corp has helped develop me into a man," he said. "It really makes you mentally tough, because the coaches stay on you all the time and it helps you push through things that you didn't think you could push through before."
Having played for GMC Prep for four years before making the commitment to play for the Junior College, Payne's time at the Military School have paved the way for other Bulldogs coming through the program.
"I think I do have a big impact on them, just for the fact that we do have kids that go off and succeed," he said.
The JUCO level fields unmatched talent at multiple positions. This championship game will undoubtedly feature future NCAA and maybe NFL stars.
"Everybody out here was the best player on their high school team," Beckham said. "I love coming out here with the competition."
GMC's Payne believes that the Bulldogs have what it takes to take an explosive team like EMCC down in the National Championship on December 8.
"They have a good offense. They run a no-huddle offense, so they are going to make explosive plays, but that's with any team," Payne said. "I feel like our defense is going to challenge them in a way that they haven't been challenged all year. I feel like we're going to put pressure on them and show them what us 'Georgia' kids can do."
Being part of a national title contender means a lot to a Baldwin County player, who never tasted high school playoff success.
"My whole high school career, I haven't even been past the second round. It feels good to still be playing," Beckham said.