Happily ever after? Tracking Notre Dame football's transfers

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Jay Hayes labored last spring about whether to leave Notre Dame for a football grad transfer. Then he fell in love with Oklahoma, then fell out of love with the Sooners in a matter of days.

Ultimately, the former starting defensive end settled in at Georgia, which missed the College Football Playoff by one spot, while his two other options — the No. 3 Irish (12-0) and No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) — are in, and playing in separate CFP semifinals on Dec. 29.

No. 5 Georgia (11-2) faces No. 15 Texas (9-4) three nights later, Jan. 1, in the Sugar Bowl at New Orleans. Hayes' playing time in that matchup will likely be minimal.

Although the 6-foot-3, 289-pound Brooklyn, N.Y., product is listed as the Bulldogs’ second-team defensive end, he managed just three tackles over 11 games in 2018. That’s four fewer than he had in a single game against Georgia last season, a 20-19 Bulldog triumph.

There are lots of other Notre Dame transfers to track, most of whom are playing in the postseason. Here’s a snapshot of all those on college football rosters in 2018:

Class of 2014

• Justin Brent (Nevada): The first significant stretch of playing time for the former Top 100 recruit came during this, his fifth and final year of college football.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder is a backup safety for the Wolf Pack (7-5), who play Arkansas State (8-4) on Dec. 29 in the Arizona Bowl at Tucson (1:15 p.m. EST; CBSSN), a few hours before his former team and Clemson clash in a national semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.

Brent, at his third college position, played in all 12 games this season, recording 21 tackles — including two for loss with a sack — a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

The former running back and wide receiver made All-Academic Mountain West in 2017. He received his ND degree before transferring to Nevada prior to the 2017 season and is working on a master’s in justice management.

He also had quite an adventure with the Wolf Pack basketball team, which he joined last February when numbers were low. More memorable than the two points and one steal in five minutes of action spread over three games was the ride Brent went on to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

There, the Wolf Pack was eliminated by Sister Jean and Cinderella Loyola of Chicago. He is not listed on the Wolf Pack hoops roster this season. Nevada (10-0) is No. 7 in the latest AP men’s basketball poll.

• Kolin Hill (Texas Tech): Since leaving Notre Dame after one season — as a 6-1, 230-pound situational pass rusher — Hill became a 6-2, 245-pound starting defensive end for the Red Raiders.

Hill recorded 36 tackles, including seven for loss with five sacks, in his final college season. He added a pass breakup and five quarterback hurries.

Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury was fired after the 5-7 bowl-less season. USC recently hired Kingsbury as its offensive coordinator.

• Corey Holmes (Morgan State): The playing time Holmes craved at Notre Dame and Purdue was finally found in his final college season at FCS school Morgan State (4-7) in Baltimore.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound wide receiver led the Bears in receptions with 33 for 355 yards and a TD. He had a second TD on a fumble recovery.

After garnering 11 receptions for 96 yards at ND in three seasons, including a redshirt season as a sophomore, Holmes lasted just four games at Purdue in 2017 before leaving with one catch for seven yards. He has a Notre Dame degree.

• Pete Mokwuah (Wagner): The 6-4, 315-pound defensive lineman amassed one career tackle during his four years at ND, and didn’t increase his production all that much as a grad transfer at the FCS school that finished 4-7.

Mokwuah played in 10 of the Seahawks’ 11 games, but didn’t start any of them. He collected eight tackles, with 0.5 tackles for loss.

• Nile Sykes (Indiana): Sykes, who was signed as a linebacker, didn’t even last a full summer in 2014 before he and ND decided to mutually part ways.

The 6-2, 252-pound Indiana fifth-year senior became a full-time starter for the first time in 2018 after missing the 2017 season because of an injury. He recorded 26 tackles (3.5 for loss with three sacks) for the bowl-less Hoosiers (5-7). He added three QB hurries, a pass breakup and two fumble recoveries.

• Montgomery VanGorder (Youngstown State): The most notable distinction VanGorder achieved during his four years at Notre Dame was taken away from him at FCS school Youngstown State.

The 2017 Peter Mortell Holder of the Year at ND was merely YSU’s backup holder in 2018, but the tradeoff was worth it. The son of former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder finally got to play meaningful snaps at quarterback for the first time since high school. Lots of them, in fact.

VanGorder threw for 1,934 yards and 14 TDs this past season for the Penguins (4-7). He was 149-of-277 with 10 interceptions. VanGorder set single-game school records for passing yards (418), completions (33) and attempts (57) in a 45-38 loss to Western Illinois on Sept. 29.

He was the Penguins’ third-leading rusher, with 209 yards on 79 carries (2.6 average) and a touchdown, though he did fumble seven times with the opposition recovering three of them.

• CB Nick Watkins (Houston): Watkins left Notre Dame on good terms as a grad transfer last spring after he couldn’t regain his former starting cornerback spot that Troy Pride Jr. wrestled away from him late in 2017.

Watkins is probably the grad transfer who could have helped ND the most in 2018 had he stayed, given Shaun Crawford’s season-ending knee injury in late August.

Watkins recorded 40 tackles, with two interceptions and five pass breakups for the Cougars (8-4) in 12 games, including seven starts.

Houston plays Army (9-2) in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22 at Fort Worth, Texas (3:30 p.m. EST; ESPN), a day before his former Irish teammates report to Dallas for their Dec. 29 Cotton Bowl matchup.

• Jhonny Williams (Grand Valley State): Williams is at his third school, the Division II power where ND’s Brian Kelly used to coach. He’s now Johnathon Williams, which looks much less like a typo.

The former ND and Toledo defensive end was projected to be a starter in preseason camp but ended up in a reserve role. In eight games, the 6-5, 265-pounder collected 18 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks, and two quarterback hurries.

He retains one more season of eligibility for GVSU (10-2), which lost 42-17 to Northwest Missouri State on Nov. 17 in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Class of 2015

• Josh Barajas (Illinois State): A change of scenery hasn’t led to a reboot for the former four-star linebacker recruit, in large part because he continues to have health issues.

Barajas managed cameos in five games in 2018 for the FCS Redbirds (6-5). A 28-23 loss to Indiana State on Nov. 10 is the only one in which he registered a statistic of any kind. Against the Sycamores, he collected the only tackle of the season and fifth of his career.

• Jalen Guyton (North Texas): Guyton landed at North Texas after a season at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College and was named Conference USA Newcomer of the Year in 2017.

In 2018, the 6-foot-1, 202-pound redshirt junior wide receiver caught 50 passes for 702 yards and five TDs, all second-best on the team. The Mean Green (9-3) take on Utah State (10-2) in the New Mexico Bowl Saturday in Albuquerque (2 p.m. EST; ESPN).

Guyton was a high school teammate of Oklahoma QB and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray in Allen, Texas.

• Tristen Hoge (BYU): The former Irish center petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility in 2017 after transferring, but he was denied. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound redshirt sophomore from Pocatello, Idaho, was a 12-game starter at right offensive guard for the Cougars (6-6).

BYU takes on Western Michigan (7-5) on Dec. 21 (4 p.m. EST; ESPN) in Hoge’s home state. The two teams meet in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise.

• C.J. Sanders (SMU): The wide receiver/return man took a grad transfer to SMU, and was in the Mustangs’ starting lineup for the first two games this season. An ankle injury sidelined him for all but two of the remaining 10 contests.

However, because he played in only four games, Sanders can and will use the new redshirt rule to give himself another run at a final college season in 2019.

In 2018, he caught five passes for 39 yards, ran the ball once for two yards and returned eight kickoffs for a 24.8-yard average. Sanders amassed 2,641 all-purpose yards in his three seasons at ND, most of those coming on kickoff returns.

• Elijah Taylor (Eastern Kentucky): The redshirt junior didn’t have to sit out the mandatory one-year transfer incubation period because he landed at an FCS school.

In his first season with the Colonels (7-4), the 6-3, 280-pound defensive tackle started eight of 11 games and recorded 24 tackles. He had four QB hurries, with 1.5 tackles for loss, including 0.5 sacks. Taylor missed his final season at ND (2017) with an injury, so this was his first game action since the end of the 2016 season.

• Mykelti Williams (Northern Illinois): The former Irish safety earned All-Mid-American Conference second-team honors in 2018.

The 5-11, 208-pound redshirt junior and second-year NIU starter was third on the team in tackles, with 69, for the MAC champs. That included 3.5 tackles for loss. His interception late in the fourth quarter sealed a 7-6 win at BYU on Oct. 27. Williams also had three pass breakups in 2018.

Williams redshirted his freshman season at ND, then left the university before his sophomore season. He resurfaced at Iowa Western Community College in 2016 and committed to transfer to Syracuse. But in August of 2017 he was denied admission into Syracuse. He then surfaced at Northern Illinois and was the Huskies’ third-leading tackler in 2017.

Northern Illinois (8-5) takes on UAB (10-3) in the Boca Raton (Fla.) Bowl, Tuesday at 7 p.m. EST (ESPN).

• Ashton White (Buffalo): White left ND as a grad transfer with two seasons of eligibility and wasn’t able to crack the two-deeps with his new team in year one in the Mid-American Conference.

The 5-10, 197-pound safety garnered five tackles over his eight appearances for the Bulls (10-3), who play Troy on Dec. 22 (7 p.m. EST, ESPN) in the Dollar General Bowl at Mobile, Ala.

Class of 2016

• Parker Boudreaux (UCF): Boudreaux had to sit out last season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules after being denied a waiver for immediate eligibility.

The 6-4, 301-pound redshirt sophomore played in 11 games in a reserve role this season, backing up at left offensive guard. The CFP No. 8 Knights (12-0) play LSU (9-3) in the Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz. (1 p.m. EST; ESPN).

• Deon McIntosh (Eastern Mississippi C.C.): So far recruiting interest reportedly has been tepid for the former Irish reserve running back, despite a strong season for NJCAA national champion East Mississippi Community College.

McIntosh rushed for 1,150 yards on 200 carries (5.8 per carry) for the Lions (12-0), who edged Garden City Community College, 10-9, for the juco title on Nov. 29 in Pittsburg, Kan.

McIntosh ranked second in the NJCAA with 17 rushing touchdowns. He also had 19 catches for 113 yards in 2018. In the title game, he rushed for 69 yards on 18 carries and caught one pass for nine yards.

McIntosh redshirted as a freshman at ND, bounced around between wide receiver and running back in the spring of 2017, then was a surprise performer in the fall of 2017. He was dismissed from the program by Irish coach Brian Kelly in January, after running for 368 yards on 65 carries and five TDs in eight games.

• Spencer Perry (South Alabama): A former high school teammate of Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson at IMG Academy, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound redshirt sophomore sat out last season at his new school.

In 2018, Perry ended up playing in eight games for the Jaguars (3-9), two as a starter, filling in for Nigel Lawrence at strong safety. He totaled 19 tackles.

Class of 2017

• CJ Holmes (Penn State): Holmes enrolled as a walk-on at Penn State this past summer after being dismissed from the ND program by coach Brian Kelly in January.

He’s listed at 6-feet, 215 pounds and as a running back. Penn State had recruited the versatile Hamden, Conn., product as a wide receiver before he signed with the Irish. After sitting out the 2018 season to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements, Holmes will have three seasons of eligibility.

The Nittany Lions (9-3) play Kentucky (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1 (1 p.m. EST; ABC) in Orlando, Fla.

• Jonathon MacCollister (UCF): Boudreaux’s high school teammate (Orlando Bishop Moore) and college teammate now at two schools is sitting out the season to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements after redshirting his freshman season at ND. The 6-3, 247-pound Irish defensive end has switched positions and is now a tight end.

• Freddy Canteen (Tulane): Canteen, a wide receiver who transferred to ND in the summer of 2017, played against Notre Dame for Michigan the last time the two teams met (2014) before this season’s matchup, though he didn’t record any stats in that 31-0 Irish rout in South Bend.

An injury-filled career at Michigan and ND continued at Tulane, where a preseason shoulder injury ended his season before it started.

Tulane (6-6) plays Louisiana (7-6) Saturday in the Cure Bowl (1:30 p.m. EST; CBS Sports Network) at Orlando, Fla.

Notre Dame’s Jay Hayes (93) waves goodbye to Southern California players as they run off the field following a 49-14 Irish win, Oct. 21, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium.