The NCAA Transfer Portal has become common platitude for college football fans in the 2+ years since it’s formation, and West Virginia fans know it well. Although transfers have always been a thing in collegiate athletics, the Transfer Portal has seemingly turned into a new recruiting source for coaches across the country.
WVU has benefited from it with the additions of Tony Fields, Sean Ryan, Alonzo Addae, George Campbell and Scottie Young, to name a few. But the portal has also taken away quality talent as well, with Josh Sills, JoVanni Stewart, and Derek Pitts leaving to join other programs. It has been stated ad nauseum, but over the past year, WVU leads the NCAA in transfers. That’s extremely frustrating for fans. However, not all players leave because they’ve had bad experiences with coaches; much of the time it’s based on playing time (or lack thereof) or their talent level not being high enough to compete at a Power 5 university.
Of the 20+ players that have transferred from WVU since the beginning of 2021, 9 have found homes at another FBS school. Below is an update on these former Mountaineers to see how they’ve adapted to their new situations:
Jeffrey Pooler (Defensive End – Northwestern University): During his time at WVU, Pooler was a rotational defensive lineman, and a quality one at that. In 2019 and 2020, Pooler played in a combined 17 games, racking up 12 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. He unexpectedly decided to transfer to Northwestern University as a graduate transfer in April 2021. Pooler’s decision looks like the right one as he ended up playing the 2nd most snaps of Northwestern’s group of defensive ends. However, Pooler stats remained similar to his production in 2019 and 2020, finishing the regular season with 25 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, and 3.5 sacks.
Dreshun Miller (Cornerback – Auburn University): Dreshun’s journey is an interesting case of when the transfer portal goes wrong. Miller came to WVU after being ranked as the #3 overall corner and 10th best overall in the JUCO ranks. That talent translated to the field as he started 9 games for the Mountaineers and received a very solid overall rank of 73.0 from PFF. Many speculated that had Miller returned to WVU and built off his 2020 season, it was likely that he would have heard his name called in the NFL draft after the 2021 season. However, that seems unlikely now; Miller has only seen 5 total snaps during his first season at Auburn.
Tykee Smith (Defensive Back – Georgia University): Tykee was dominant in his two years at WVU. He had over 110 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 4 interceptions, and 9 pass deflections over his Freshman and Sophomore years. Additionally, he was named freshman All-American, All-Big 12 Honorable Mention, All-America First Team, 2nd team All-American, and All-Big 12 First Team during his short time in Morgantown. It was a big loss to the WVU secondary when Tykee announced his transfer to Georgia, presumably following his former defensive backs coach at WVU, Jahmille Addae. However, his career as a Bulldog was derailed by an injury that caused him to miss the first 5 games of the season. Then after getting healthy, he tore his ACL, which ended his inaugural season with Georgia. All in all, Smith recorded just 7 defensive snaps, and he will be redshirting for his Junior year. I would not be surprised to see Tykee return to form next season with one of the top defenses in all of college football.
Alec Sinkfield (Running Back – Boston College): Sinkfield had a tough situation at WVU, joining the program in the same class as Leddie Brown. He saw playing time as a change of pace back in 20 games his Sophomore and Junior seasons before deciding to try his luck elsewhere. He ultimately decided to join the Boston College Eagles for his Senior year. He did see his snap rate increase, but his stats remained similar to his Junior year with the Mountaineers, finishing with 350 yards rushing (25 more than his Junior year at WVU), 2 TDs (one less), and 6 yards receiving (49 yards less).
Briason Mays (Center – Southern Mississippi): Another player stuck behind an elite starter. Mays joined WVU in 2018, and redshirted his Freshman year. His redshirt Freshman year, he started 7 games at center and showed promise as a long term fixture, finishing 3 games without a missed assignment. However, the next year Zach Frazier arrived, took the starting center job and never looked back. Mays ultimately decided to transfer to Southern Mississippi, reuniting with former WVU backup quarterback Trey Lowe. Mays ended up starting all 13 games for the Golden Eagles, primarily excelling in the run game with a PFF grade of 59.0.
Ali Jennings (Wide Reciever – Old Dominion): A former Holgorsen recruit, big things were expected of Jennings coming out of high school. He seemed like one of the under the radar recruits that could thrive and develop into at least a good wide receiver in Holgorsen’s air raid system. However, he would never play a snap under Holgorsen. Jennings only was able to grab 26 receptions for 240 yards in his 2 seasons as a Mountaineers, losing snaps to a deep and talented core of receivers. It seems like Jennings has found a place to call home in Old Dominion. This season, he put up 914 yards and 5 touchdowns, which is more than any other receiver on WVU put up this season. That’s not to say he would have a similar season against Big 12 competition, but with Isaiah Esdale and Sam Brown transferring, Jennings would definitely have a role in this offense somewhere had he stayed at WVU.
Bryce Brand (Linebacker – Bowling Green): Bryce Brand was technically a Mountaineer despite not seeing much playing time during his brief time at WVU. Brand started his career at Maryland, playing 3 seasons there before deciding to transfer to WVU. However, after less than one year on the team, he decided to move on. Brand joined the Bowling Green Falcons for his Senior year and saw playing time in 9 of Bowling Green’s 12 games, accounting for 30 total tackles to go with 3 tackles for a loss.
Charlie Benton (Linebacker – UAB): Charlie Benton’s career looked bright for the Mountaineers. Benton earned a starting linebacker job after joining the team from Butler Community College, a junior college in Kansas. However, he suffered a season ending knee injury in the opening game against Tennesse, and saw minimal playing time in the two subsequent seasons. Benton hoped to get his career back on track at UAB, and in some aspects, he did. While he didn’t earn a starting spot, he did see significantly more work as a reserve than he did at WVU, playing in 9 games and accumulating 21 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss to close out his redshirt Senior year.
Austin Kendall (Quarterback – Louisiana Tech): Austin Kendall had a ton of hype coming into WVU. The former 4-star recruit played backup to Heisman winning QB, Kyler Murray. Then after Jalen Hurts (former Alabama starting QB) decided to transfer to Oklahoma, Kendall decided to transfer. Many thought Kendall would come in and fill the big shoes Will Grier left the season prior. However, Kendall stumbled throwing for 10 interceptions in 9 games on only 5.9 yards per attempt. Part way through his 9th game, he was pulled for now starting WVU quarterback, Jarret Doege. That was not the end to Kendall’s story at WVU, though. Kendall played backup to Doege the entire 2020 season before being called upon by Neal Brown after Jarret Doege’s struggles against Army to lead WVU to its first bowl win in the Brown era. Then, Kendall entered the transfer portal and headed to Lousiana Tech. His stats to date don’t look too far off from his first at WVU: 1,874 yards on 60% completion percentage with 13 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. It doesn’t seem like the ideal ending for Kendall, and to compound things, he has missed the past few games due to injury. I was hopeful he would have a better end to his college career; he always seemed like a great teammate and Mountaineer while he was at WVU.
The transfer portal in-a-ways is a necessary evil. It provides players an outlet to find a better situation for themselves, and levels the playing field between coaches’ freedom of movement and the players. As the players highlighted above show, most of the time, athletes at WVU don’t leave because they hate the school. Rather, they leave for a better opportunity. I don’t hold their decisions to do what is best for them against them. While the portal does pose problems for WVU, especially since the NCAA still hasn’t built in a concrete, permanent way for teams to offset these losses via additional scholarships, I do like seeing guys who wouldn’t see the field in Morgantown have success elsewhere. And as the saying goes, “Once a Mountaineer, Always a Mountaineer”.
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