This evening, Keith Sargeant & James Kratch of nj.com reported that Rutgers sophomore Tight End Travis Vokolek has placed his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Per their sources, Travis would appreciate being closer to home in Missouri. See the tweets below:
The NCAA transfer portal is a relatively new phenomenon as of last October, so let’s recap how it works. Players no longer require permission from a coach or administrator to transfer from their current school. They also don’t need to restrict their transfers to schools outside their original conferences, for example current Scarlet Knight linebacker Drew Singleton who was at Michigan. Players don’t even necessarily have to have graduated to play the next season for their 5th years. Roughly three-fourths of the time or maybe more at this point, even undergraduate transfers are having their cases approved by the NCAA (though Rutgers is still waiting on the status of three such cases), so that they may play right away at their new schools WITHOUT having to sit out a year or losing a season of eligibility.
To begin the process, all an athlete has to do at this point is enter his/her name in the online NCAA transfer portal and begin fielding offers. That does prevent them from returning to their original school, but the original school is now allowed to cancel the scholarships of any player who enters the transfer portal at the end of the semester in which they expressed their intent to transfer.
So this will be interesting to see play out with Vokolek. He’s a tight end with good size who flashed some potential last year (16 catches, 184 yards, 2 TDs), so it’s almost guaranteed a few schools offer him scholarships. Does he surely want to leave New Jersey, or only if the right offer comes calling?
Now what does Rutgers do? Do they try to talk to Vokolek and see if he will come back? Or do they have a line in the sand that after a certain point, maybe it is the spring game, they will release all players who enter the portal at the end of the spring semester? Regardless of which option they choose, this could divide the locker room.
As indicated in the previously covered the Tight End position review, Rutgers had enough depth to survive the graduation of Jerome Washington and could probably have weathered the storm of Nakia Griffin-Stewart’s choice to move on as a graduate transfer. But all that was incumbent on Vokolek emerging as a starting caliber Big Ten Tight End.
In the spring game several players who got reps (with Vokolek sidelined due to a hamstring injury for a few weeks) looked serviceable at his position. Johnathan Lewis may be close to being a solid Big Ten starter already and Matt Alaimo (if eligible) is definitely talented enough to be in the two-deep. Walk-ons Jonathan Pimentel and Cooper Heisey (recently moved from QB) also got some decent run. The team also can offset the loss by reducing the number of multiple tight ends sets deployed.
So overall assuming Travis does not return, I don’t think this makes Rutgers lose a game they would have otherwise surely won in 2019. That said the lack of depth between tight end and fullback (Max Anthony also transferred) is difficult to replace. Most importantly, Vokolek not only was the front runner to be the starting tight end, he may have been the best option as a go to receiver regardless of position. Rutgers needs all the help they can get in the passing game, and now losing Jonah Jackson, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Max Anthony, and probably Vokolek means four members of the offensive two-deep which was already in dire straits suffers another setback. Rutgers also missed out on adding a tight end in the 2019 recruiting class.
The timing of this is rather curious. Perhaps Vokolek’s injury is worse than we know and he will need to be off the field for a while anyway. Heisey recently moved to tight end and Alaimo’s eligibility is still not granted for 2019. The spring game just happened, so was it a joint decision to wait until after that was over to avoid the chatter at the event being all about this situation. There’s a lot of what ifs, so we’ll cover more as details emerge.
This free agency system is going to get insane over the next few years, but maybe Rutgers will get lucky and end up with a net positive out of all of this. Hopefully some more time parameters like timing are established in the near future.
Look for more thoughts and more developments later this week in our “State of Rutgers Football: Passing Attack” article.