With the continued growth of the transfer portal in college football, Nebraska has gotten familiar with it.
Part of that has been by necessity, given the change and urgency in the program. The Huskers, already in dire need of a successful season under head coach Scott Frost, lost a significant amount of their best talent in the offseason. That includes the starting quarterback, top wide receiver, top offensive lineman, three starting defensive backs and a starting linebacker/nickel.
In response, the Huskers have brought in transfers at just about every position group, most with a good shot at starting or at least seeing significant time on the field.
The worry with this is one that’s lurked all offseason for Nebraska, which also overhauled its offensive coaching staff. This is a make-or-break season for Frost, meaning all the new pieces need to fit together quickly. As fall camp has started, though, players and coaches haven’t had much doubt in the ability to reach that standard.
“Smooth, just like jello,” edge rusher Caleb Tannor said of how transfers have fit in. “They flew right in smooth, everything smooth, you know, they’re getting plays down.”
Defensive players in particular may have reason to be confident. The defense was Nebraska’s most impressive unit by a decent margin in 2021, and the Huskers have retained key starters such as Luke Reimer, Quinton Newsome and Garrett Nelson on that end.
The most notable defensive addition may have been edge rusher Ochaun Mathis, who was second-team All-Big 12 at TCU the past two seasons. He’s collected praise from Tannor, Frost and more, and the head coach said the play of those around Mathis has risen.
“Ochaun’s got elite talent and just a great guy. You talk about someone that’s come in and adopted to the culture and fit in with the guys and been a good teammate from day one here, Ochaun’s one of those guys,” he said. “Maybe the best thing about getting Ochaun here is I’ve really seen Garrett (Nelson) and Caleb (Tannor) and Jimari (Butler) and Blaise (Gunnerson)’s games step up and I don’t know if him getting added to the equation motivated them or not, maybe they’d have been doing the same thing, but it’s great to watch those guys work.”
Defensive linemen Stephon Wynn Jr. and Devin Drew have also been major additions in the front seven. In the secondary, Tommi Hill, Kaine Williams, DeShon Singleton, Omar Brown and Javier Morton are all transfers looking to make an impact. Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher has expressed his desire to have as many players as possible ready to play, so many in that group could potentially see the field.
Regardless, Tannor is happy with everyone who has joined the Huskers.
“It’s great having people that have experience, because we need all that we can have right now,” Tannor said. “Everyone that came in the transfer portal, we needed everyone and it’s gonna be a great thing when we come out in the fall, go to Ireland and do our thing.”
On the other side of the ball, Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson stands out as the premier addition. He’s one of two transfers added to the roster after the departure of four-year starter Adrian Martinez, along with Chubba Purdy. Thompson has fit in well enough to where Frost claimed the starting spot is his to lose.
Transfer running back Anthony Grant is in the midst of a wide-open running back competition right now, while Kevin Williams and Hunter Anthony are portal additions contending on the offensive line. However, transfer wide receivers may take even more of a spotlight.
Last year, Samori Touré came in and made a big impact as a transfer in his final college football season. This time around, Trey Palmer, Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda and Marcus Washington are looking to step up.
Wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph has high expectations for his group, and there are no clear starters at the position yet. That being said, he’s happy with how the transfers have performed, and sees advantages in them having prior experience.
“Dealing with this thing’s just like free agency. These new guys, these transfer portal kids, this is not their first rodeo,” Joseph said. “Only the lingo changes, the route running and the concepts are the same. So they just have to learn the lingo. So they’re doing a really good job of grasping what we need them to do in the scheme. So they’re not behind. They’re right there with it.”
While transfers may come in with the knowledge to succeed, that fit isn’t always automatic.
Frost said the process requires humility from new arrivals and acceptance from players who were previously on the roster. He added that the team’s “tough” summer workouts helped build trust between the two groups, leading them to currently feel like one whole team.
“In the new era of college football here with adding pieces that haven’t been on your team for a long time, one of the biggest challenges is making sure it becomes a team. I think our guys have done an unbelievable job with that,” Frost said. “… it doesn’t feel like the old team and the new guys. It feels like one team right now. And most of that has to do with the leadership on the team.”
Tannor expressed a similar message from a player perspective. For him, it all comes back to winning at the end of the day.
“That just comes with leaders like myself and Garrett and whoever else on defense and offense as leaders showing them and not being like ‘Oh, he new, he might be here to take my (spot),’ like I’m not on that,” Tannor said. “I want to see us win, like I real deal want to see us win. I’ve been here four, five years, like it’s about that time to go to a bowl game, I’m tired. So that’s what we’re on right now, hard work.”