Quarterbacks seek fresh starts in college football’s version of free agency

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Malik Zaire

Malik Zaire (#8) seemed destined for stardom at Notre Dame but now seeks greener pastures as a graduate transfer quarterback (File Photo: Terrill Weil).

NFL free agency is almost upon us but, believe it or not, college football “free agency” is also in full bloom.

Unlike the NFL, college football free agency doesn’t have an official start date nor a close.

An unrestricted free agent in college football is one who has already graduated. A player transferring from one FBS institution to another is required is required to sit out under normal circumstances. Moving to an FCS school allows immediate eligibility, in most cases. Graduates with remaining eligibility can play anywhere else right away.

Any player with the skill to upgrade a roster is welcomed with open arms at a school with need. Much like the NFL, quarterbacks are in high demand. One that may have been a bad fit at one location can find new life and rejuvenate their career.

Garnering a commitment from a transfer has become the fashionable and productive trend in college football these days.

Here are a few well-knowns on the move, some graduate transfers and others willing to sit out for a better shot to play later.

Ryan Willis, a 3 star recruit to Kansas in 2015, had two starts in 2016 and completed 62 percent of his throws for 811 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions. His two-year stay in Lawrence produced 2,530 yards passing, 12 touchdowns and 17 picks for the Jayhawk offense. The 6-foot-4, 215 pounder set school records as a freshman in ’15 for KU but broke his wrist in a pick-up basketball game following that season.

With starter Jerod Evans leaving Virginia Tech hopeful for the riches of the NFL, Willis will walk-on for the Hokies.

Max Browne, a one time Gatorade National Player of the Year and USA Today offensive Player of the Year , also earned Parade All American honors following the 2012 campaign. Despite all of the accolades he arrived at USC and served as a backup for two seasons. He started 3 games in 2106 , but was beaten out by freshman sensation Sam Darnold for the Trojans. The 6’5-220 native of Sammamish, Washington was looking for a pro style fit after graduating with a 3.48 GPA in communications in 2015. He seems to have found a home with the Pittsburgh Panthers after watching what Nathan Peterman did with the Panthers last year after transferring from Tennessee. Browne is the expected starter at Pitt this fall.

Anu Solomon (6-2, 215) is a dual threat who made 26 starts with the Arizona Wildcats. He totaled 6,448 yards, 48 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2014-15. Solomon came on strong as a freshman in ’14 with 3,793 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 9 picks, leading the ‘Cats to a 10 win season. But injuries impeded his progress. The graduate transfer has decided to take his game to Baylor where he is the odds-on favorite to be the starter this season.

Blake Barnett was coveted after started for Alabama in the ’16 season opener against USC but eventually lost out to fresman Jalen Hurts. Barnett (6-5, 200) was 5 star signee in 2015 who now will have to sit out the first three games of the upcoming season. As a result, Barnett has just a little less than three seasons of eligibility remaining with his new team, the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Cooper Bateman is another ex-Alabama signal-caller. The 4 star signee in 2013 had one start in his career against Ole Miss in ’16. Bateman (6-3, 225) is a grad transfer with one year remaining but still seeking a home.

David Cornwell, the third Crimson Tide QB was on the 2016 roster when the season began to be wearing a different jersey this season, has been a career back up in Tuscaloosa, never having thrown a pass in a game. Cornwell (6-5, 234) will have two years of eligibility remaining with Nevada. He is a grad transfer who can play immediately. Wolfpack head coach Jay Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme have a capable if rusty talent to mold.

Former Archbishop Rummel quarterback Damian Williams (6-1, 223) decided to pull up stakes at Mississippi State and is now enrolled at Texas State, where as a grad transfer, he is ready to compete. He played in 14 games at Starkville with a 1-0 record as a starter but Nick Fitzgerald won out in the battle to lead the Bulldogs. Williams had his lone start for the Bulldogs against rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Texas State is coached by Everett Withers in his second season. Williams will try to beat out a returnee, senior Eddie Printz.

Mississippi State also lost the services of quarterback Nick Tiano (6-5, 230), a 3 star recruit in 2015. The dual threat appeared in four games. He moved to UT-Chattanooga in his hometown where he will have to sit out and have two years remaining.

Malik Zaire (6-0, 225) graduated from Notre Dame in December so he will be immediately eligible wherever he lands. The favorites are Wisconsin and North Carolina, with the Badgers having an edge for Zaire because he said the he wants to play in a pro-style offense like Wisconsin runs. He also has ties with Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst.

Zaire will have one year remaining and plans to make a final decision in mid April. He played in 17 games (incl. four starts) for the Fightin’ Irish, completing 59.2 percent of his thorws for 816 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.

Hayden Rettig is a name familiar to LSU fans. He was a 4 star signee with the Tigers in 2014 and later jumped to Rutgers where he started one game. His brother (Chase) was a starter at Boston College, but Hayden has never reached his brother’s success on the college level. Rettig (6-3, 215) makes his third and final college football stop at Tennessee Tech, an FCS school with a 5-6 mark in ’16.

Chris Laviano, another Rutgers quarterback who once beat Rettig out for the starting job at Rutgers, leaves for San Diego State this season.

That brings us to Brandon Harris (6-3, 206), the former LSU starting quarterback who will graduate this summer. He tossed for 2,756 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during his days at Tigertown. He won’t make up his mind until this summer.

Texas A&M is an option for Harris, but the Aggies return talented Jake Hubenak, who started some this past year, and just signed highly-regarded dual threat signal caller Kellen Mond. The Tennessee Vols require and new starting option behind center this year and the Florida Gators could also be a fit. Remember that former LSU commitment Feleipe Franks is at Florida, where he will be given a long hard look. Franks was headed to LSU until an 11th hour change of heart.

New locations do not assure success but it is the chance for a fresh start which sometimes makes a difference. It worked for Russell Wilson (from NC State to Wisconsin) and seems to be working for ex-Purdue starter Danny Etling at LSU.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

Fox Sports/ESPN/WHNO/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even greater fashion while in Baton Rouge. Nadeau played semi-pro football for two seasons with the New Orleans Blue Knights. He has been a prominent sports figure in the New Orleans area for 29 years. Nadeau currently serves as a color…

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