Adjusting to transfer rules tough for Hog fans

Joe Foucha / Photo:

Last week was a hectic one for Arkansas Razorback fans, and it took many of us by surprise.

When we all should have been basking in the afterglow of the Razorbacks’ Outback Bowl victory over Penn State, the news of more than a few Hogs exiting the program via the transfer portal caught us by surprise.

So far, 15 players have renounced their Razorback cards to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

While some of the departures came before the bowl, the most surprising ones came last week, when starting defensive backs Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks Jr. announced their intentions to exit the program. The capper came Friday when redshirt freshman quarterback Malik Hornsby, K.J. Jefferson’s backup, decided he was leaving as well.

Those three joined wide receiver Kendall Catalon, defensive back Nick turner, running back Josh Oglesby, defensive lineman Solomon Wright, kicker Vito Calvaruso, defensive lineman Andy Boykin, wide receiver Darin Turner, linebacker J.T. Towers, safety Jermaine Hamilton-Jordan, kicker Matthew Phillips, and offensive lineman Ray Curry Jr., all of whom had previously announced their intentions to leave Arkansas.

Other than Calvaruso, who kicked off for the Hogs this season, the other dozen players did not see much if any playing time this year. The Razorbacks actually needed to drop seven players from its roster after its early signing-period class to stay at the 85-player scholarship limit.

Now, the movement of 15 players since the end of the regular season is a lot even though the bulk did not see much playing time. It’s no wonder rumors were flying like wildfire last week.

However, this is the new normal. It’s what college football fans can expect every season from now on with the NCAA’s one-time free transfer rule in place. Players are going to look for better opportunities for themselves through the transfer portal.

Obviously, the most concerning departures was Foucha and Brooks. Losing two starters on defense is a blow. However, if we look a bit deeper, their decisions are easier to understand, although still tough for Hog fans to swallow.

The simple truth is while Foucha and Brooks were starters in the Outback Bowl, they both were going to have a hard time holding on to those starting positions in spring practice.

While Foucha was a starter practically all season, the rise of Myles Slusher on the opposite side at safety and the return of All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon from a shoulder injury, meant Foucha was going to have a hard time maintaining a starting role with the Hogs next season, despite being a very good player.

It would have been great for competition and the Hogs’ depth for him to stick around, but Foucha could see the writing on the wall and opted for a change.

Likewise Brooks relinquished his starting spot for three games in the regular season to 6-2, 220-pound freshman Jayden Johnson, before getting the start in the Outback Bowl.

Johnson is a physical beast, who is going to be hard to keep off the field as a starter, whether it’s at the nickel spot or perhaps at linebacker.

Again, it would have been great for the Razorbacks to be able to rotate Johnson and Brooks at the nickel, but programs like Arkansas and most others are going to have trouble stacking that type of talent with the new transfer rule in place.

In no way is it not a loss to the Razorback program when good players like Foucha and Brooks decide to hit the bricks because of competition, but then again when younger players like Slusher and Johnson begin to supplant older players as starters, it speaks highly for the type of recruiting job head coach Sam Pittman and his staff are doing.

It’s proof positive that the Razorback program is on the upswing talent-wise.

Also, sometimes when players are beaten out for positions, it is better for them to move on rather than cause issues in the locker room. Competition is healthy, but anger and discord isn’t.

As for Hornsby, one can understand his situation. He was looking at another season of being Jefferson’s backup with his eligibility clock ticking. While Jefferson has two years of eligibility left, many feel he will go pro after next season if it is as successful or more so than this season.

But even if Jefferson moves on after next season, the job wouldn’t automatically fall into Hornsby’s lap. He would have to beat out freshman Lucas Coley for the job in spring practice 2023, which was not guaranteed. Evidently, Hornsby felt he could find better options to play more quickly elsewhere.

Now, don’t expect Pittman to stand pat. The Razorbacks will also look to the transfer portal to try to enhance their team. The Hogs could use some studs at cornerback, linebacker, defensive line and maybe at receiver. With Hornsby gone and Kade Renfro recovering from an ACL injury, Arkansas might pick up a quarterback, too.

Expect the Hogs to be active in the portal after spring practice, and don’t be surprised if some Razorbacks decide to go elsewhere.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart called the one-time, free-transfer rule free agency on the college level, and basically he’s right.

Alabama coach Nick Saban lamented the fact that the transfer rules becomes an easy option for players to move on rather than maturing within a program. I think he has a point. However, until the rules are adjusted, fans all across the college-athletics landscape are going to have to get used to it.

The transfer portal can give, but sometimes it’s going to take away.