Frank Beamer says it has never crossed his mind. Al Golden wasn’t sure if it was already happening at the high school level.
They’re not the only two college coaches who didn’t know what to think when asked about prep quarterbacks who -- before stepping on campus -- were already equipping themselves to use the graduate transfer rule in a worst-case scenario.
"You know, I've never thought of that,” Beamer said. “I'm not saying that that's not possible.”
This offseason, Beamer and Golden have taken advantage of the graduate transfer rule. It's a rule that -- for the most part -- allows players who have graduated early from college but have not exhausted their eligibility to transfer to another school without sitting out a year. Virginia Tech brought in Michael Brewer (Texas Tech), and Golden signed Jake Heaps (Kansas). Boston College coach Steve Addazio also brought in a graduate quarterback in Tyler Murphy, and even Alabama, which grabbed Jacob Coker from Florida State, made use of the rule made famous by Russell Wilson when he left NC State for Wisconsin in 2011.
A large contingency of coaches either haven’t put much thought into the idea of high school quarterbacks preparing for Plan B or don’t believe college football has reached that point -- “I think it's looking too far down the road,” Addazio said -- but the truth is the latest cycle of prep stars are acutely aware of all their options. It’s manifested itself after an offseason in which nine FBS quarterbacks, according to a list compiled by CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler, are eligible to play immediately at their new schools, thanks to their use of the graduate transfer rule.
Blake Barnett is a five-star Alabama commitment. The No. 2 quarterback nationally in the ESPN 300 is possibly in line to be one of the sport’s upcoming superstars. His father, Lance, said his son is prepared to compete for the Crimson Tide’s starting job in 2015 as a freshman and is not intimidated by the Tide’s collection of elite high school signal-callers.
But the Barnetts also understand only one quarterback per team is on the field at a time, so graduating in three years is the plan for Barnett.
“The faster he can get his degree, the better off he is,” Lance said. “God forbid you have to transfer, or you can go to the NFL, or he can work on his master’s. ... You always have to prepare for situations that come your way down the road. Hopefully, [transferring] is a situation he doesn’t see himself in. ... Get your degree as soon as possible, and worry after that. You’re not penalized then.”
Ricky Town is one of two 2015 quarterback commits to USC. His father, Rick, said his son “loves USC, and you couldn’t pry him away,” but he is keeping an eye out for his son’s best interests long-term. The Towns envision Ricky graduating from USC in three years, which gives him the same three options: NFL, master’s degree or transfer.
Rick said he first became aware of the graduate transfer rule within the past year when he read reports that Coker was looking to transfer using the graduate rule. Coincidentally, Coker announced he was transferring to Alabama days before Town flipped from the Tide to the Trojans.
“You always plan ahead and explore more exit strategies, and the more avenues you have the better,” the elder Town said. “You don’t think you’ll transfer in three years -- you set up for it, but it’s not a goal. It’s a bailout strategy if, for whatever reason, things don’t go according to plan. It’s a business. That’s the bottom line.”
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had two quarterbacks transfer over a nine-month period, Coker among them. The national championship-winning coach was in favor of both players transferring and said it was in their best interest with Jameis Winston entrenched as the Seminoles’ starter.
Fisher said he is not for or against the graduate transfer rule -- it depends on each player’s circumstance. He did say, however, he wishes more quarterbacks allowed the carousel to do a full revolution before they opt off the ride.
“I think it’s better to have patience -- I really do,” he said. “We’re quick to jump.”
But coaches are, in a way, opening their programs to graduate transfers at quarterback with how the position has been recruited recently. Of the top five quarterbacks in the ESPN 300, each could be January enrollees. Rick Town said his family began preparations for early enrollment after the second game of Ricky’s sophomore season. Blake Barnett didn’t begin thinking about enrolling early until Division I attention starting pouring in, but he’s made up for lost time and will take two classes at Alabama during the spring semester.
Most players take classes during the summer as well, and the NCAA passed legislation in October that allows coaches to implement eight weeks of mandatory summer workouts. Between early enrollment and the summer credits, quarterbacks are often on track for graduation after three years.
“Then you still have those two full years of eligibility,” Rick Town said.