Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 MARCH 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED D uring this period of unique coronavirus circumstances and difficult challenges as college coaches try to manage their offseason roster numbers, the stay-or-go saga in January of Irish senior defensive back Houston Griffith perfectly il- lustrates the stress the NCAA's transfer portal is adding to an- nual roster reconstruction. Griffith came to Notre Dame as a versatile four-star defen- sive back, an elite top-50 pros- pect and the highest-rated player in the 2018 Irish recruit- ing class per Rivals. Unable to land a starting spot during his first three years in South Bend, and facing the uncertainty this offseason of two coaching vacancies on the Notre Dame defense, Griffith thought a change of scenery was best and entered his name into the transfer portal on Jan. 4, joining hundreds of other athletes all searching for a bet- ter fit and a career reboot. Since Aug. 1, 2020, the NCAA's transfer database has swelled to more than 1,500 FBS football players, with dozens of new names added each day. For broader perspective, a July 2020 story in The Oklahoman, indi- cated that more than 16,000 athletes across all NCAA sports and divisions were listed in the portal. With coveted assistant coach Mar- cus Freeman hired Jan. 8 as the Notre Dame defensive coordinator, and a vacant starting safety spot to sell to their player seeking greener pas- tures, the Irish coaches successfully made their second recruiting pitch to Griffith and lured the gifted athlete out of the portal and back to the team. Griffith's return was a coup for the Irish coaches to aid a green defen- sive secondary. And as the lone Notre Dame player to return from the list of 12 who entered the transfer portal since last August, Griffith is also a cir- cumstantial anomaly and a case study in how the transfer portal is forcing college coaches to not only recruit fu- ture players but also to re-recruit cur- rent ones each offseason to keep them on the team and out of the portal. For background, the NCAA imple- mented the transfer portal in October 2018 as a transparent one-stop shop- ping method for coaches looking to fill roster voids with experienced players, and to ease what was often a bumpy and contentious process for athletes wanting to relocate. Irish recruiting coordinator Brian Polian explained during his National Signing Day press conference on Feb. 3 that the transfer portal is here to stay and needs to be embraced. He said the database has become critical to offseason roster re- construction, and increasingly requires full-time attention and constant evaluation. "It could get to the point where staff is going to have to be dedicated to knowing who's in the portal," Polian said, "and having some sense of academic background, years of eligibility, amount of time that they played." Wide receiver Ben Skow- ronek and cornerback Nick McCloud became two valu- able 2020 starters the Notre Dame coaches pulled from the transfer portal before last season. And this January, the Irish coaches signed Wiscon- sin grad-transfer Jack Coan to compete for the Notre Dame 2021 starting quarterback job. If all of this feels like profes- sional free agency in an ama- teur setting, that's because it is, which isn't all bad. If college coaches can come and go as they please, student-athletes should be provided the opportunity to find a new home to better their careers in the same way. And with an extra year of eligibil- ity provided by the NCAA because of COVID-19, and another ruling ex- pected this spring or summer from the NCAA that will provide a one- time transfer option allowing student- athletes to relocate and play immedi- ately with no eligibility delays, future tracking of the transfer portal will be- come equally important as pursuing high school recruits, and an added roster responsibility Polian said Notre Dame will be ready to handle. "If we're going to function in that world," Polian said of the likelihood of facing unprecedented roster turn- over every offseason, "we're going to have to dedicate resources to making sure that whatever decision we make is as educated as possible." ✦ Transfer Portal Changes Roster Management UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Rising senior Houston Griffith, who was rated as the No. 4 safety and No. 43 overall player nationally in the class of 2018 by Rivals, entered the transfer portal this January, but decided to remain at Notre Dame. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS On The Move The growing popularity of the transfer por- tal brought a notable exodus of Notre Dame players during the last year. Here is the list of departures with new destinations: RB Jahmir Smith (Appalachian State) WR/RB Jafar Armstrong (Illinois) WR Micah Jones (TBD) OL John Olmstead (Lafayette) OC Colin Grunhard (Kansas) DT Ja'Mion Franklin (Duke) DE Ovie Oghoufo (Texas) DE Kofi Wardlow (UNC Charlotte) LB Jack Lamb (Colorado) DB Jordan Genmark Heath (UCLA) DB Isaiah Rutherford (Arizona)

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