Bohls: Jake Spavital is transforming Texas State with transfers galore, even from Canada
- Texas State has won just five games the last two years but has made over its team with transfers.
- Among the 21 transfers in the offseason are three Canadians including freakish athletic Liam Dobson.
- "You can really feel the chemistry," said quarterback Brady McBride, one-time Memphis transfer.
SAN MARCOS — Ty Evans came to Texas State by a most circuitous route.
He was originally supposed to be an Arkansas Razorback. But Bret Bielema got fired last November, and the talented quarterback heard the rumblings and began looking elsewhere, Texas State coach Jake Spavital said.
Evans also thought he'd be a Colorado Buffalo, but that program made a coaching change too. Head coach Mike MacIntyre was out, so Evans once again searched for a new school.
He landed at North Carolina State last December, but offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz took a job at Appalachian State two days later and then jumped to Missouri. So for a fourth time, Evans looked for a home, and he found one with the Bobcats.
“So he’s a junior in the classroom,” Spavital said, “and a freshman on the field. And he’s a really good quarterback.”
Evans is pretty much a typical Bobcat these days. He's a transfer, one of 21 this offseason who wound up at this floundering FBS program, which is searching for respectability, not to mention a winning season for the first time since 2014. At least 75% of those transfers figure into this season's two-deep.
Liam Dobson is another newcomer, a Canadian, like three others in this program, which has won only 15 games over the past six seasons.
He’s hardly a typical collegian in any respect because this heavily bearded, outlandishly eccentric senior offensive tackle switched from Maine to Texas State after sorting through 55 schools and receiving offers from East Carolina, Western Kentucky and seven others. He came to enhance his NFL draft prospects after being taken third overall in this spring's Canadian Football League draft by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Spavital learned of him from another new Canadian on the team, defensive tackle Samuel Obiang, who is from Ottawa and came to Texas State by way of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. Obiang and Dobson grew up together on the football camp junior circuit.
Canada might be an untapped pipeline for college football. Oklahoma State found Chuba Hubbard there, and Alabama wideout John Metchie also is from north of the border. Former Oklahoma defensive tackle Nevin Gallimore hailed from Canada, as did Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. There’s talent there.
“Texas State was one of the first to hit me up,” said Dobson, a 6-foot-2, 340-pound tackle who could dunk a basketball in the eighth grade and twice has been named to The Athletic’s 101 College Football Freaks team. “I love everything about this place.”
Along with Toronto native Kyle Hergel, who transferred from North Dakota, and Ontario product Liam Dick, who came from Pitt, they’re forming a front that new line coach Jim Turner has labeled the Canadian Wall. Turner is new as well after two years of coaching with the Cincinnati Bengals.
They’re part of this new wave of transfers that includes wide receivers Rontavious Groves from North Carolina and Julian Ortega-Jones from Bowling Green; a Texas Tech pair of nose tackle Nick McCann and linebacker Brayden Stringer; Arkansas lineman Silas Robinson; defensive backs D.C. Williams (Vanderbilt), Eric Sutton (SMU), Michael Lovett (New Mexico) and Tony Lefegel (Utah State); and Oklahoma State running back Jahmyl Jeter.
Brady McBride, who was named the starting quarterback over Tyler Vitt and Evans on Sunday, loves how Spavital’s staff has fostered chemistry with so many additions.
“You can really feel the chemistry,” said McBride, a sophomore transfer from Memphis who started eight games last year for the Bobcats and threw for 1,925 yards with 17 touchdowns. “You see all the lockers. I’m next to a kicker and an outside linebacker. We’ve gone bowling as a team and paintballing, and we’ve got some great additions. Liam (Dobson), he’s just massive.”
McBride has good wheels and can prolong plays in the pocket and take off on a dime. He studied North Carolina’s Sam Howell in the offseason and picked up tidbits on run-pass options. He had only one or two runs called for him per game last year but once ran 14 times in a game.
He’d prefer throwing to players such as Marcell Barbee, an acrobatic transfer from Iowa Western who catches his share of jump balls, and Groves.
Groves had a pair of patellar tendon injuries in 2017 that limited his production with the Tar Heels but said Jacob Peeler’s offense appealed to him.
“My skill set fit their needs,” said Groves, who also considered transferring to Louisville and North Texas. “There are a lot of different cats here. I’ve heard people talking about the Canadians’ toughness. These dudes are real. Liam’s a crazy dude in a good way. And that man is strong. He’s repping like 450 pounds. He’s a man.”
The Bobcats need more men like Dobson as they prepare to open against Baylor next week.
No wonder Spavital and his staff had their customary meeting Saturday.
Three hours long.
And what was the topic?
The third-year Bobcats head coach, out to fix a program that’s gone 5-19 his first two years, spent most of the morning on the latest challenge for FBS coaching staffs.
And all that it entails.
High school recruiting. Evaluation of junior college talent. A review of players in the ever-expanding transfer portal. A close eye on those with more eligibility.
As much time as Spavital and his assistants spend on X’s and O’s, they and, yes, his director of player personnel, Connor Anderson, seem to spend an inordinate amount of man-hours giving a thorough look at roster construction. Anderson, 29, has worked under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.
“We’re managing the roster on a day-to-day basis,” Anderson said. “I would say more and more schools have a director of player personnel. Five to 10 years ago, there probably weren’t many.”
Anderson’s dad, Scott, is the head trainer for Oklahoma, so Connor’s been around football all his life.
“He can look down at his Apple watch and see who just entered the transfer portal,” Spavital said. “He and I get to the office at 4 in the morning every day.”
That is why Texas State devoted so much attention to remaking its program and assimilating a whopping 40 transfers over the past two years. Heck, he brought in almost 70 new players, including recruits and walk-ons.
“It’s a very, very interesting thing going forward,” said Spavital, who is also on the NCAA Rules Committee, which allows him to stay ahead of upcoming legislation. “It’ll be very tricky. We’ve picked up a lot of quality players with a lot of years of eligibility left.”
Precisely an average of 2.7 years of eligibility remaining, thanks to redshirt rules under which a player can participate in four games and not have it count as one of his five years as well as COVID-19 rules that froze a year of eligibility for every player.
Because of that confusion, Spavital jokingly wonders if a player who made last season’s Freshman All-American Team might be eligible to win the same award this season.
“The transfer portal is fascinating to me,” Anderson said. “I would say for football players, there’s got to be at least 10,000 players in there. With that amount of players from Division I to III, there’s always action.”
That said, coaches must keep a watchful eye on it because as much as they might benefit from transfers in the portal, so too will bigger Power Five programs that pilfer those from smaller programs such as Texas State.
For instance, Spavital didn’t sign a single high school player during February or in the early December signing period. That’s not by design, however, because six high school players committed to the Bobcats, changed their minds and signed with larger schools. Spavital did sign two high schoolers later in the spring, but the bulk of the newcomers come from junior college and FBS transfers.
“These transfers are helping us change the profile of the program,” Spavital said. “We’ve got bigger and longer with more depth than we’ve had.”
Toward that end, Texas State now has eight players who weigh 280 pounds or more on the defensive front.
“That’s one area where we were sorely lacking,” Spavital said. “I always like to say, big people beat up little people.”
The Bobcats have been little for too long.
Spavital’s two-year record aside, this program has made strides. Sure, the Bobcats won just two games last year as the only FBS team to get in 12 consecutive games, but they easily could have won five.
They survived severe pandemic distress with all eight tight ends sitting out the SMU opener, but were still competitive into the fourth quarter. Against Louisiana-Monroe, Texas State won Spavital’s first road game as coach despite having just 45 healthy players. The Bobcats were limited the entire season, but they’re seeing progress, and the transfer portal is a big reason.
“Everything is changing,” he said. “And there are going to be more issues in the spring like initial counters of 25 scholarships. For instance, you can only sign 25 scholarship players a year, but if seven transfer on their own terms, you can sign seven more above the 25. We’ve had a lot of gut-wrenching losses so far, but we’ve accelerated the program with new players.”
And plenty more to come. Even from Canada.