In two of the past three recruiting classes, Miami University football has had the best recruiting class in the Mid-American Conference according to the football recruiting aggregator 247Sports.
While many schools might have an edge in things such as location in big cities (Buffalo, Toledo or Akron) or enrollment (Kent State or Ohio), the football tradition, facilities and continuity of the coaching staff at Miami have led to some big recruiting wins, with people frequently choosing the RedHawks over other MAC schools as well as some major conference offers.
That is especially impressive considering the recent addition of the transfer portal, which allows players to decide to explore their options in potentially leaving, while still having the option to come back if the grass isn’t greener. Athletes rarely return after entering the portal, but it notably happened this year to the starting quarterback for the RedHawks, Brett Gabbert, who elected to come back to Oxford after entering the portal in November 2022.
Some colleges see the transfer portal as a massive hindrance to building their programs. Coaches such as Clemson’s Dabo Swinney have received criticism from media organizations for eschewing it, but some others have taken the opposite approach. Most notably, Colorado’s Deion Sanders has only nine scholarship players still on the roster from Colorado’s 2022 1-11 roster. His team took in a record 54 transfers for this past year.
Miami has taken an approach that has shown this season to be a happy medium, with 19 players on the roster being transfers (roughly 20% of scholarship players) and 16 with Power Five experience.
“We are always going to recruit high school kids first,” said Coady Keller, Miami football’s director of player personnel. “On average, we’ll take six transfers [out of the transfer portal] to subsidize our roster, if we see spots that might need addressing.”
A quick glance at the depth chart makes Miami’s philosophy apparent. Even as the college football landscape has changed, Miami appears to maintain continuity and prioritize development at positions such as offensive line, quarterback and tight end. That’s while supplementing positions such as wide receiver and cornerback with transfers. While on paper it might sound easy to just find plug-and-play guys in the transfer portal to contribute to a program, it is a very tedious process, with many hours of evaluation needing to be made before even landing on a narrowed-down list of players to prioritize.
“[Even if] the way we have to recruit changes, there are still certain qualities and traits in players that we still look for … the recruiting philosophy hasn’t changed,” said Pat Welsh, offensive and recruiting coordinator.
The transfer portal has led to some massive additions, such as wide receiver transfer Gage Larvadain, who started his career at Southeastern Louisiana. He had one of the greatest receiving performances in school history against UMass in Week 2, recording eight catches, 273 yards receiving and three touchdowns. He finished just 10 yards short of Jack Sorenson’s receiving yards record of 283 versus Ohio in 2021.
Yahsyn McKee, a defensive back transfer from Mercer, made one of the most memorable plays in school history, blocking the game-winning field goal attempt against Cincinnati to send the Battle for the Victory Bell to overtime. The win broke a 16 game winless streak against the Bearcats.
In fact, in discussing the difference between their high school recruiting and transfer portal recruiting, both emphasized that they still saw themselves as lightly recruited, Larvadain — who has gained national attention for his performance so far this season — included.
The transfer portal is a two-sided coin. Miami has had its fair share of transfers to bigger programs, with players like all-Mid American Conference (MAC) offensive lineman Rusty Feth transferring to Iowa, or all-MAC offensive lineman Caleb Shaffer opting to take his talent to Oklahoma.
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The MAC, by virtue of being a member of the “Group of five,” is always going to experience some turnover of talent by virtue of the bigger schools snapping up its players.
In July of 2021, the NCAA changed its long controversial policy of not allowing players to profit off their name, image and likeness. The change allowed players to get paid for the first time in college athletics.
For one, bigger schools can sell potential transfers on much more lucrative NIL opportunities than are available at Miami. According to Yahoo Finance, college athletes earned an estimated $917 million the first year they were able to profit off their NIL, from July 2021 to July 2022.
In addition, these programs offer bigger exposure in front of NFL scouts, and larger brands.
However, the combination of being proactive in the transfer portal and accumulating quality depth has set Miami football up well. The Miami RedHawks have slain the giant that is Cincinnati and have its sights firmly on a MAC Championship and a double-digit win season.