An opportunity to play in the ACC and earn a reputable degree brought them to Georgia Tech. Various reasons, mostly tied to playing time, have led them away from Tech via the transfer portal.
From the start of the 2022 season until the spring transfer-portal window closed April 30, there were 19 scholarship players and a walk-on who began the 2022 season on the Tech roster who left the team to seek a transfer.
Most submitted their name to the transfer database either in December or following the end of spring practice in April. A process that is tinged with risk and anticipation has worked out for most. Of the 20, 15 had found landing spots as of Tuesday, including six at schools in the ACC, SEC, Big Ten or Big 12.
“It was interesting, but a little bit nerve-wracking at the same time,” said Stephanie Knight, the mother of former Tech linebacker Demetrius Knight. “Just hoping that somebody’s going to reach out and try to make you an offer.”
As players in the portal often do, Demetrius Knight was trying to make a decision in a matter of weeks in a fluid environment. Some schools offered scholarships, some didn’t. Figuring out teams’ depth charts and which ones offered a better chance to play was another puzzle.
After leaving Tech’s roster in October, Knight wanted to select his new school by the start of the semester in January. While he waited to hear back from schools such as Florida and Central Florida – which were recruiting him but hadn’t made actual offers – Knight accepted an offer from Charlotte.
Knight enrolled at Charlotte in January and went through spring practice with the 49ers. His strength coach is Lewis Caralla, who led the strength-and-conditioning program for former Tech coach Geoff Collins. Caralla was able to vouch for the integrity of Charlotte’s recruiting efforts.
“He could bring that second level of, ‘OK, they’re really doing what they’re saying they’re going to do,’” Stephanie Knight said.
The most recognizable Jackets player to leave Tech through the portal was quarterback Jeff Sims, who transferred to Nebraska and appears to have won the starting job. After the Cornhuskers’ spring practice, returning starter Casey Thompson transferred to Florida Atlantic.
“He’s a passer,” Nebraska coach Matt Rhule said of Sims at the news conference following his team’s spring game in April. “He’s a passer who runs 4.4. He’s not a runner who throws; he’s a passer.”
Four players who left Tech joined teams scheduled to play the Jackets next season – cornerback Zamari Walton and defensive tackle Akelo Stone at Ole Miss and safety Derrick Allen and wide receiver Nate McCollum at North Carolina. Allen, McCollum and Walton all made their decisions in December or January. Stone went in the portal after a strong showing in spring practice, announcing his commitment to Ole Miss on Friday.
Walton and Stone join a third former Jacket at Ole Miss, defensive end Jared Ivey. In a news conference during spring practice, Walton said the scheme of Rebels defensive coordinator Pete Golding and a chance to play in the SEC were among the draws to leave Tech for Ole Miss.
“Obviously, the best guys are in the SEC, so coming here, I’m just able to compete with those type guys and see what I can do, put film on,” said Walton, who started 37 games for the Jackets in his career.
McCollum, whose 60 catches last season tied for seventh in the ACC, told North Carolina media in January that he was drawn to the Tar Heels’ high-powered offense and quarterback Drake Maye – last season’s ACC player of the year.
McCollum called Maye “to me, the best QB in the country. When he’s on, you can’t stop him.”
Tech and UNC play Oct. 28 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I feel like that game’s going to be pretty tricky, if you ask me,” McCollum said.
Besides the six mentioned, nine other former Jackets have determined their next schools, some of them having already enrolled in January – offensive lineman R.J. Adams (Lackawanna College), defensive end Grey Carroll (Liberty), defensive back Jalen Huff (Florida Atlantic), kicker Jude Kelley (Chattanooga), wide receiver Ryan King (East Carolina), running back Dylan McDuffie (Kansas), wide receiver Kalani Norris (Middle Tennessee State), quarterback Taisun Phommachanh (Massachusetts) and offensive lineman Paula Vaipulu (North Texas).
An additional five had not announced their transfer destinations as of Tuesday – defensive back Kenny Bennett, linebacker Khatavian Franks, running back Antonio Martin, defensive tackle K.J. Miles and tight end Ben Postma. All but Bennett made their portal entries after spring practice.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution