In his state of the profession press conference last month, AFCA executive director Todd Berry warned of a future where teams did not recruit high school players, instead living exclusively off the transfer portal. This, Berry said, would be bad for players and the sport in general since statistics show players who transfer are less likely to graduate, but it'd be shrewd roster-building for coaches, since all transfers would have exercised their one-time transfer exception in joining their roster, thus locking them in for the duration of their college careers.
That future is not some middle-distant worry for two to three years from now. In fact, one school is already trying it.
Texas State has, to date, not signed a single high school recruit in its 2021 recruiting class.
The Bobcats have announced five additions thus far -- offensive lineman Charles Fletcher (a graduate transfer via NC State), defensive back Eric Sutton (SMU), defensive lineman DeOnte Washington (Independence CC), and defensive back Troy Lefeged, Jr. (Utah State). The team's 247 page lists seven additional transfers not yet announced by the university -- wide receiver Jeremiah Hawkins (Cal), guard Liam Dobson (Maine), quarterback Ty Evans (NC State), defensive tackle Nick McCann (Texas Tech), cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams (Vanderbilt), outside linebacker DeMarrquese Hayes (Kansas State), and guard Kaimana Wa'a (Hawai'i).
Part of this, surely, is circumstantial. The pandemic forced the NCAA into pausing each player's eligibility, so the Bobcats' 2020 freshman class will also be their 2021 freshman class. This one-year pause also makes it a particularly advantageous time to add transfers, since a third-year sophomore could arrive to his new school with three years of college football under his belt and three more still to play.
The one-year pause also placed a squeeze on Texas State's roster. The NCAA paused all 11,000-odd FBS scholarship players' eligibility for the 2020 season, but the 85-man limit is still the 85-man limit. Only returning seniors will not count toward that hard-and-fast number. (Counterpoint: Sun Belt rival App State signed 23 high school recruits and four transfers.)
But a lot of Texas State's emphasis on transfer is purely intentional. The Bobcats are 5-19 in head coach Jake Spavital's two seasons, and they approached recruiting in 2021 with an eye toward players that can help them win this fall.
"You're not going to get a developmental kid in the transfer portal. You're going to get a kid that adds to (your) size and depth to be ready to play immediately," he said Wednesday, while pointing specifically toward the trenches.
Another aspect of this strategy, I think, is informed by the Texas State coaching staff's own college experiences. Transferring is more common to the college experience than coaches or administrators would like to admit, and the Bobcats' staff's histories prove it.
Spavital himself played at Missouri State but served as a GA at three different universities. He once joked at the AFCA GA forum he had more hours toward a graduate degree without receiving said degree than anyone else in higher education.
Defensive coordinator Zac Spavital played at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Murray State. Offensive coordinator Jacob Peeler played at Holmes Community College and Louisiana Tech. Tight ends coach Brian Hamilton played college football at two schools, outside linebackers coach Tevin Mims played at four.
Each of those coaches had to move around before they found the right place for them, and so it's possible their own experiences tell them transferring isn't something to be feared, but an opportunity to embrace in the right circumstances.
The transfer portal and the coming one-time exception are now phenomena, but past history shows us that living off transfers is the equivalent of living off a diet of Red Bull and honey buns -- it'll charge you up in the short term, but your stomach will punish you for it sooner or later.
Transfers beget transfers. None of the players Texas State signed in 2021 will help them in 2024 and so, with fewer-than-normal veterans around in 2023 and '24, Spavital is placing Texas State on a carousel that's difficult to leave. Just ask Kansas, who is still trying to crawl out of the hole Charlie Weis dug them seven seasons ago.
In the meantime, though, it'll be interesting to watch Spavital and Texas State ride this carousel as long as they can.