Happily ever after? Tracking Notre Dame's football transfers
In analyzing how Notre Dame found itself with just 7 1/2 scholarship wide receivers on opening night this season, including time-share safety Xavier Watts, the outgoing transfer portal offers plenty of clues.
But not necessarily answers when playing the what-if game.
ND went through a critical stretch of recruiting missteps and misevaluations that continue to haunt the Irish to this day.
Of the combined 11 wide receiver prospects the Irish signed out of high school in the 2017-20 recruiting cycles, nine ended up transferring, switching positions or both. Current grad senior Braden Lenzy and 2022 NFL Draft early entry Kevin Austin Jr. are the exceptions.
The most enigmatic of those 11 during his time at ND was five-star prospect Jordan Johnson, out of De Smet Jesuit in St. Louis.
During his lone season at ND (2020), Johnson managed just 26 snaps of game action spread over two games. He left in the offseason for UCF without his first career reception.
He’s still waiting on it.
One of 29 former Irish playing elsewhere this season, Johnson seems the least likely on a trajectory for a breakout season. Four games into the 2022 campaign and without injuries holding him back, Johnson’s playing time has consisted of one game and 13 plays within that game.
He played 33 snaps in 2021 spread over four games. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound redshirt sophomore is not even listed on the two-deeps for UCF (3-1) for its Sunday home game with SMU (bumped from Saturday due to Hurricane Ian).
Notable among the 29 Irish transfers, 14 of them left ND in the past year. Only 11 are currently enjoying starting status at an FBS school this season. And none of those 11 is a wide receiver. Here’s a rundown of the other 28 transfers beyond Johnson:
Class of 2017
• Jafar Armstrong (Western Illinois): The 6-1, 220-pound wide receiver is spending his sixth collegiate season at his third school.
In his first season with the so-far winless Leathernecks (0-4) of the FCS, Armstrong has started all four games and has 10 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. He’s also returned seven kickoffs for a 23.1-yard average and has run the ball five times for nine yards.
After injuries ravaged a promising career at ND, Armstrong spent most of his one season at Illinois in 2021 as a bystander. He saw action in just one game and didn’t record a statistic.
Armstrong spent all but the very start and very end of his ND career as a running back, and at times topped the depth chart at that position. He arrived and departed as a wide receiver.
• Dillan Gibbons (Florida State): Gibbons continues to be one of the best feel-good stories among the Notre Dame football transfers who are currently playing out their college eligibility elsewhere.
The former Irish offensive lineman hopped into the transfer portal on May 6, 2021 — less than a week after ND’s spring practice concluded — made a commitment to Florida State four days later and earned a starting spot over that summer at left guard for the Seminoles’ season opener against his former team.
He hasn’t slowed down since on or off the field.
The Irish escaped Tallahassee, 41-38 in overtime, on Sept. 5, 2021. Gibbons went on to make 11 starts for the Seminoles in 2021 — earning honorable mention ACC distinction — and four more at left guard this season as 23rd-ranked and surprising Florida State (4-0) heads into an early ACC showdown Saturday with 22nd-ranked Wake Forest.
Along the way Gibbons and the Seminoles took down former Irish coach Brian Kelly in his LSU debut on Sept. 4, 24-23 in New Orleans.
The sixth-year offensive lineman — a career backup at ND with a single start in his final home game on Dec. 5, 2020 — made a heartwarming NIL (name, image, likeness) debut in July of 2021 by using his platform for charity.
One of his latest ventures is helping the family of former Irish teammate Ja’Mion Franklin, who’s now at Duke. Franklin’s mother, Lotoya, is undergoing treatment for stage 3 breast cancer.
• Kofi Wardlow (Charlotte): The 6-3, 245-pound defensive end entered the transfer portal on Nov. 2, 2020 — five days before the Irish knocked off No. 1 Clemson, 47-40, in overtime.
He’s in his second season with the 49ers (1-4), primarily in a backup role so far this season.
Wardlow has played in four of Charlotte’s games this season, collecting 10 tackles, with a tackle for loss, a sack and a QB hurry. The 49ers are No. 131 out of 131 FBS teams in total defense.
In 2021, Wardlow started seven games and saw action in 11. He had 21 tackles, two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two QB hurries. He saw action in three games as a reserve spread over four years at ND, with one career tackle.
Charlotte hosts UTEP on Saturday night.
Class of 2018
• Derrik Allen (Georgia Tech): The former four-star safety is one of three Atlanta high school defensive backs who landed back in their hometown after transferring from ND. The 6-2, 212-pound redshirt junior was joined this offseason by KJ Wallace and Khari Gee.
Now playing for interim head coach Brent Key, after Geoff Collins was purged earlier this week, Allen started the first two games of the season for the Yellow Jackets (1-3), then came off the bench in the next two. He has 14 tackles and an interception this season.
Allen left the Irish roster five days into training camp in August of 2019 and announced his intentions to play for Georgia Tech three days later. After sitting out the 2019 season, Allen made 13 tackles in a reserve role in 2020, and four more in 2021 in 10 games with one start.
Georgia Tech visits 24th-ranked Pitt (3-1) — and former Irish C’Bo Flemister and Shayne Simon — on Saturday night.
• Noah Boykin (UMass): The 6-2, 185-pound cornerback did not play as a freshman at Notre Dame in 2018 and had to sit out 2019 at UMass to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. He was a starter in 2020 in the Minutemen’s pandemic-abbreviated, four-game season, but he has been primarily a backup ever since.
Boykin has five tackles and an interception this season as a reserve, after playing in 12 games with four starts in 2021. The former Rivals250 recruit accrued 32 tackles and eight pass breakups last season.
UMass (1-3) visits Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
• C’Bo Flemister (Pitt): The 5-11, 200-pound grad senior running back is the Panthers’ fourth-leading rusher through four games, with 41 yards on nine carries (4.6 avg) and no TDs. All of that yardage came in the past two games, against Western Michigan and Rhode Island. He’s listed as the fourth-team option on the Pitt depth chart.
At Notre Dame, Flemister amassed 471 career yards and 10 touchdowns on 110 carries (4.4 avg.) along with three receptions for 49 yards (16.3 avg.).
Most of his production came during the 2020 season (299 yards on 58 carries with five TDs) before landing in former head coach Brian Kelly’s doghouse ahead of the 2021 season. He was never quite able to bark his way out, finishing his senior season at ND with 10 yards on three carries spread over four cameos.
The 24th-ranked Panthers (3-1) on Saturday night host Georgia Tech, a team with lots of familiar faces, including assistant coaches Chip Long and Del Alexander. Another, former Irish linebacker Shayne Simon, is Flemister's current teammate.
• Ja’Mion Franklin (Duke): The 6-1, 311 redshirt senior defensive tackle made his first career start in Duke’s season-opening shutout of Temple and has maintained starting status ever since.
Now playing for former ND defensive coordinator Mike Elko — the Blue Devils’ first-year head coach — Franklin has 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
In his first season at Duke (2021), Franklin garnered 14 tackles, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery in 12 games in a backup role. Franklin played in six games in a reserve role over three seasons at ND with two career tackles.
The Blue Devils (3-1) host Virginia on Saturday night.
• Luke Jones (Arkansas): A projected center during his brief time at Notre Dame and a backup guard for most of his career at Arkansas, Jones made his first career start as a left tackle in the Razorbacks’ season-opening win over Cincinnati, and he’s been a fixture there ever since.
Now a 6-5, 327-pound redshirt senior, Jones was a backup and special teams participant in 12 games for Arkansas last season, and saw action in 10 games in a reserve role in 2020.
Originally, ND and the Razorbacks were to meet Sept. 12, 2020, at Notre Dame Stadium in the Irish home opener, but the game was scratched because of revised scheduling policies brought on by COVID-19 concerns. Notre Dame instead hosted Duke that day.
After not playing as a freshman center at ND in 2018, Jones had to sit out the 2019 season at Arkansas to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.
The 20th-ranked Razorbacks (3-1) host No. 2 Alabama on Saturday..
• Phil Jurkovec (Boston College): This is the transfer on whom a lot of Irish fans have fixated for the past three years. He’ll make his return to Notre Dame Stadium for Irish Senior Day on Nov. 19, the second time he’ll face the Irish since transferring after the 2019 season.
The Irish won the previous meeting — at Chestnut Hill, Mass., in 2020 — 45-31. ND starter Ian Book outplayed an admittedly banged-up Jurkovec in that game and finished 13 spots ahead of his former backup in the national pass-efficiency ratings for the entire 2020 season (33rd to 46th).
Jack Coan, ND’s 2021 starter, had a slightly better pass-efficiency mark than Jurkovec did last season (151.8 to Jurkovec’s career-best 150.0). The 6-5, 214-pound Jurkovec didn’t qualify for the national rankings, because he was limited to six games because of a wrist injury.
Jurkovec did rush for a career-best 322 yards on 50 carries with five TDs in 2021.
This year, behind a banged-up line with five new starters, Jurkovec’s rushing total is minus-64 yards on 31 carries and zero TDs. And his pass-efficiency rating is 125.5, good for 94th nationally and 59 spots behind Notre Dame junior Drew Pyne.
Sixteen of Jurkovec’s 78 completions have gone to tight end George Takacs, who transferred from Notre Dame this offseason.
The former top 100 and four-star prospect completed 12 of his 16 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 22 times for 156 yards in action against New Mexico, Bowling Green, Michigan, Duke, Navy, Boston College and Iowa State in his final season in an Irish uniform (2019).
Boston College (1-3) hosts Louisville on Saturday in a meeting of former ND assistant coaches who have stepped into offensive coordinator roles this season — BC’s John McNulty vs. Louisville’s Lance Taylor.
• Lawrence Keys III (Tulane): The 5-11, 170-pound New Orleans native is back in his hometown and a reserve wide receiver for the Green Wave (3-1).
Keys played in a reserve role in Tulane’s first three games, then missed a 27-24 loss to Southern Miss last weekend with an injury. He is expected to play Friday night at Houston.
He has seven receptions for 58 yards and a TD in his first season at Tulane as well as one rush for seven yards and four kickoff returns for a 20.5-yard average.
Keys opted out early in the 2021 season after playing just five snaps in ND’s season-opening win over Florida State. In 21 career games with the Irish, including three starts in the 2019 season, Keys had 18 catches for 185 yards with no TDs, 45 rushing yards on six carries, 10 kickoff returns for 194 yards and three punt returns for three yards.
• Paul Moala (Idaho): For the first time since 2019, Paul Moala has made it to the fourth game of the season with his health intact. And, man, is he making the most of it in his first season with the FCS Vandals (2-2), who host Northern Colorado on Saturday night.
Among the highlights for the outside linebacker, who’s listed at three different weights (190, 220, 225) by the Idaho sports info staff, is a forced fumble against Washington State, a goal-line stop against Indiana and an interception against Drake.
Overall, the one-time safety also has 20 tackles, a pass breakup and a QB hurry.
In four years at Notre Dame, Moala played in 23 games with 22 tackles, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
His 2021 season ended in the season opener at Florida State with a left Achilles tendon tear. The previous season Moala was lost for the season in game 3, against Florida State again, to a right Achilles tear.
• Ovie Oghoufo (Texas): The fifth-year senior is in his second productive season with the Longhorns (2-2).
The 6-3, 239-pound starting defensive end had five of his 20 tackles this season in Texas’ near upset of Alabama (20-19 at Sept. 10). He also has amassed 3.5 tackles for loss with a sack, a QB hurry and a forced fumble.
Oghoufo played in 12 games, starting eight, for Texas in 2021 after transferring. He had 42 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two QB hurries and a pass breakup. Oghoufo played in 11 games as a junior at ND and totaled 10 tackles, two pass breakups, 1.5 sacks and one quarterback hurry.
He popped into the portal four days after ND fell to Alabama, 31-14, in a College Football Playoff semifinal on Jan. 1, 2021. The Longhorns host West Virginia on Saturday.
• Shayne Simon (Pitt): The 6-3, 235-pound redshirt senior has started all four games for the Panthers (3-1) as an outside linebacker (Pitt calls his position Money linebacker). Now reunited with former Irish running back C'Bo Flemister, Simon had a career-high five tackles in a season-opening win over West Virginia and has nine for the season, with four pass breakups and a QB hurry.
Simon was recruited to play rover in the Notre Dame defense but never got comfortable there. In 31 career games over four seasons as primarily an inside linebacker, that included eight starts, Simon was credited with 27 career tackles, three tackles for loss and five pass breakups. He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in ND’s 2021 season opener at Florida State.
• George Takacs (Boston College): Takacs originally announced he would return to Notre Dame for a fifth season, but when tight ends coach John McNulty took the offensive coordinator job at BC, Takacs went with him.
In 29 games including five starts at Notre Dame, Takacs hauled in seven passes for 78 yards and a TD. In his BC debut against Rutgers on Sept. 3, a 22-21 Eagles home loss, the 6-6, 247-pound grad senior tight end equaled his previous career catch total (7) and exceeded the yardage total (84).
In four games, all starts, Takacs is BC’s second-leading receiver with 16 receptions for 166 yards and a TD.
He and former Irish QB Phil Jurkovec as well as McNulty return to Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 19 for a clash with the Irish on ND’s Senior Day.
Class of 2019
• Kendall Abdur-Rahman (Western Kentucky): The 6-0, 190-pound wide receiver recorded his first college statistic of any kind in the Hilltoppers’ 2021 season opener, a 59-21 rout of Tennessee-Martin.
It turned out to be a reception that went for minus-5 yards. Four games into his second season with Western Kentucky (3-1) that remains Abdur-Rahman’s only collegiate catch. He played in four games last season in a reserve role and two so far this season, with the Hilltoppers set to host Troy on Saturday night.
The former high school QB enrolled early at Notre Dame in the spring semester of 2019, then redshirted that season, bouncing between wide receiver and running back in practices. His only game action at ND came during the 2020 season in a 52-0 blowout of South Florida.
• Litchfield Ajavon (Rice): Ajavon left Notre Dame with degree in hand after just three seasons, but hasn’t found the playing time at Rice yet that eluded him at ND.
The 6-foot, 195-pound safety and native of Ghana recorded a tackle in the Owls’ season-opening loss to USC but hasn’t played since and is not listed on the two-deeps for Saturday’s matchup between Rice (2-2) and UAB.
At Notre Dame, Ajavon saw action in 10 games over three seasons, mostly on special teams, and made his first and only tackle in an Irish uniform last November in a rout of Navy.
• Jay Bramblett (LSU): The lone player to follow head coach Brian Kelly to LSU, the 6-2, 202-pound senior is averaging a career-best 44.3 yards per punt, though LSU (3-1) has punted only 10 times this season.
The Tigers, though, are only 92nd in net punting nationally (37.6), compared to Notre Dame, which is eighth (43.6). Harvard transfer Jon Sot, Bramblett’s replacement at ND, is averaging 45.6 yards a boot.
In his three years as ND’s starting punter, Bramblett averaged 41.6 yards per punt. LSU visits Auburn on Saturday.
• Quinn Carroll (Minnesota): Notre Dame’s top-rated prospect (No. 68 overall) in its 2019 class (yes, seven spots ahead of safety Kyle Hamilton) is finally playing like it in his first season back in his home state for the 21st-ranked Golden Gophers (4-0).
The 6-6, 310-pounder is the starting right tackle for the nation’s No. 3 team in total offense. Minnesota hosts Purdue on Saturday.
Carroll suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp as a true freshman in 2019, then played very limited snaps over three games in 2020. In 2021, Carroll saw action in 13 games but mostly on special teams. He hit the transfer portal after three seasons with his Notre Dame degree in hand.
• Brendon Clark (Old Dominion): The 6-2, 225-pound Clark finds himself third on the Monarchs’ quarterback depth chart heading into Saturday night’s home game between Old Dominion (2-2) and Liberty. He has yet to see game action in an ODU uniform in his first season with his new school.
Until about midway through the 2020 season at ND, Clark’s sophomore year, he looked like he might be in strong contention to eventually be the heir apparent to Ian Book as Notre Dame’s QB1. But he suffered a knee injury that deteriorated over the balance of the season and underwent surgery in December of 2020.
His recovery was so protracted, that Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan, then-freshman Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne all jumped him on the depth chart in the offseason heading into the 2021 season.
Less than halfway through the 2021 season, Clark left the team, leaving then-head coach Brian Kelly to scramble for a scout-team QB. Clark played in four games in his ND career, completing 2-of-4 passes for 29 yards and a TD, and rushing six times for 29 yards.
• Harrison Leonard (Rhode Island): After three seasons of being a safety net — and a walk-on at that — at Notre Dame, the 5-9, 195-pound kicker left with a degree in hand to attend his home-state school, Rhode Island, in the FCS.
In four games with the Rams (2-2), Leonard has kicked off, made nine of 10 PATs with one blocked, and nailed his only field goal attempt — a 34-yarder — in a 45-24 loss to Pitt.
During his three seasons with ND, Leonard kicked off a couple of times in 2019 and made the only extra point he ever attempted, in a 2021 Senior Day blowout win over Georgia Tech last November.
• John Olmstead (Lafayette): The 6-6, 294-pound offensive lineman saw no action as a freshman at Notre Dame, then announced his intention to transfer a month before his sophomore season at ND was to have started.
Now in his third season at FCS school Lafayette, he’s out for the season with a leg injury after starting the first three games of the 2022 season at center. The Leopards (1-3) visit Bucknell on Saturday.
Olmstead came back from a preseason injury in the fall of 2021 to start the final four games at right guard. Before that, Lafayette postponed its 2020 fall season because of COVID-19, but Olmstead played in all three games of the limited spring schedule as a reserve guard.
• Isaiah Rutherford (Arizona): The 6-0, 205-pound cornerback started Arizona’s first two games of the season but has been a reserve for the Wildcats (2-2) in the past two, including Cal’s 49-31 romp over Arizona last Saturday.
He has seven tackles and two pass breakups in 2022 heading into Saturday night’s Pac-12 home game against Colorado. Last season Rutherford recorded 17 tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery in seven starts. He missed Arizona’s final four games of 2021 with an injury.
He played in three games for ND in the 2020 season, without recording a statistic, after not seeing action as a true freshman in 2019. Rutherford hit the transfer portal two days after the 2020 season ended.
• KJ Wallace (Georgia Tech): The 5-11, 184-pound defensive back is listed as a redshirt sophomore by Georgia Tech, factoring in his COVID exemption. His biggest exposure in three seasons at Notre Dame was as a member of the mega-popular — and apparently erstwhile — Inside the Garage podcast, led by former Irish All-America safety Kyle Hamilton.
But in his first season back in hometown Atlanta, Wallace has found the traction for significant playing time that eluded him at Notre Dame.
A cornerback-turned-safety with the Irish, Wallace is the starting nickel for Georgia Tech (1-3), and he’s the team’s fifth-leading tackler (18) so far and is the most significant of the three former Irish contributors on the Tech roster that includes safeties Derrik Allen and Khari Gee.
He played in 17 games in three seasons at Notre Dame, all in a reserve and/or special teams role, with five total tackles and a tackle for loss.
Class of 2020
• Jay Brunelle (Yale): The 6-2, 203-pound wide receiver didn’t play in a game as a freshman after enrolling early and starting his Notre Dame career with surgery to repair a separated AC joint in his right shoulder in January of 2020.
Now a junior, Brunelle is listed as a second-string wide receiver on the depth chart for Yale’s Saturday home matchup with Howard. He has yet to see action in a game for the Elis (2-2) this season after playing two stat-free games in 2021.
• Caleb Offord (Buffalo): The 6-1, 192-pound junior cornerback is one of 25 transfer portal additions in the offseason on the Bulls’ roster and has seen action in three of Buffalo’s first four games, including one start.
Offord has 10 tackles, eight of which and a fumble recovery came in a 38-26 loss to Coastal Carolina on Sept. 17. He is listed as a projected starter for Saturday’s homecoming game against Miami (Ohio). Buffalo is 1-3 overall and his the nation’s 126th-ranked pass-efficiency defense.
At Notre Dame, Offord saw action in just four games over two seasons and did not record a statistic.
Class of 2021
• Devin Aupiu (UCLA): Aupiu enrolled early, in February of 2021, and left very, very early — after just one semester in South Bend — to enroll at the school he had initially committed to, UCLA, in his home state of California.
Aupiu was recruited to play defensive end at ND, but was moved to linebacker for spring practice by then-Irish first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.
Once at UCLA, the 6-5, 237-pounder also played linebacker. He saw action in the Bruins’ final six games of that season, collecting five tackles with 0.5 tackles for loss as a reserve. He’s still playing in a reserve role this season, and has two tackles in three games with 0.5 tackles for loss.
• Khari Gee (Georgia Tech): One of three former Irish defensive backs on the Tech roster — all from Atlanta — the 6-2, 202-pound Gee has 22 special teams snaps in four games with his new team.
Because of COVID travel restrictions and NCAA visit restrictions during his recruitment, Gee signed with the Irish without ever having been on campus. His first trip to South Bend was in June of 2021, when he enrolled for the first time. As a freshman, Gee didn’t see any game action before putting his name in the transfer portal after the 2021 season.
• JoJo Johnson (Iowa Western): The 5-11, 190-pound cornerback left Notre Dame after one season to get his academics in order. Johnson found a match in the junior college ranks with Iowa Western.
Johnson missed the season opener but has played in the last three games for the nation’s No. 3 team in NJCAA Division I. He has five tackles and an interception.
At Notre Dame, he underwent season-ending knee surgery in September of 2021 and didn’t see the field during his lone season in an Irish uniform.
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