The NCAA transfer portal was launched in 2019 and with its inception a player revolution was sparked within college football. Athletes deciding to transfer happened at all levels, ranging from the Heisman trophy ceremony where three of the four finalists were transfers, to the banks of the Hudson River where the non-scholarship football at Marist College has lost three players to higher level Division I programs.
For graduating senior center Dan Wittekind the transfer portal was thought of as an unknown and mysterious process. “I didn’t know when I entered my name into the portal how coaches would become aware I wanted to transfer or how I would proceed to contact potential college programs,” said Wittekind. Dan was immediately made aware of the seriousness of recruiting when coaches from various Division I programs began to follow him on Twitter within 24 hours of his name entering the portal.
Graduating senior safety Justice Seales tells a similar story of initial uncertainty followed by almost immediate interest. “I didn’t expect coaches to follow me so quickly on Twitter and I was even more shocked to get emails from coaches in the PFL,” Seales said. Both Wittekind and Seales said they were in constant contact with football programs throughout almost every conference and divisions at both the Division I and Division II levels. Both admitted the recruiting process the second time around was much different. “It felt nice to have experience dealing with coaches and the expectations I have for a program as well to know exactly what I’m looking for,” said Seales. For Daniel Wittekind, academics, specifically finding a Masters program, was the primary goal for him entering the transfer portal.
Despite the initial interest from college programs the process grew painstakingly slow as the calendar changed to 2020. Coaches that seemed ready to offer a scholarship now seemed hesitant and reserved, a familiar feeling for both Wittekind and Seales from when they were recruited out of high school. “It may be easy to lose confidence in those moments but you have faith in your ability and hope that the opportunity that does arrive will be the right one,” said Wittekind. After sending over 100 emails to college programs from coast to coast and endless hours on the phone with recruiters, Wittekind found himself that opportunity at Gardner Webb in Boiling Spring, North Carolina. A FCS football program that competes in the Big South Conference provided him with a full scholarship and an opportunity to get his master’s degree in school counseling. Wittekind credits relationships as his reason for choosing Gardner Webb, “I developed a great relationship with the coaching staff down there and I think they are going to build a program up and I want to be a part of that.” Meanwhile, Justice Seales found his new home just two hours down the road at Sacred Heart University. As a member of the Northeast Conference, Sacred Heart was also able to offer Seales a scholarship to help finance his master’s degree. “At the end of the day, it is an opportunity to play football at a higher level and I’m grateful for that,” said Seales.
As for the third former Marist football player in the portal, Eddie Zinn-Turner, a 2019 graduate, is still looking for a new home after spending a year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee for his fifth year of eligibility. While on full scholarship at Vanderbilt, Zinn-Tuner injured his knee and was unable to compete. As a result, he applied for a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA and is still waiting to see if he will be granted an extra year of eligibility. Zinn-Turner admitted the biggest struggle about being in the portal is uncertainty. “The hardest part about being in the portal is the knowing the possibility that you may not get an opportunity to play. There’s always a chance you might not get picked up,” said Zinn-Turner. Despite the injury, Eddie has high hopes that he will find a new home after receiving multiple scholarship offers the previous year before eventually landing at Vanderbilt who plays in the most prestigious football conference in the country, the Southeastern Conference.
In the short-term, the transfer portal has proved to be an area in which the Marist College football program is struggling. Losing three starters in Wittekind, Seales and Zinn-Turner in just two seasons is troublesome, especially when a non-scholarship program like Marist can’t compete with other programs that can offer full scholarships. While Wittekind and Seales mentioned their gratitude for head coach Jim Parady and the entire coaching staff at Marist it was clear that both had no second thoughts about transferring and were excited for their next opportunity. In the long-term, Marist will be facing an uphill battle as the transfer portal continues to evolve and allows for more players to seek out better opportunities. Wittekind, Seales and Zinn-Tuner all left with only one year of eligibility remaining but what will happen if underclassmen start to enter the portal? As the Marist College football program looks into the future it will be faced with a tough task of not only recruiting rising high school seniors but their own talented players to remain at Marist as well.
Edited by Luke Cassar