CHARLOTTESVILLE — When spring football practice and recruiting were shut down because of the spread of COVID-19, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall wondered how it might affect graduate transfers, both the ones who normally enroll before spring practices and those who decide to transfer after spring ball.
“This really is a challenge for the graduate transfers that are still looking for places,” Mendenhall said. “Spring ball is kind of the next window where players’ roles and place in their programs change a little bit, and so the grad transfer population is probably the one that’s been affected most immediately.”
Fast forward nearly two months and it’s clear that, while things may be different, the market for graduate transfers is still booming.
Whenever Virginia and Virginia Tech’s football teams are able to return to campus, get in their locker rooms and start practicing, there will be plenty of new faces to match to names — and not just incoming freshmen.
College coaches across the nation, in every sport, have been busy scouring the NCAA’s transfer portal during this COVID-forced break from their normal schedules, and UVA and Virginia Tech have remade their football rosters with additions who are eligible to play this season.
The Cavaliers, who lost quarterback Bryce Perkins and wide receivers Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois, addressed both those positions by picking up Mississippi State’s Keytaon Thompson and St. Francis wide receiver Ra’Shaun Henry.
Thompson comes in to compete for the starting quarterback job with sophomore Brennan Armstrong, Perkins’ backup who has two seasons in the team’s system under his belt. But Armstrong’s game experience is limited, making UVA an attractive landing spot for Thompson, who started a pair of games for the Bulldogs, including a bowl win over Louisville as a true freshman.
Thompson’s career college passing stats? 50 for 105 for 846 yards and eight touchdowns.
Armstrong’s totals? 17 for 25 for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
Virginia’s coaches had said all along they were in the market for a graduate transfer at quarterback to, at least, provide depth behind Armstrong or, in the best-case scenario, provide competition as an option to start.
Thompson appears to fit that description.
“We watched the clips he had at Mississippi State as well as his high school film and just really liked who he is as a player,” UVA quarterback coach Jason Beck said. “He’s competitive, plays hard.”
Henry could help with the loss of Reed and Dubios, a duo that combined for 152 catches for 1,741 yards and 13 touchdowns. In his final season at St. Francis, the Texas native led the NEC with 90 receptions for 1,118 yards. Henry also caught nine touchdown passes.
He’ll join a receiving corps headlined by senior Terrell Jana, who caught 73 passes for 878 yards and three touchdowns last year, emerging late in the season. His development was key because the Cavaliers didn’t get much out of a pair of transfer wideouts.
Terrell Chatman (Arizona State) and Dejon Brissett (Richmond) combined to catch nine passes last season.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, was led by a transfer wide receiver last season. Damon Hazelton, who started his career at Ball State, caught a team-high eight touchdowns in 2019 and finished second on the Hokies with 31 catches for 527 yards.
But Hazelton jumped ship in the offseason, transferring to Missouri. Tech also saw wide receivers Hezekiah Grimsley and Phil Patterson transfer out of the program and tight end Dalton Keene declare early for the NFL draft.
It took a step toward replacing that production by adding Kansas graduate transfer wide receiver Evan Fairs, who caught 28 passes for 392 yards with a touchdown in 25 games for the Jayhawks.
On defense, the Hokies added Youngstown State graduate transfer defensive end Justus Reed. In 30 career games for the Penguins, Reed registered 66 tackles, 19 sacks and four forced fumbles.
Virginia Tech declined to make coach Justin Fuente available for this article. The Hokies assistant coaches have not been available to the media at all during the offseason.