"A Word Or Two About Transfers"



A Word Or Two About Transfers


By Dr. Ken 


The Helmet News/Reflections column of June 2012 brought a number of responses, most explaining in lengthy detail, the specific sources of motivation that our readers have utilized in their own football careers. That the careers of the HELMET HUT site followers have been varied and range from junior high school football to the NFL level should not come as a surprise. One specific excerpt from the June column did elicit a number of comments however, that questioned both the status and motivation of transfer students. I had written:


“One of the football-related disappointments that seems to be of recent origin, is the hand-in-hand media events surrounding the college commitments and letter of intent signings of high school stars that result in a high ranking for a specific school’s recruiting class, and the program’s loss of a large percentage of those same players as they bail out when they don’t get enough playing time.”


I went on to say that it was my opinion that “When the handwriting on the wall becomes readable to these young men, rather than remain in the program, compete as hard as possible to prove the coaching staff wrong and earn a place on the team, and most importantly, earn a degree, they bolt, usually for a football program at a lower level” and that it seemed as if most had entered college exclusively for their football experience, with education and the academic aspects of college a distant afterthought.  


This was not meant to imply that every young man who transfers from one football playing university to another did so without having legitimate reasons. Often, transferring brings very positive results both athletically and academically.


In what has remained one of the most infamous and controversial examples of “player-coach clashes,” the saga of the University of Kentucky’s “Thin Thirty” remains unique. While most college football fans know the story of The Junction Boys of the 1954 Texas A&M team [see HELMET HUT  http://www.helmethut.com/College/TexasAM/texam4853.html

  for seasonal write-up and helmet display], new Head Coach Charlie Bradshaw had fifty-three of his 1962 eighty-eight man squad defect before the start of the season. More than the demanding conditioning drills they were subjected to, most of those who left described a philosophy of brutality espoused by the assistant coaches, and excessive practice injuries. A number of them, like future Cleveland Browns linebacker Dale Lindsey, transferred to Western Kentucky University, helping their 1963 squad to an undefeated season and a victory in the Tangerine Bowl. Bradshaw had many supporters, developed and coached All American players including the great Roger Bird, and later was the head coach at Troy State University. 



Family illness, the necessity to assist one’s family financially or with their physical presence, a more realistic academic level of challenge, and distance from loved ones resulting in the absence of a lifetime support system are all understandable reasons that might provoke a young person to transfer from one college to another. There are also legitimate “football reasons” for leaving. There is truth to the term “personality clash” and a player may not fit into the system he thought would be a perfect four year experience. Every high level high school player who went through the college recruiting process can tell a story, and often multiple stories about coaches who flattered them, praised them, promised them immediate playing time, and/or otherwise “sweet talked” them during the recruitment period. When they either arrived on campus to begin their collegiate career or perhaps when they informed the pursuing school that they had decided to attend elsewhere, the coach’s attitude and demeanor towards them changed dramatically. Anyone who has played organized football on any level knows the reality of earning playing time.





There are instances where a transfer works out well for all involved. The 1960 Watertown, Massachusetts football team seemed special to those around town, even as freshmen. The majority of the squad had played as teammates for many years, dating to their participation in either youth league or junior high school football, and remained together through their senior season of 1960. The 8 – 1 squad’s stifling defense allowed but sixty-four points for the season while tallying 310, 160 of those by State Scoring Champion fullback Bob Cappadona. Nine of the starting eleven teammates earned college football scholarships but the star was Cappadona whose 1374 rushing yards and twenty-three touchdowns gave him notice as a National High School All American and one of the most highly recruited players in the country.  


The great 1960 Watertown, MA football team


Cappadona had an extensive selection of college football and academic programs to choose from. Somewhat predictably, his choice was Notre Dame where his athletic ability, so obvious as a football, track, and baseball standout in high school, was just as obvious on the college campus. His performance on the Fighting Irish freshmen football team, and the toughness that won the Notre Dame Heavyweight Boxing Championship had him tagged as another in the long line of Fighting Irish potential All Americans. However, during those dark days of Notre Dame football (see HELMET HUT feature on Daryle Lamonica at  http://www.helmethut.com/College/NotreDame/lamnotre.html ) and

(HELMET HUT feature on the September 10, 2011 Notre Dame vs. Michigan game at   http://helmethut.com/College/NotreDame/Nightgame.html ) Cappadona was less than happy in South Bend and sought to transfer. Many of the major collegiate powers who had pursued his services coming out of Watertown High School jumped back on line to recruit him, with the University of Alabama at the top of his list. However, seeking the fatherly advice of local college coach Joe Zablilski of  Northeastern University, Cappadona felt immediately comfortable and at home, deciding to throw his lot in with the small college Huskies team. As there was no “immediate eligibility when dropping down a level,” Cappadona sat out the 1962 season as NCAA rules dictated, and then led the ’63 squad to an undefeated 8 – 0 mark and a birth in the post-season Allentown, PA Eastern Bowl, formerly called the Cement Bowl Game. In a rule that has been long rescinded, Bob Cappadona was declared ineligible for that contest as the NCAA regulations of the time stated that transfers could not play in post-season games of any type, their first season of play after the transfer took place. While the team voted to decline the invitation because their fullback would be unable to participate, Cappadona took it upon himself to convince them to take advantage of the “once in a lifetime opportunity” to play in a bowl game. The team then voted to go and the fine gesture won Cappadona the Nils “Swede” Nelson Sportsmanship Award, one of the longest standing national college football awards.



Cappadona’s Northeastern career ended with a slew of records that included career and single season rushing marks. Earning All America honors landed him on the Boston Patriots squad where he was their 1966 Rookie Of The Year. Traded to Buffalo, Cappadona finished his professional career in 1968 and later became a successful businessman, settling in his hometown with his high school sweetheart and serving the community through his insurance agency and with contributions in time, energy, and money to numerous charitable causes. Obviously successful by any measure, Bob Cappadona is one of the transfers who made sure that the experience proved to be positive for all involved.



It is a difficult process when one moves up from high school to college ball. I believe that every player has the same response when explaining the process to a non-playing acquaintance and the most common words are, “Everything that happened on the field during high school football happens in college football, but it happens much, much faster.” The pros explain it the same way and the adaptation to “the next level” usually involves a progression that allows a player to recognize and react to the stimuli that comes with playing faster and more efficiently. Those who adapt quickly get to play, those who don’t, either do not play or often, transfer. The primary problem is that when a high school player first enters collegiate practice, by the time they recognize a play and respond appropriately by carrying out their position’s responsibility, the play is over and they were a non-factor. When it dawned on them that they needed to “step this way, use this technique, and pursue in that direction,” the play had already gone five yards past them.


Another factor that determines playing time is physical maturity and all of the physiological parameters that accompany this important aspect of one’s development. I am sure that every HELMET HUT reader who played football can recall at least one out-sized teammate or opponent who “looked like a man” and was significantly larger and/or stronger and faster than everyone else on the field. Often a player will be far ahead physically of almost every other participant throughout their entire high school career. They dominate in high school because their physiological systems are superior but when they enter a college program, they find that everyone is as big, strong, and fast as they are and many times, everyone is bigger, stronger, and faster. They not only fail to dominate as they always did, they are now on the “short end of the stick” and more or less getting their butts handed to them on a regular basis. This can be predictably defeating psychologically as well as physically.


Otis Sistrunk was one of the few players in the modern era that was able to go from high school football to the pro ranks without the benefit of college football experience. The Spencer High School (Columbus, GA) product spent time in the United States Marine Corps and a few seasons on the minor football league circuit, before reaching the Oakland Raiders. At each level he proved capable of adapting to the speed and demands of the game.    


Some outstanding high school players, even those from successful programs, do not get good coaching and/or play in a very simple, unsophisticated system and thus are not prepared for the rigors of college football. I can look back at the teams I coached in the late 1960’s and state that my high school players were certainly prepared for the physical rigors of college football, but despite my warnings, were not prepared for the intellectual demands. What I perceived as the limitations in learning ability of many of my players in a high school generally considered to be on the low end of academic achievement in our area, forced me to install a relatively streamlined system. “Streamlined” in this case, can be interpreted as “simple” but it best suited the abilities of our team. We had six running plays and “mirroring” these six to the opposite side gave us a total of twelve rushing plays. Our small staff did not install any passing plays until approximately half-way through my inaugural season and one was a “short pass play” while the other was simply called “Casper Go Long” as our fastest and best receiver, and only receiver on this specific play, sprinted up the sideline. We were a successful, winning program and had young men who eventually attended, played at, and ultimately graduated from schools that included Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Cornell in the Ivy League. However, none of our players had any experience with the type of offensive or defensive playbook they were handed the first day of college practice. It could be said that part of this lack of preparation for the intellectual demands of college football could be laid at my feet but I constructed a program that I believed was best suited to the abilities of the majority of our players and one that gave us the most probable chance to win as many games as possible. The bottom line though, was that we had players with the physical talent to play early in their collegiate careers yet took longer as the complexities of a typical college offense took much longer to master.


One of the greatest success stories in Malverne, N.Y. High School history, Victor Staffieri served as captain of the 1976 Yale football team. Five years after graduation, Victor was named to the Second Team Ivy League Silver Anniversary All Star Team and eventually became one of the most successful individuals in the nation’s energy supply and distribution business.    


Very often and even with a high level of effective, smart, and “modern” coaching, a high school player can spend his secondary school career in an offensive or defensive system that has lost favor with college coaches, or develops skills that are not immediately applicable to many college systems. I was hired in part, because of experience with the Veer offense and we installed the Wishbone, one of the first in our area. As I have mentioned in previous HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS columns, I communicated with many college coaches and hitchhiked to numerous clinics, both in and out-of-state to meet collegiate coaches willing to share information. Darrell Royal himself gave me the coaches’ game films of his 1969 season to assist me in perfecting our offense. Despite winning records and a system that produced rushing records, those players moving on to schools who ran a different offense were at an immediate disadvantage. Often it takes more than football talent to be successful at the collegiate level and at times, it might take an opportunity other than one’s first attempt at college football.