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Graduate transfers are the new prized recruits in college football

By on September 16, 2020

first_imgLast March, Amba Etta-Tawo needed a jump.His 2000 BMW was broken down along Interstate-81 to Syracuse, so Etta-Tawo flagged down a passing driver to jump start his car battery. A few hours later, the then-Maryland senior visited the SU coaching staff. After a few meetings, Etta-Tawo signed with the Orange as a graduate transfer, cancelling visits to Mississippi State, Arizona State and Missouri.The jump-start not only helped Etta-Tawo get to Syracuse, but it provided him a literal jump in his career. Last fall, the fifth-year senior broke Marvin Harrison’s single-season receiving yards record, vaulting himself from a little-known receiver to one of the country’s top down-field threats.“I’m not sure I’d be here if it weren’t for that grad transfer,” said Etta-Tawo, who signed this week with the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.Syracuse’s first All-American since 2001 is not alone. SU head coach Dino Babers has already brought on five graduate transfers in his two years as head coach, creating several win-win scenarios. For players like Etta-Tawo, it’s a chance to renew a career lost by injury or boost their draft stock. For Syracuse, it’s a quick way to add depth and experience on the field.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIn 2017, Bowling Green’s Austin Valdez, Notre Dame’s Devin M. Butler and Toledo’s Jordan Martin are suiting up for the Orange. Each is pursuing a master’s degree. Forty-five percent of football graduate transfers in 2013 and 2014 completed their studies, according to the NCAA. Some coaches debate over graduate rates and what they see as a free-agency-like market. That graduate transfers don’t have to sit out a year also has created some skeptics, including Alabama coach Nick Saban.“I’m not for having free agents in our conference,” Saban said in May.Emma Comtois | Digital EditorBabers said he is fully on board with the rule. Last year, he added Etta-Tawo and former Colorado defensive lineman De’Jon Wilson as fifth-years. Etta-Tawo had the best season ever for a Syracuse wide receiver, while Wilson added 2.5 sacks as a key rotational player. Syracuse, with three, has the second-most graduate transfers in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year. North Carolina, with four, is the only school in the ACC with more, and there are 16 total in the conference.In April 2006, the NCAA ruled that a college athlete who had graduated but had remaining eligibility could transfer without sitting out a season in order to pursue a graduate degree. (Non-graduate transfers usually must sit out a year.) The number of graduate transfers competing in NCAA football has since skyrocketed.In 2011, when Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson played a fifth-year at North Carolina State, there were 17 graduate transfers in Division I. Three years later, that number jumped to 70 and last season it was 117. That’s a 588-percent increase over six seasons.Players across mid-major and Power 5 schools alike see it as a way to get a free year of graduate school and perhaps a chance to finish strong from their undergraduate years.“We’re able to plug in some holes that we had on our football team,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “Guys have come in and given us some quality depth and some experience that you wouldn’t have in those situations. I think it’s a good rule, and until the rule changes, we’ll continue to try to utilize it.”Courtesy of Bowling Green AthleticsAt most schools, the process begins in the winter with a few phone calls. Such was the case for Martin, who redshirted the 2015 season after suffering a torn ACL. By mid-February this year, he had met with Toledo’s athletic director, requested a release form and looked at a few fifth-year landing spots. Within weeks, he chose SU over West Virginia and Rutgers, accelerating the process to ensure he arrived on campus early for summer classes.Cornerback Devin M. Butler expected to start for the Irish in 2016, but he fractured his foot at the end of the 2015 season and then again in the offseason. Last August, UND suspended Butler indefinitely after he was arrested Aug. 20 near a bar in South Bend, Indiana. Butler pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor of resisting law enforcement. Another charge, for battery against a public safety official, was dropped.“With my situation, I really wanted to go to a program where the coaches would really support me,” Butler told 247Sports.com. “The Notre Dame coaches definitely supported me, but I just wanted a place where I can re-write my narrative. That’s Syracuse. I wanted to put the bad light away and off my name. I wanted a chance to show people I am the man that everyone knows me to be and the man I’ve always been.”Emma Comtois | Digital EditorValdez, SU’s third graduate transfer, didn’t commit until July, when he was granted his release from Bowling Green. The 6-foot-1, 236-pound linebacker racked up 222 career tackles, 144 of which came in 2015 while Babers coached at BGSU. He was named to the All-Mid American Conference First Team.After his four years at Bowling Green, Valdez said he was recruited heavily by Oklahoma State, Indiana, UNLV and Rutgers, but he made one visit to SU and signed.“I wanted to give myself a challenge, get a better opportunity somewhere else.” Valdez said. “It was a great opportunity to play at a bigger level. Pro looks are in the back of my mind.”Over the last couple of years, no graduate transfer has benefited as much as Etta-Tawo. After four disappointing seasons at Maryland, Etta-Tawo transferred to SU. He ditched plans to take a vacation with his family to Nigeria last summer, arriving at Syracuse early to work out. The move paid dividends for both himself and SU. He had the best season for a receiver in program history while vaulting himself into NFL Draft conversations.“I think it’s a chance for guys who haven’t had as great a career as they originally wanted their first four years,” said senior linebacker Zaire Franklin. “It’s an opportunity for them to get that one shot to start fresh.“On the flip side, it’s an opportunity to get that immediate depth. Guys like Martin, Devin Butler and Valdez, those guys have played big-time games against great players, so it’s a bonus for both sides.” Comments Published on September 7, 2017 at 10:43 pm Contact Matthew: [email protected] | @MatthewGut21 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more

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