Since its inception in Oct. 2018, the transfer portal has completely altered the landscape of college football.
Before the portal, players were forced to sit out a year if they decided to pack their bags and attend another school, unless they qualified as “graduate transfers” or filed for a waiver. Now, college athletes can enter the portal and immediately play at their desired school.
From the start, it was inevitable that schools like Miami (and other Mid-American Conference teams) would face negative consequences from the portal. Though it’s taken a few years, the end of the 2021 season has seen a sharp rise in football players transferring from the program, including key players at important positions.
On Dec. 24, immediately after Miami’s 28-17 win over North Texas in the Frisco Football Classic, sophomore linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. announced his decision to enter the transfer portal on Twitter.
Pace Jr., a First Team All-MAC selection and the team’s leading tackler, declared his intentions to attend the University of Cincinnati, where he’ll play alongside his brother, Deshawn Pace.
Soon after Pace Jr.’s announcement, defensive end Lonnie Phelps entered the portal as well. Phelps was the team’s leader in sacks with 9.5 in 2021. He has since enrolled at the University of Kansas.
Though some fans may have thought the bad news was over, they were wrong. On Monday, Jan. 24, defensive end Kameron Butler announced his decision to enter the portal. Since then, he’s received offers from Penn State University and the University of Mississippi, according to his Twitter account.
The departures of Pace Jr, Phelps and Butler hampers a defensive unit that is already losing defensive ends Dom Robinson and Ben Kimpler, as well as safety Sterling Weatherford.
This is where the RedHawks can benefit from the (relatively) new transfer rules, however. The team picked up five players from the transfer portal who are already enrolled at Miami, with four of those players on the defensive side of the ball.
Four of the five enrolled players hail from Power Five programs (teams that play in the Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 12, Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference).
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LB Ivan Pace Jr.
DE Lonnie Phelps
DE Kameron Butler
QB A.J. Mayer
WR James Burns
DB Cecil Singleton
DB Trevon Booker
There’s not much else to say about the top three players on this list. Together, they combined for 22 of Miami’s 38 sacks on the season. The trio also compiled 208 total tackles and 40.5 tackles for loss.
Singleton played in 11 games last season and provided key depth for the RedHawks.
Though the bulk of the departing players are on defense, the offensive side of the ball wasn’t unscathed. Burns hasn’t played much the last two seasons, but flashed big play potential in 2019 with 506 receiving yards.
The biggest loss on the offensive might be Mayer. Though the redshirt sophomore was sophomore quarterback Brett Gabbert’s understudy, he has appeared in 10 games over the last two seasons.
When Gabbert went down with an injury against Central Michigan, Mayer stepped in and led two fourth quarter touchdown drives to pick up a 28-17 win. In his last start before Gabbert came back, Mayer completed 70.4% of his passes for 227 yards and 3 touchdowns with a win over Akron.
Though Mayer played well when called upon, Miami head coach Chuck Martin made it clear that Gabbert was the team’s starting quarterback. Mayer could be looking for a school where he can be the undisputed starting quarterback.
Transfers (eligibility in parentheses)
LB Ty Wise (Indiana, 3 years remaining)
S Michael Dowell (Michigan State, 2 years remaining)
DE Corey Suttle (Iowa State, 3 years remaining)
WR Tre’Von Morgan (Kentucky, 3 years remaining)
CB Nolan Johnson (East Carolina, 2 years remaining)
WR Miles Marshall (Indiana, 2 years remaining)
Miami utilized the transfer portal to pick up players at positions where they’ll be losing key players, either to the transfer portal or to graduation.
Wise could step up and take Pace Jr.’s starting spot, but could also provide depth at a position of need. The former Indiana University linebacker spent most of his time on special teams last year, so he could contribute in that area as well.
Though Suttle didn’t play a lot at Iowa State, he has a chance to earn playing time at defensive end with the team’s top four players at the position (Phelps, Butler, Robinson and Kimper) all gone.
Safety Michael Dowell is the most experienced player of the new transfers. Dowell started five games for Michigan State last season and has recorded 82 career tackles. He is looking to replace safety Sterling Weatherford.
With Singleton and Booker moving on, the ’Hawks picked up Johnson, who has compiled 42 total tackles in four years at East Carolina University.
The biggest loss for the RedHawks is wide receiver Jack Sorenson, who caught 76 passes for 1,406 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021 and earned a first team All-MAC spot.
With his departure, Miami added two wide receivers to fill the void. Morgan, who started at Michigan State and transferred to Kentucky, didn’t play last season due to a hamstring injury. He was the No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the state of Ohio coming into college, according to Rivals and ESPN.
The other wide receiver transfer, Marshall, is joining his former Indiana teammate Wise. Marshall started eight games and caught 22 passes for 311 yards for the Hoosiers in 2021.
Marshall was not announced as one of the newcomers who enrolled this semester, so he’ll likely be headed to Oxford in the fall.
With so many players transferring and graduating, Miami used the transfer portal to its advantage and added key pieces to contribute to its team next season.