The days mostly looked the same for Jordan Anthony during the fall of 2020. He’d start around 6 a.m. at a Harris Teeter in Olney, Md., where he worked as a home shopper. He’d race around the store, fill customers’ online orders and bring their groceries to the parking lot for pickup. He’d work until 2 p.m., speed to the gym for an afternoon workout and then went to Dick’s Sporting Goods, where he’d stay until close.
Not too long ago, Anthony played linebacker and graduated from Michigan. He was an elite recruit – he ranked as the No. 106 overall player in the 247Sports Composite – and could’ve played college football anywhere he wanted.
He entered the transfer portal in December of 2019 expecting to have the same sort of options. His Michigan career had not gone the way he wanted but Anthony figured his recruiting pedigree would help him find home quickly as a graduate transfer with two remaining years of eligibility.
Yet after months of contacting coaches non-stop and waiting for any situation to manifest that’d allow him to continue playing FBS football, Anthony needed to start making money. That’s when fears of forced retirement manifested.
“I was definitely scared thinking about, you know, my time may be up,” Anthony told 247Sports.
Anthony said this in mid-June, a few weeks after he publicly announced his commitment to Troy. The former No. 106 overall player in the 2017 class, per the 247Sports Composite, Anthony waited 19 months in transfer portal purgatory before he found a home ahead of the 2021 season.
There’s an argument that he’s one of the lucky ones.
With the expectation the NCAA would pass a one-time transfer exception that would allow players to play immediately at their destination of choice, the 2020-21 cycle has seen a record number of transfers enter the portal. The debut portal cycle saw 1,720 players enter, per a source with direct knowledge of the portal. That number retracted to 1,695 in 2019-20. But for this offseason, that number has ballooned to 2,510 with more than one month remaining before the transfer portal annually resets August 1.
These mass exoduses across campuses nationwide – an average of 19.3 players have entered the portal per FBS team, including walk-ons – has led some coaches to sound the alarm bell. Nebraska head coach Scott Frost recently sparked controversy with his comments on the subject.
“There’s no question it’s going to be risky to put your name in the portal,” Frost said at a fan event.
The numbers support that suggestion. Using 247Sports’ internal portal database, 247Sports examined data from the 2019-20 portal cycle to gain a sense of where scholarship Power Five and FBS players (those who were announced as part of their team’s annual recruiting classes) land once they enter.
Of the 480 Power Five scholarship players 247Sports studied from the 2019-20 cycle, only 26.5% of them stayed as a scholarship player on a P-5 roster. Another 26.3% signed with a G-5 program. Overall, 47.2% of P-5 scholarship athletes went to the FCS, junior college ranks or did not find a landing spot. Among the 826 FBS scholarship players 247Sports examined, only 37.8% stayed on the FBS level.
“It’s a tough situation and kind of a tough taste of reality,” USC Director of Player Personnel Spencer Harris told 247Sports. “It’s just a changing world and gives these players a good sense of where they’re at.
“They need to make sure they have all their information before entering the portal.”
Anthony remembers feeling hopeful when entered the transfer portal on Dec. 4, 2019.
He redshirted as a true freshman and played in 16 games over the next two campaigns, combining for 15 tackles and a QB hurry between the 2018-19 seasons. Anthony never did feel comfortable playing at 245 pounds, the weight Michigan asked him to when manning their middle linebacker position.
So once Anthony entered the portal, he spent the next six months reshaping his body. By June, Anthony weighed 228 pounds and felt ready for a comeback at a Power Five program. That was the goal. He also figured many of the programs that recruited him in high school would come flocking back.
“Going in I had the idea this was going to be easy,” Anthony said.
Three years is a lifetime in coaching, however. Many of Anthony’s high school recruiters had retired or moved to other jobs. Combine those changes with Anthony’s relative lack of tape – he took 131 snaps in his Michigan career – and Anthony often got passed up for more proven options.
Things started slowly in the portal for Anthony but picked up once bowl games and the Early Signing Period ended. LSU, Louisville, Illinois and many G-5 programs reached out and stayed in steady contact. Often, Anthony thought an offer was just on the cusp. He remembers thinking LSU was close until he saw the Tigers go with Jabril Cox from North Dakota State. Yet no offers ever came.
Often, contact with schools would cease without warning after one or two seemingly positive messages. Anthony remembers getting Twitter DMs like, ‘Hey would you be interested in playing in the SEC?’ Anthony would respond right away but never hear from them again.
“I was like, ‘Did I say something wrong?’” Anthony said.
He reshaped his body and felt ready to play by the beginning of the summer. But as COVID-19 raged across the country, Anthony did not yet have a home.
This led to a Michigan graduate and former elite recruit sitting out the 2020 season and working a pair of part-time jobs; a football lifer not yet ready to move on from football but also without any better short-term options.
“It was just tough for me mentally,” Anthony said. “That’s the reason I kind of just had to sit out. Not because I didn’t want to (play), but I didn’t have anywhere to go.”
Anthony worked and worked out waiting for another chance. Once set on landing in the Power Five, Anthony opened up his mind to playing on the G-5 level. This time, in Year 2 of his portal existence, Anthony spent most of his time reaching out to schools. He’d follow coaches on Twitter. He’d DM and text a school’s Director of Player Personnel. Sometimes, he reached out to players in an effort to get his name out there. He tried that at Cal to no avail. Once, Tennessee’s fans started a mini-Twitter campaign to get his name on the radar with Vols coaches. Dozens of Tennessee fans followed Anthony hoping the linebacker-needy Vols would reach out. They never did.
There were hopeful moments followed by disappointment. Texas was in some contact with Anthony but took two other inside linebackers (Ben Davis, Devin Richardson) instead. Anthony reached out to Liberty, a school that was really interested in him during the 2020 offseason, asking if the school thought he’d still be a fit. The Flames did and Anthony was ready to commit. But Liberty decided to use the scholarship elsewhere.
Finally, Troy’s linebacker coach Andrew Warwick reached out. The contact stuck this time.
Anthony went from talking with Warwick to communicating with most of the staff. He took a FaceTime tour of the campus with Warwick as the guide. It didn’t take long for Anthony to decide to commit.
After 18 months it didn’t matter if it was Power Five or not. He had a chance.
“I’m so excited,” Anthony said. “Every day when I was at work that was all I was thinking about. I just need somebody to take a chance on me because I’m willing to prove how bad I want this.”
Anthony suggests there are two different types of players who enter the transfer portal: Those with proven production and everyone else. Those in the first category will find a landing spot without much issue. Those in the latter – no matter their recruiting pedigree – are much more dependent on their previous relationships and teams taking a risk.
Kater Johnson, a four-star signee with TCU in the 2019 class, entered the portal after just one year in Fort Worth. He had a similar experience to Anthony before ultimately signing with Butler Community College.
“It’s humbling,” Johnson told 247Sports last year. “You realize within a few months, a year later, the whole process restarts. Once your class is through – I don’t want to say they don’t care about you – but it’s a business.”
With only 37.6% of FBS scholarship players staying on the FBS level, it’s clear most players fit into that limited category. Not that every player wants to continue playing FBS football. Some transfers happily drop down to a lower classification so they can play. There’s no justification in criticizing any player who wants to keep playing. If Jake Bentley wants to go for Year 6 at South Alabama – awesome.
Yet in a college football world where so much focus is placed upon FBS players and recruits are so hyped coming out of high school, those who enter the portal often do so with a lack of information.
“When college football players are debating whether or not to enter the draft or not, they get a grade,” Harris said. “They have some information on where they might land in the NFL Draft and then they can decide whether they go back to school or enter the draft.
“There’s really not that information available to college football players (entering the portal).”
Contact with players is illegal before they’re officially listed in the transfer portal, so it’s up to players to self-evaluate their careers and opportunities before deciding to enter. These self-evaluation situations will only arise more often in the future.
With more players occupying college football than ever thanks to super seniors and a looming scholarship crunch on the horizon, the perils of the transfer portal seem unlikely to change moving forward.
Already on campus at Troy and prepping for the 2021 season, Anthony remains hopeful about the transfer portal following his year-and-a-half journey from Michigan to Troy.
“There were a lot of times I started losing faith and thought I might not ever play again,” Anthony said. “But I’m telling you, what’s meant for you is meant for you.”
Others like Frost, who saw more than a dozen of his scholarship players enter the portal this offseason, are far less buoyant when discussing the revolving door that is often the portal.
“Every kid who leaves any program thinks they’re going straight to Nebraska or Alabama,” Frost said. “And the reality is most of them aren’t. We’ve had some leave that have wound up in places like that. But I guess the right way to say it is Nebraska is a way better place for them, and they end up, in my opinion, in lesser places. But every kid thinks they’re going to get the same interest or more than they got coming out of high school, and it just isn’t true.”