Shortly after a 1-6 season, things seemed to get even worse for the Temple football program. A large number of players were hitting the transfer portal, including three-year starting quarterback Anthony Russo, who went to Michigan State.
The narrative was that the top players wanted out of Temple. The question was whether the program could recover not only from a losing season that was marred by injuries and COVID-19 but from all the defections.
Third-year Temple coach Rod Carey and his staff responded by attacking the transfer portal with ferocity. And while the Owls lost several key players to the portal, they gained their fair share, which gives them a chance to move back up the American Athletic Conference standings.
Make no mistake. Temple will be picked fairly low in the 11-team conference preseason polls. But the Owls at least have gotten some major reinforcements.
“When everybody was screaming, ‘The sky is falling,’ when people were leaving, the transfer portal swings both ways,” Carey said following this year’s spring practice. “We really feel like we’ve done a good job of really getting the pieces in place, guys who can help us immediately and really have an impact, and in some cases have a bigger impact than guys that we lost with consistency of both.”
» READ MORE: Temple names D'Wan Mathis starting quarterback
Temple has lost 13 players to the portal, and gained nine. The Owls were able to attract players from high-profile conferences, and many didn’t know a whole lot about the program before this process started.
Temple recruited players from, among others, the SEC, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference, and Pac-12.
Their prize transfer is redshirt freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis, who started the first game last season for Georgia but didn’t see much time after that.
“I really didn’t know much about Temple,” Mathis said.
He soon would learn a lot during frequent conversations with Carey.
“Me and Coach Carey would talk every day [during] the recruiting process, and that was really the only head coach that I heard from. So, for me, that was the biggest thing, how often would I be able to speak to my head coach, and how often he would be able to respond,” Mathis said.
One byproduct of a 1-6 season that ended a game short when the Cincinnati game was canceled after both teams had COVID-19 issues was that the Owls’ coaches got a head start on recruiting players from the transfer portal.
“Coach Carey had a good plan and good vision, and it was communicated clearly, and guys executed well,” said Temple running backs coach Gabe Infante, the former head coach at St. Joseph’s Prep.
Defensive end Will Rodgers came to Temple from Washington State. Rodgers played quite a bit for the Pac-12 school, with 34 career games, 13½ tackles for loss and eight sacks.
He said Temple’s aggressiveness in recruiting him was a major factor in his decision.
“I felt like [Temple] was the one that wanted me the most, and I felt like it was the best situation for me to be successful,” Rodgers said.
Temple re-recruited some players it had tried to sign as high school players. One was redshirt sophomore running back Iverson Clement, a star at South Jersey’s Rancocas Valley, who went to Florida.
“Number 1, we wanted to look at local guys,” Infante said.
Clement, who didn’t see much playing time at Florida, said that he had several opportunities after deciding to leave the SEC school. He said he was impressed with how the Temple coaches recruited him
“Coach Carey, Coach Infante, reached out to me and really built the relationship,” Clement said.
A familiar pattern occurred.
“Throughout the process, Coach Carey called me every day,” Clement said. “I appreciated how they handled it. They didn’t have to do what they did, but they called me every day.”
For many, coming to Temple represented the most important aspect of their football career: potential playing time. The NCAA recently ruled that college athletes may transfer one time as an undergraduate and earn immediate eligibility.
Previously, transfers had to sit out a year. The new ruling has made the portal busy, with players constantly going in and out. This has made coaching and recruiting even more difficult.
Nobody knows who is coming or going, but there will be plenty of both at many schools, including Temple. Carey even suggested that more transfers could come to Temple by fall camp.