08/22/11 — FOOTBALL TAB -- Raiford happy with Tusculum

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FOOTBALL TAB -- Raiford happy with Tusculum

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on August 22, 2011 1:47 PM

The timeline of Desmond Raiford's football career is long and winding.

It took another turn over the summer when the Southern Wayne alum decided to take his talents to Tusculum (Tenn.) College to play out his final two years of collegiate eligibility.

Raiford joined the Pioneers this week for fall practice and completed a lifelong dream of playing football at a premier college.

"Tusculum provided me with a great opportunity," Raiford said. "Now I have to go in there and contribute and show that I was the right guy for them."

Raiford's football odyssey began as a freshman at Southern Wayne where he quickly caught the eye of the Saints coaching staff, including assistant coach Jeremy Joyner. Standing over six feet tall and tipping the scales at 200 pounds, Raiford was a huge physical specimen for a 15-year old.

During his four years in Dudley, Raiford learned how to use his size and his surprisingly quick feet to dominate opposing offensive linemen. By the time he was a senior, teams were content running to the opposite side of the field depending on where Raiford lined up.

"He was a force for us from the linebacker spot," Joyner said. "He was quick enough to get around the big offensive linemen and strong enough to run through the smaller guys."

Despite his on-field success and obvious physical prowess, Raiford struggled with immaturity issues and was known for his confrontational sideline demeanor.

A trip to the West Coast helped change all that.

After graduating high school Raiford narrowed his college offers and eventually selected West Hills Junior College in Coalinga, California. Moving 3,000 miles from home forced Raiford to grow up in a hurry.

"Looking back I think going to California was the best decision I could have made," Raiford said. "I grew up a lot out there and I really found myself. I learned who Desmond Raiford really was as a man."

Playing under head coach Cal Tincher was an experience that helped Raiford prepare for the next step in his football career. After a solid sophomore season in 2010, Raiford again weighed his offers and decided to make a formal commitment to Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. Less than a month later, he found out that he would not qualify academically at Delta State due to the school's policy on transferring credit hours.

Raiford's options were to sit out a season and wait until his senior year to suit up for the Statesmen, or find another school that would allow him to transfer in and play as a junior.

"I had to take a step back and make another decision," Raiford said. "But the offer from Tusculum was out there and I got excited once I saw what kind of team they had. Once I got to talk to the coaches it was a done deal."

Raiford will join a Pioneers squad that is picked to finish fourth in the South Atlantic Conference and received two first-place votes in the annual preseason poll. Head coach Frankie DeBusk has built a winning tradition that includes winning seasons in seven of the last nine years. A former assistant coach at UT-Chattanooga, DeBusk boasts championship experience and NFL connections.

"Coach DeBusk knows a lot of guys that have made it in the NFL," Raiford said. "Guys like Terrell Owens and Ricardo Colclough. He knows what it takes to get to that level."

Raiford is competing for an outside linebacker position during the Pioneers' fall camp. The ability to play all three facets of the position is one of his biggest advantages over some of the squads' younger players. Raiford is capable in coverage, a good run stopper and an excellent pass rusher off the edge. He compared his skill set to Baltimore Raven pro-bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs.

"Coming in with the experience I have from junior college I think is a big," Raiford said. "I played against a lot of quality guys out there, and I used that time to get bigger and to get better."

Since leaving Southern Wayne, Raiford has bulked up to a stout 260 pounds on his 6-foot, 2-inch frame. He hopes his body will hold up during the rigorous two-a-day practice schedule that the Pioneers go through in August.

Tusculum opens the regular season at home Sept. 3 against West Georgia.