When Daniel Sams informed Bill Snyder he wanted to transfer last spring, he encountered heavy resistance.
Kansas State’s football coach told the athletic quarterback to stay, offering increased playing time as a junior and a clear-cut path to a starting job as a senior. No more experimenting at wide receiver or watching entire games from the sideline. If Sams stayed patient and remained with the Wildcats, Snyder told him, he had a bright future.
The proposal enticed Sams, so much that he mulled it over for several weeks. Still, he decided to transfer to McNeese State. It could offer the one thing Snyder could not – an immediate shot at leading an offense.
“My great-grandmother told me to follow my heart,” Sams said. “Deep down in my heart, I want to be a starting quarterback.”
Plenty of quarterbacks share Sams’ desires, especially today. Quarterbacks are beginning to transfer at an increased pace. Unlike the early 2000s, when backup quarterbacks worked behind experienced starters until it was their turn to take over as upperclassmen, reserve passers are now looking to other colleges for increased playing time.
The impact can be seen within the Sunflower State. Kansas lost Jake Heaps to Miami and added TJ Millweard from UCLA, while K-State lost Sams to McNeese State. Within the Big 12, the league lost eight quarterbacks to transfer this offseason.
“If you try to calculate the number of all of them, I’m sure it would be staggering,” Snyder said. “That probably isn’t exclusive to the quarterback position; they are just a little more high profile. There are a lot of transfers in today’s game.”
Texas Tech has felt the trend harder than anyone, losing three quarterbacks to transfer almost immediately after winning the Holiday Bowl.
“Only one quarterback can be on the field at one time, and they all want to play. I understand,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury told Sports Illustrated in February. “More and more they want to play earlier. I can empathize with that a bit, but you wish it was different.”
Carson Coffman remembers things being different when he played quarterback for Kansas State.
Sure, friends advised him to search for a new start after they watched him spend two seasons as a backup and then lose control of the starting job as a junior. But he blocked out those voices.
“People told me to transfer, but I felt like if I kept working hard, the cream would rise to the top and I would get my opportunity,” said Coffman, now a professional quarterback with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League.
“It’s funny; my quarterback coach always tells me that I am stubborn. To me, that is kind of a good thing. Even though someone tells me I can’t do something. I want to prove them wrong. That’s the mindset I had at Kansas State. I wanted to be the starting quarterback, and I was going to stay there and work hard until I was.”
Why are quarterback transfers on the rise?
There are several reasons, including injuries, coaching changes and new transfer rules that give quarterbacks increased opportunities to play immediately instead of sitting out a year after transferring. But the biggest culprit is playing time.
Not only are backup quarterbacks looking to transfer, they are exploring new positions. After three years at quarterback with Oklahoma, Bishop Carroll product Blake Bell has switched to tight end when he lost the starting job to Trevor Knight. Sams spent the spring at receiver before transferring. One-time K-State quarterbacks Ty Zimmerman, Tysyn Hartman and Chris Harper all went on to successful careers at other positions.
None of them, it seemed, were content biding their time behind an experienced passer.
“By and large the issue is, ‘How much playing time can I get here and how much can I get somewhere else?’ ” Snyder said. “That’s what young people want to do. They want to get on the field and they want to play.
“The other part has to do with the graduate transfer rule that the NCAA has in place that is not a very good rule. We profited from it (Grant Gregory transferred to K-State from South Florida and played immediately as a senior in 2009) but it is not a good rule. If you are a youngster going through school, not getting the playing time you want, it doesn’t cost anything to transfer.”
Playing time is a demand for all players, but it is most significant for quarterbacks.
When a team has two talented running backs, an offensive coordinator can devise a gameplan that uses both. Receivers and tight ends rotate in and out depending on formation. Linebackers and linemen regularly see the field without winning starting spots.
But few coaches use multiple quarterbacks, and those that do usually have a clear-cut starter while the other comes in for wildcat duties. Keeping multiple quarterbacks happy can be difficult.
“You’ve got five defensive backs, four defensive linemen, five offensive linemen, four receivers, a couple tight ends and three running backs,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “But there is one quarterback. These guys have all started through high school, now they have to wait and watch and learn from someone else. It is a tough transition.”
Still, few coaches have done a better job of retaining quarterbacks than Briles. Baylor is the only Big 12 team that hasn’t lost a quarterback to transfer in the past year. And you have to go back to 2007, when Tyler Beatty left for Southeastern Louisiana, to find one.
Since then, three Baylor quarterbacks have shined. Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy, Nick Florence put up big numbers and Bryce Petty led the Bears to a Big 12 championship.
“When you are playing behind a Heisman Trophy winner, it is evident you are going to have to wait your turn,” Briles said. “I think our guys have just understood that their turn is going to come. They just have to take advantage when it does. We also don’t keep many quarterbacks on scholarship. I like having three, so all of those guys can see themselves potentially as the guy.”
Maintaining quarterback depth has become a challenge for coaches. But, in an odd twist, recruiting fewer quarterbacks has given Baylor quality options.
K-State appears set with Jake Waters as its starter, and Texas Tech appears to be in good shape with Davis Webb. But neither program has a proven passer waiting in the wings. The loss of transfers leaves no Plan B.
That’s why Snyder encourages all of his backup quarterbacks to remain in the program unless both coach and player agree that a future starting role is out of reach.
“Our policy is that everything is open all the time. Playing time is up to the players,” Snyder said. “If a No. 2 commits to the competition and he performs well enough, he is going to become the No. 1. That competition is in everybody’s best interests.
“But you have to be honest with them. If they can’t get on the field, I would probably try to work with them in regards to a transfer. If you honestly believe they can get on the field, I push them to keep competing.”
Monitoring the transfer market is also now a mandatory requirement for coaches. Not only are more quarterbacks available, they are making moves quickly. In order to keep up, Snyder said, coaches have to make contact with a quarterback or his handlers before his transfer is publicly announced. After that, it’s too late.
One coach who regularly keeps up with the transfer market is KU coach Charlie Weis. He has signed Dayne Crist, Heaps and Millweard after stints with other schools in three straight years.
Even Coffman was paying attention to the transfer market this offseason. His younger brother, Cameron, decided to transfer from Indiana, where he completed 60.7 percent of his passes and threw for 2,734 yards as a sophomore, to Wyoming.
It wasn’t the same decision he made, but he isn’t disappointed. He thinks it was the correct choice.
His college career ended in 2010. Four years later, the environment has changed.
“I was happy with my decision, but I don’t knock anyone for taking a different route,” Coffman said. “Every decision is unique. For so many quarterbacks you are used to being the top guy in high school. You have started for years and you don’t know what to do when you are faced with adversity. Some want to fight. It seems like more want to transfer and be the man somewhere else. That’s our culture right now.”