Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2021 Issue

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

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8 MAY 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY ANDREW MENTOCK D ays after Notre Dame's 31‑14 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals Jan. 1, the NCAA's highly active transfer portal began to reshape the 2021 roster. By Jan. 5, seven Fighting Irish play‑ ers had officially entered their names into the NCAA‑regulated database: senior running back Jahmir Smith, senior center Colin Grunhard, senior wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, soph‑ omore cornerback Isaiah Rutherford, junior safety Houston Griffith (who ended up returning), junior line‑ backer Jack Lamb and junior defen‑ sive end Ovie Oghoufo. Over the next few months, senior wide receiver Micah Jones and junior running back Kendall Abdur‑Rahman would join them in the portal, indicat‑ ing to programs across the county an interest in greener playing pastures. From the outside, Notre Dame's team culture may have appeared shaky. In reality, mass player move‑ ment in 2021 and beyond is a new normal. UPCOMING TRANSFER LEGISLATION Player use of the transfer portal has steadily increased since its imple‑ mentation in 2019, and an upcoming legislative change will likely escalate the rate of entry. The NCAA will vote on a waiver in April to allow a temporary one‑time transfer rule for the 2021‑22 academic year. This would allow athletes to transfer once throughout their colle‑ giate careers and automatically receive immediate eligibility. The waiver is expected to pass, and then the NCAA will work on long‑term legislation. But how would such a dramatic shift in policy impact Notre Dame? "We're aware of it. It doesn't affect us in a negative way," head coach Brian Kelly said. "Our guys want to get a degree from Notre Dame. They're going to get their degree, and then if they didn't play enough football, then they're going to look to play somewhere else." Of Notre Dame's nine players to enter the transfer portal in 2021, seven had their undergraduate degrees. The only two who won't — Rutherford and Abdur‑Rahman — combined for 30 snaps over the past two seasons. On the other hand, the transfer portal can be an effective tool for adding ready‑to‑play talent. In 2020, the Irish shored up their skill positions with the additions of North Carolina State cornerback Nick McCloud and Northwestern wideout Ben Skowronek. The pair combined for more than 1,100 snaps and each was invited to postseason all‑star games. "We'll have somebody who moni‑ tors and looks at the transfer portal and see if there's the right kind of fit," Kelly said. "We did a good job with it last year with Ben and Nick. We'll keep an eye on it every year, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it." Other programs view the transfer portal less favorably. Many coaches refer to the new college football land‑ scape as the "wild, wild west," the strains brought of unexpected roster attrition. But when a player enters the transfer portal, it's not as if he suddenly vanishes from an NCAA‑ affiliated institution. After Griffith put his name into the transfer portal, Notre Dame decided to recruit him back to the program. He was then able to also entertain other potential suitors, before ul‑ timately deciding to stay in South Bend and compete for a starting safety job in 2021. Also, viewing the transfer portal solely from a coach's perspective ig‑ nores the burden placed on the athlete. Athletes often sign with an insti‑ tution at 17 or 18 years old. They're then locked into that decision, or are forced to suffer the consequence of sitting out a year. At the same time, a coach is free to interview for and accept a new job at his leisure. The transfer portal better enables athletes to explore new opportunities, both athletically and academically. Thus far, the Irish have added two graduate transfers to the 2021 roster: walk‑on Michigan linebacker Adam Shibley and former Wisconsin start‑ ing quarterback Jack Coan. The latter is expected to compete for the start‑ ing job in South Bend. Coan is a lifelong Fighting Irish fan. He actually committed to Notre Dame for lacrosse early in his high school career, but his first love was football. Once he received offers from several Power Five programs to play quarter‑ back, he dropped lacrosse and even‑ tually committed to Wisconsin. But as a prep player, his coveted football offer from Notre Dame never came. More than six years after he ini‑ tially committed to playing in South Bend, Coan will finally get to suit up for the Irish and pursue a graduate degree from a top‑20 university. UNDER THE DOME THE NEW NORMAL? Use of the NCAA's transfer portal has steadily increased, and an upcoming legislative change could escalate it even more Jack Coan, a lifelong Fighting Irish fan, took advantage of the transfer portal to go from Wisconsin to Notre Dame in January. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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