As the curtain rose Saturday, a light snowflake fell on the University of Colorado football team’s spring game.
Rather than dampen the event, they only reinforced the sense of theater around the intrasquad practice of a previously irrelevant Buffaloes program: an announced crowd of 47,277 in Boulder, a national television audience and head coach co-host on Deion Sanders, who wore a hat. a white cowboy, a gold whistle around his neck, and a puffy vest sewn to his nickname, “Prime.”
The good vibes of the afternoon lasts as long as it snows.
On Sunday, one of the stars of practice, recipient Montana Lemonious-Craig, announced he would be looking for another school. He soon joined his teammates. And then another. And one more. By the end of Monday, 18 players had entered the transfer portal, the continuation of a different Buffalo raid.
When Sanders arrived, he told his team in a meeting that “I brought my own luggage – and it’s Louis,” meaning Vuitton: In other words, he’ll quickly upgrade the talent of a team that’s only won one last game. season. As of Tuesday, only 17 of the 84 scholarship players who made the roster for last season’s opening game remained, according to Boulder Daily Camera.
None of the 10 receivers remain from last season.
“It’s time for me to move on,” Lemonious-Craig said in a telephone interview. “I’ve been through three head coaches, four coaching position changes. It’s been rough enough. I want to find stability elsewhere.”
Stability is an old notion these days in college athletics.
With the NCAA’s easing of transfer restrictions, allowing players to cash in on endorsements and lax enforcement of pay-to-play inducements, some players are enjoying what they have long sought: the same freedom of movement as coaches, who are rarely required to stay in school for the term of their contracts when a better offer is coming.
So when Bear Alexander, a highly regarded freshman defensive tackle at Georgia, didn’t feel as prominent the next season he wanted, he was transferred to Southern California, where competition for playing time shouldn’t be a hindrance. .
It also didn’t go unnoticed over the weekend that Alabama Coach Nick Saban saw what everyone in attendance was doing during his team’s spring game: that the quarterback position, for the first time in forever, might be a problem.
Jalen Milroe, a third-year sophomore, threw two interceptions and Ty Simpson, a redshirt freshman, completed less than half of his passes on Saturday. Another candidate for the position is a true freshman.
Asking an innocuous question about the benefits of having a quarterback in the system compared to shopping on a transfer portal, Saban said the most important judgment is who can play winning football.
“I think that’s a better answer to the question: Who can do the best?” said Saban, who noted that while Alabama made only a handful of transfers, it did bring some high-impact ones. He added: “If we see an opportunity to do that, we are always looking for ways to make our team better.”
Shopping is about to start heating up. The 15-day spring window closes on Sunday (except for transfer graduates who can enter the transfer portal at any time), giving players – and coaches – the opportunity to assess their position once spring training has concluded. But with over 1,200 players reported on the portal, it’s a buyer’s market.
In many schools, that means seeking positions that require or increasing depth. There may be a slot cornerback or versatile offensive midfielder on the market. In Colorado, there will be grocery shopping with 21 scholarships available.
Many of Colorado’s departing players appear to have been forced out — including Jordyn Tyson, a promising sophomore who led Buffalo in admissions when he was injured in November. Lemonious-Craig, who had 23 catches for 359 yards and three touchdowns — including the overtime game winner against California-Berkeley — said it was his decision not to return.
He said he told his receiving coach, Brett Bartolone, on Sunday that he was leaving but declined to describe their conversation. He said he had not spoken to Sanders.
Within hours of entering the transfer portal, Lemonious-Craig posted on Twitter that he had received scholarship offers from a growing list of schools, including Penn State, Auburn, Brigham Young, Mississippi State, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington State and West Virginia.
“I see myself as a playmaker and I have to keep proving that I can be one,” said Lemonious-Craig, who still has two years left to play. “I made the decision after the spring games. I want to finish spring ball with my brother. I want to make sure if this is my last time at Folsom Field that I am taking care of my business.”
To some degree, he is a throwback.
Lemonious-Craig, who will graduate next month with a degree in communications, grew up near Los Angeles, in Inglewood, California, attending his neighborhood public school, Inglewood High, instead of going to a school that might have better academic funding or programs. Athletics.
Inglewood High won one game his sophomore season and none his junior season. After a new coach arrived before his senior season – along with a series of transfers – Inglewood went undefeated until losing in the sectional semi-finals. He also played basketball and track and field, graduating with the nickname Mr. Inglewood. (His Twitter banner is a photo of the Forum, the Lakers and Kings’ old home of Inglewood.)
“He comes from a city that thrives and changes, but Montana never gives up on anything around him,” said Mil’Von James, who has coached the Inglewood football team for the last four seasons and grew up not far from it. “When I take over, it will be easy for his talent to leave. He is a team leader, the most committed kid we have.”
James talks to Lemonious-Craig regularly and says the decision to leave Colorado was one he thought carefully.
“Sometimes change is good for everyone,” says James.
Twenty years ago, James attended UCLA, among those in the first recruiting class of new coach, Karl Dorrell—who was Lemonious-Craig’s previous head coach in Colorado. But frustrated at not getting a chance to play cornerback – James idolized Sanders – he moved to Nevada-Las Vegas, where he started two seasons after being asked to sit out for one season under NCAA rules at the time.
“If I had to do it again, I probably wouldn’t be leaving UCLA,” James said. “My time at UNLV was great, but there were times I wondered if I had lasted, how it would change me.”
He added: “Now, it’s a new world. There is more player empowerment, but portals are also dangerous places. Lots of kids come in and not everyone comes out.”
It’s still business, but not necessarily the way it used to be.