Photo Credit: John Peterson

Rhule Talks Transfer Additions, Long-Term Portal Thoughts

February 01, 2023

The college football transfer portal looks different now than it did when Nebraska football Matt Rhule left Baylor for the NFL following the 2019 season.

Recent years have brought about new levels of player movement, and one-time transfer rule changes have allowed portal newcomers to make immediate impact. That wasn’t common during Rhule’s time at Baylor. Jalen Hurd was the most notable of his tenure, as the former Tennessee running back switched to wide receiver and accumulated over 1,000 total yards for the Bears in 2018.

Nebraska’s top quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end last year were all transfers, along with more contributors on offense, defense and special teams. As Rhule has come back to the college ranks with the Huskers, it’s clear he’s made necessary adjustments. The 2019 Baylor roster lists 14 players as having transferred to the program, only a handful seeing significant playing time outside of special teams. As of February’s signing day, Nebraska’s set to bring in 12 transfers.

At a press conference Wednesday, he praised the current state of the transfer portal, while also saying he doesn’t want his roster to be filled with newcomers from other universities.

“We don’t want to be the hugest transfer team, we want to recruit high school student-athletes, we want to watch them develop over four or five years. But if someone’s somewhere else and they really love Nebraska and think this is the right place for them, I want them to be here,” Rhule said. “And if a young person really wants to get on the field and they don’t think they can get on the field for us and they have a chance and wan to go somewhere else, I want to support them in that. So I’m very student-athlete centric. I want each kid to do what’s right for them.”

He wasn’t without concerns, such as tampering and academic problems that could arise once extra eligibility brought on by COVID in 2020 is out of the picture. Still, Rhule’s comments and additions have shown how he values it.

A number of the more notable 2023 transfers come at positions where the Huskers struggled in 2022 or where they’ve lost key players to the draft. They brought in a couple wide receivers, offensive linemen and a tight end to the offense, as well as a quarterback. Last year’s starter at quarterback, Casey Thompson, is still with the team, but Nebraska struggled after he went down with injury.

On the defensive side, linebacker MJ Sherman is a highlight. The Georgia transfer and former top-40 high school prospect is one of three additions from the Bulldogs, along with offensive lineman Jacob Hood and tight end Arik Gilbert. Rhule said he didn’t expect to end up with three players from Georgia, but his connection to his former assistant and current Bulldogs defensive backs coach Fran Brown helped.

“[Brown] knows how I am, the way I want to do things, the process that we’ll want to have, the character of the guys that we want, the work ethic, so he was able to tell me about them and also tell them about us and what we’re doing here and then kind of let us recruit from there,” he said.   

Along with players completely new to the program, the Huskers are retaining a couple of wide receivers that entered the transfer portal in the past year. Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda left the program less than halfway through the 2022 season after opening the year with a 120-yard showing. Zavier Betts entered the portal prior to last season after two years in which he amassed 526 total yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Rhule didn’t mind taking them back, since they left with a different coach at the helm, and had praise for Betts in particular as both a player and person.

“I’m anxious to see (Betts) get back on the football field and do well in the classroom. So, I’m anxious not just to give him a chance but to be an advocate for him. My son’s 18. He’s trying to figure out what he wants to do for the rest of his life. I want him to go places where there are people, they don’t entitle him, they don’t enable him, but they advocate for him. So, we’ll do that for Zavier.”

Nebraska’s transfer class this year might not have as large of roles as many of last year’s did, and it seems Rhule is intent on the team primarily being built through high school recruits that he can develop for their entire college careers. He won’t avoid transfers entirely, however, and wants to make sure the players he does bring in that way have a mentality that will fit with the Huskers.

“I think a big thing is as you bring transfers in is why are they transferring?” Rhule said. “Why they want to be here, I think all those guys, to me, they’re really good players and they have a chance to help us, but they also have the right mindset to play at Nebraska.”

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