BYU sees an influx of transfers from top-flight programs


leslie_signingNext season, BYU’s football team will be bolstered by as many as seven players who began their collegiate careers at other FBS universities. Most notably is Jordan Leslie who racked up 125 receptions for 2,015 yards and 15 scores at UTEP in three seasons before transferring to BYU for his senior season.

Joining Leslie are Chris Badger (Notre Dame), Travis Frey (Utah State), Drew Reilly (Colorado State), Michael Wadsworth (Hawaii) and most recently Keanu Nelson (Stanford) and Harvey Jackson (Nebraska) who, like Leslie, will be transferring for their senior seasons.

According to Brett Pyne, Football Sports Information Director at BYU, over the past 10 years the Cougars’ roster has averaged approximately four players who have transferred from other FBS universities. Included among that group are players such as Max Hall, Uani Unga and Uona Kaveinga. The question is, why is BYU seeing a spike in the number of transfers this season and is this a trend that will continue?


There are many factors that go into a player’s decision to transfer ranging from academics, playing time or coaching and system changes. Take Leslie’s situation at UTEP for example. As a sophomore when he was playing for the pass happy Mike Price, he hauled in 51 receptions for nearly 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.

Price retired following the 2012 season and was replaced by Sean Kugler who came to UTEP from the Pittsburgh Steelers and installed an offense that put more emphasis on the running game. Leslie’s numbers suffered as a result. With the loss of Cody Hoffman, BYU’s all-time leader in receiving yards, touchdown receptions, and catches, Leslie has the opportunity to step in and contribute immediately.

Put me in coach

Both Nelson and Jackson were heavily recruited out of high school, but, for whatever reason, they weren’t able to make it work with their former teams. Transferring to another team gives their football careers a second life. Jackson in particular should help shore up the Cougars’ secondary that lost Daniel Sorensen to graduation. On the other side of the ball, BYU lost two of its top 3 pass-catchers, giving Nelson the opening he needs to compete for playing time.

BYU has been the No. 1 "stone-cold sober" school in the nation for the past 16 years. (Photo courtesy BYU Photo)

BYU has been the No. 1 “stone-cold sober” school in the nation for the past 16 years. (Photo courtesy BYU Photo)

Stone-cold Sober

There is a reason BYU is affectionately/derisively called the bubble.

It is different than most universities across the country, but that is what makes it attractive to LDS athletes. When an athlete is being recruited out of high school, a strict honor code might not be appealing. But as athletes mature, especially after serving an LDS mission, the rules don’t seem as oppressive. And the number of co-eds that share their values can’t hurt either.

It’s academic

Leslie, Nelson and Jackson are able to come to BYU without losing a year of eligibility because of an NCAA rule that allows players who have graduated to transfer to another university to pursue a graduate degree not offered by their current school. Most people aren’t going to argue that BYU is academically superior to Stanford, but BYU does feature a number of nationally ranked programs that could be attractive to players in similar situations as this trio of transfers.

You Mad Bro?

Generation Y has a hard enough time deciding where to go for dinner, so big decisions like where to go to college are practically impossible to make. Penelope Trunk, popular blogger and career advice columnist, notes that when the going gets tough for millennials, they won’t necessarily complain or try to effect change. “They just won’t show up.” Trunk was referring to millennials in the work place, but it’s not hard to infer that college athletes of this generation would react in a similar manner, resulting in an increased number of transfers.

Regardless of the reasons why these players chose to come to BYU, they serve an immediate need for the Cougars. As Pyne notes, “Senior transfers with FBS experience will improve the team’s overall depth and talent and have the chance to contribute right away. They help address targeted needs with scholarship opportunities in the fall that won’t be available next winter.”

With missionaries coming and going at BYU, head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff have a difficult task of ensuring position needs are met from year-to-year. If Leslie, Jackson and Nelson are successful this season, expect to see more players like them joining the Cougars in the future.

Top 5 transfers of the Bronco Mendenhall era

BYU’s 2014 roster will be littered with players who started their careers at other FBS universities, but the Cougars are no stranger to transfers coming in and making an impact. The following is a list of the top-five players of the Bronco Mendenhall era who transferred from other DI schools.

Max Hall

Max Hall

  1. Max Hall (Arizona State) — Before he was the winningest quarterback in BYU history, Max Hall was a redshirt freshman at Arizona State. He transferred to BYU after his mission and became the starter as a sophomore. He finished his career with 11,365 yards passing and 94 touchdowns, while notching 32 wins. In his final home game, he connected with Andrew George for a touchdown in overtime to give the Cougars their last victory over Utah, while also giving us this awesome meme and one of the more memorable post-game press conferences ever.
  2.  Uani ‘Unga (Oregon State) — Uani ‘Unga showed flashes of what he would become as a junior, contributing on a team that finished the season 3rd in the nation in total defense. But ‘Unga really broke out as a senior, leading the team with 143 total tackles on his way to being named Honorable Mention All American by During the season, he notched a BYU record 19 tackles against Notre Dame. He also had two games in which he totaled 17 tackles.
  3. Riley Nelson (Utah State) — Always a controversial selection as BYU’s starting quarterback, Riley Nelson seized control of the position after leading the Cougars to a miraculous come-from-behind victory against his former team in his junior season. He finished his career with a 10–6 record as a starter, including a victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl as a junior. Despite all the ups and downs of his career, we’ll always have the memories of his flowing hair, his abs and his high five with the ref in the TCU game his junior season.
  4. Uona Kaveinga (Photo by BYU Photo)

    Uona Kaveinga (Photo by BYU Photo)

    Kelly Poppinga (Utah State) — Kelly Poppinga had a tough act to follow when he transferred to BYU from Utah State. His brother, Brady, had been a popular player for the Cougars before being drafted by the Green Bay Packers. Kelly showed that he belonged during his senior season in 2007 when he racked up a team-leading 113 tackles, outpacing Bryan Kehl who would go on to be drafted by the New York Giants.

  5. Uona Kaveinga (USC) — Uona Kaveinga spent two seasons at USC before transferring to BYU. During his time with the Cougars, Kaveinga started all 26 games at middle linebacker, totaling 106 tackles. He shined in both of the bowl games he played in notching five tackles, including 1.5 TFL, in the 2011 Armed Forces Bowl and a season-best seven tackles in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2012.

Jon Eyre has worked in marketing communications at a number of high tech companies in Utah Valley for the past nine years. He is a 2003 graduate of BYU, and worked as a graduate assistant for the school's Sports Information Department for the 2003 and 2004 football seasons. When he isn't working, Jon spends his time scouring the internet searching for obscure indie bands, trying to decipher the meaning of Lost, or hanging out with his wife and three children.

One Comment

  1. AvatarPatrick Reply

    Riley Nelson?
    Dude, he was arguably the very worst transfer of any era, period. You mentioned his 10-6 record as a starter. That in and of itself is at best pedestrian with a winning percentage of .625. Closer inspection shows you that he beat one winning program: Tulsa. All the rest were losers. He never beat another team with a winning record. He was awful, and his and Bronco’s combined stubborn attitudes at not admitting there was a lot more talent on the bench (Sorenson anyone?) cost BYU what could have been a really special season. Maybe the most special ever. We may never have a defense like that again, and Rudy ruined it. I can’t believe you can rank him above Uona Kaveinga with a straight face (who was better than Poppinga).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *