Tate Martell Lived Both Sides of the Transfer Portal Drama on His Way to Miami

Laken Litman
Sports Illustrated

In the latest stunning development of an offseason full of quarterback intrigue, Tate Martell has decided to transfer to Miami. The now former Ohio State backup quarterback tweeted the news Wednesday morning.

It was only a few weeks ago that Martell, who has backed up J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins since he arrived as the 247Sports composite rankings' No. 5 quarterback in the class of 2017, stood his ground and told reporters at Rose Bowl media day that he wasn’t afraid of anyone coming to Columbus and competing with him for the starting quarterback job he’s been waiting to take over.

To quickly summarize, Martell was a four-star dual-threat prospect who had offers from countless Power 5 programs and committed to Washington and then Texas A&M before landing at Ohio State. He seemed to be in line to get his turn entering his redshirt sophomore season, after Haskins declared for the NFL draft. Then in December, Georgia backup quarterback Justin Fields announced he would transfer … to Ohio State. Fields, the top prospect at his position in the 2018 class, didn’t have a clear path to the starting job over Jake Fromm until 2020 or 2021, and in today’s world, that’s way too long for most quarterbacks to sit and wait.

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Fields has a great chance of becoming immediately eligible to play for new Buckeyes coach Ryan Day if he applies for a hardship waiver, rather than sitting out one year like most transfers under NCAA rules. When Martell heard this news, he maintained that he was “100% sure” he’d win the starting job for 2019.

“Why would I leave for someone who hasn’t put a single second into this program yet?” Martell told reporters. “I’ve put two years of working my ass off for something that I’ve been waiting for and dreaming of having my whole life.”

Martell continued to protect his turf by sending this strange tweet, which he later deleted: “Word of advice: don’t swing and miss…especially not your second time.”

Martell made it seem like the Buckeyes were primed for an epic quarterback battle. On Jan. 10 though, his name was confirmed in the transfer portal, the mystical new tool everyone has become obsessed with since it was launched by the NCAA in October. The database gives college athletes interested in transferring the power to control their future without asking permission from their current coach first. It’s one way for athletes to be more hands-on in the whole process, but it’s simultaneously a risk because schools are allowed to revoke scholarships of players that have expressed interest in transferring.

As soon as Martell’s name appeared in the portal, he began posting photos on Instagram that hinted at his visits, like a traffic sign for Morgantown, W. Va. He also started following coaches from Oklahoma, Auburn, TCU, Miami, Mississippi State and other programs looking for a new starting quarterback.

And now he’s officially heading to South Florida, where he will have to sit out the 2019 season per transfer rules unless he is granted a waiver by the NCAA. New Miami head coach Manny Diaz has already made it clear he’s looking for someone to step up inside or outside of the program, and true freshman Jarren Williams and redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry failed to supplant senior starter Malik Rosier last season. What this means for former Alabama QB Jalen Hurts in the transfer quarterback carousel is unknown: The hiring of former Crimson Tide quarterbacks coach Dan Enos as Miami offensive coordinator last week made the Hurricanes an intriguing fit, and Hurts could get the chance to play out his final year of college eligibility while Martell sits.

Eventually, if it has not happened already, we’re going to grow tired of hearing about all this. Over the past month, the initial entry of every notable player into the transfer portal has become a subject of national fascination. The speculation has been nonstop, and now it’s almost like a puzzle. Hurts has been the most talked-about QB ever since he put his name in following the national championship game, but he has not yet announced where he’ll play as a graduate transfer in 2019. Aside from the ties to former coaches of his at Miami and Maryland—where former Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is now head coach—the Hurts rumors have zeroed in on Oklahoma, where backup Austin Kendall recently put his name in the transfer portal.

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Quarterback transfers have become commonplace, and we’re all slowly getting used to an athlete being given the freedom to do what’s best for him. Now with student-athletes making use of all possible avenues to switch schools without having to sit out a year, players will do anything they can to get on the field as fast as they can. But when a situation like Tate Martell’s plays out in the very public way it did, it kind of jolts the process. Martell's path from Columbus to Coral Gables is something players in the future can learn from: You’ll likely receive less criticism if you don’t call out future competition and then yourself end up joining the transfer trend to avoid said competition.

We’ll accept this new normal one day; for now, we're right there with the quarterbacks themselves in this awkward feeling-out period.

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