How Do Former Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Quarterbacks Fare After Transfer?
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How Do Former Notre Dame Quarterbacks Fare After Transfer?

In yesterday’s “Lou Confessions” we featured former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec. The topic centered on his transfer to Boston College and getting the waiver from the NCAA that allows him to not have to sit out the 2020 football season.

We noted how this is a natural part of college football, especially at his position, and that by our count he became the 24th Fighting Irish quarterback recruit in the past 47 years to transfer before graduating.

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Former Notre Dame quarterback Gunner Kiel
Five-star recruit Gunner Kiel transferred after his freshman year, thrived at Cincinnati, but never played in the NFL. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

That is not including five others in the 10-year Brian Kelly era that became graduate transfers and used their fifth season of eligibility elsewhere: Dayne Crist at Kansas, Andrew Hendrix at Miami (Ohio), Everett Golson at Florida State, Malik Zaire at Florida and Brandon Wimbush at Central Florida.

Through the decades, a popular notion has developed among Fighting Irish faithful that quarterbacks who transfer from Notre Dame “never really do much” elsewhere.

If they mean by going on to prominence in the NFL, that would be mostly correct. Only two of the aforementioned 28 (including graduate transfers) were drafted and were on an NFL roster for multiple years. Will Jurkovec, a former top-100 recruit, become the third?

Most of the transfers did end up starting elsewhere, and several had superb college careers. In chronological order, here were some of the more prominent ones, with the year they enrolled in parentheses:

Roy Henry (1973)

Suspended prior to the season in which starter Tom Clements had just guided a national title and Joe Montana was enrolling as a freshman, Henry transferred to Louisiana and passed for 4,656 career yards.

He played one season (1978) in the Canadian Football League.

Randy Wright (1979)

Wright transferred to Wisconsin after his freshman year and starred for the Badgers in 1982 and 1983.

He became the highest draft pick — sixth round — among Notre Dame quarterback transfers over the past 50 years. He played five seasons (1984-88) with the Green Bay Packers — starting 32 times, including all 16 contests in 1986.

Ken Karcher (1981)

The Pennsylvania native was trumpeted by recruiting maven Joe Terranova as potentially “the next Joe Willie Namath.”

Late in his sophomore year, he started in place of an injured Blair Kiel versus Penn State and Air Force (both losses), and was replaced by walk-on Jim O’Hara.

Karcher then transferred to Tulane and later became an NFL backup for John Elway at Denver in 1987-88. He had three starts as a replacement played during the 1987 players’ strike.

Kent Graham (1987)

Ranked as the No. 1 high school quarterback in many circles, Graham as a freshman rotated with Tony Rice after Terry Andrysiak was injured in the fourth game, and even started against Boston College. The Irish trailed 25-12 when Rice came in and rallied Notre Dame to a 32-25 victory.

Graham backed up Rice during the 1988 national title run, but he transferred to Ohio State in 1989, where he backed up Greg Frey in 1990 and started ahead of Kirk Herbstreit in 1991, passing for 1,018 yards.

Along with Wright, Graham was the sole Notre Dame transfer quarterback drafted by the NFL (eighth round in 1992) the past half-century.

In 10 seasons from 1992-2001 he suited up for seven different franchises, starting 38 times and passing for 7,801 career yards with 39 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.

Jake Kelchner (1989)

Enrolled the same year as the nation’s No. 1 QB prospect, Rick Mirer. From the same high school as future 1994-97 Notre Dame starting quarterback Ron Powlus, Kelchner experienced academic problems and transferred to West Virginia.

In 1993, he led the nation in passing efficiency while guiding the Mountaineers to an 11-0 regular season. Like Notre Dame’s Kevin McDougal that same year, however, he wasn’t deemed an NFL prospect, but did play in the Arena League.

Zak Kustok (1997)

Entered his sophomore year in 1998 as the No. 3 QB behind Jarious Jackson and Eric Chappell — but left during training camp when freshman Arnaz Battle leapfrogged him and dropped him to No. 4.

Kustok enjoyed a sensational career at Northwestern, passing for nearly 6,000 yards and rushing for almost 1,300 while leading the Wildcats to a share of the Big Ten title in 2000.

Matt LoVecchio (2000)

Had the best freshman year ever by a Notre Dame quarterback, winning his first seven starts, completing 58.4 percent of his passes, throwing 11 touchdown passes and just one interception, and rushing for 300 yards.

But when Carlyle Holiday moved ahead of him in 2001 and first-year head coach Tyrone Willingham left the job open after the 2002 spring, LoVecchio headed to Indiana, where as a two-year starter for a struggling program threw for 3,729 yards.

Zach Frazer (2006)

The first signal-caller fully recruited and signed in the Charlie Weis era, Frazer transferred at the conclusion of the 2007 spring when Demetrius Jones, incoming No. 1 prospect Jimmy Clausen and junior Evan Sharpley all were listed ahead of him.

He had an on-again, off-again three-year career at Connecticut, where he totaled 3,422 yards passing, 17 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, and minus-16 rushing yards.

His top moment was starting in the Huskies’ 33-30 double overtime win at Notre Dame in Weis’ final home game with the Irish. He completed 12 of 25 passes for 141 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Gunner Kiel (2012)

After originally committing first to home-state Indiana and then LSU, the five-star prospect out of the blue enrolled at Notre Dame in mid-year (January 2012).

When sophomore Everett Golson and backup Tommy Rees led Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular season and the BCS National Championship Game versus Alabama (a 42-14 defeat), Kiel bolted for Cincinnati in the spring of 2013.

He thrived with the Bearcats his first two seasons in 2014 and 2015, completing nearly 63 percent of his passes for 6,031 yards with 50 touchdowns and 24 interceptions, but injuries and other setbacks had him demoted to reserve by his final season in 2016. He went undrafted and did not play in the NFL.

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