A lot of discussions nationally have revolved around the current redshirting/transfer situation within the Houston Cougar football team. Regardless of your opinion on what is currently taking place, one thing that we can all agree on is that the upgraded transfer policy has changed the way that coaches manage their rosters and gives players more of a say in their own lives.
Having been a grad transfer myself, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to show Cougar fans what goes on behind the scenes and how my personal transfer experience played out.
Family Comes First
I graduated from the University of Houston in December of 2012 with a BA in Sports Administration. I had just finished my Redshirt Junior year of eligibility and had one year remaining left to play.
To be honest, I never thought that I would ever transfer from the University of Houston. I enrolled in grad school in January of 2013 but soon received word that my grandfather’s health had started to dwindle. That’s when I started discussing the option of playing closer to home for my final year. And that’s when transferring became an option for me.
Let me be clear: I wasn’t unhappy with the coaches, the scheme, or my teammates. I loved where I was! But family asking you to be closer to home changed things. When I first approached (then head coach) Tony Levine about transferring, I was a mess. I’m not sure if I’ve ever cried harder than I did sitting in his office that day. It was tough to tell the man that recruited me that I wanted to leave.
I respect Coach Levine with everything I have (still to this day) but I knew that I wanted to leave. UTSA was my immediate choice for a destination. Being close to home and having high school teammates there made it a no-brainer.
But Coach Levine brought up a great point: What if (then Athletic Director) Mack Rhoades doesn’t like this idea because we play them next year? Not the year I’d play for them but the year after.
To be honest, I had never thought about that. I didn’t even know that institutions are able to block transfers and had the authority to block my release to another school. This still does not make sense to me but that’s a completely different matter.
After meeting with (then the newly-hired Defensive Coordinator) David Gibbs, it seemed as though he was under the impression that I didn’t want to play in an odd front because I’d have to put on weight and move inside to play Defensive Tackle. This was not the case at all. Looking back, I would’ve enjoyed playing for Coach Gibbs, and think that he did very good things with the UH defense. But my decision to leave didn’t come from the scheme, the coaches, or really anything to do with the program. I just wanted to be closer to home.
The news that I was leaving got out. Once the Houston Chronicle reported my transfer, the comments started pouring in. Some were positive and some were not. “Once a Cougar, always a Cougar,” was a phrase that was often sent to me via social media. There were also lots of congratulatory messages on my graduation, and many well wishes on my future.
Then there was the other side: some people were understandably confused and then some were upset. One particular person let me know that “[we] don’t need you anyway.” Understandable. I also heard some words of negativity, such as I wasn’t good enough to be able to play at a bigger program because I wasn’t that great at Houston. That may have been true but thankfully, comments like this weren’t frequent. I received a lot of support from my Houston teammates and the fans. And for that, I am very appreciative.
(I’m sure that some people reading this are finding this hysterical, given my eventual destination, but try to stay with me.)
The day finally came where I got a letter from the Compliance Office about where I would be able to transfer. UTSA was one of the places that the school was not willing to release me to. Any current Conference USA or future American opponents were a no-go as well as any team that Houston would face for the upcoming 4 seasons.
I thought that their rules were pretty harsh until I heard that Charles Sims’ restrictions were even worse. Wow! But again, I was left with another tough decision. Sadly, the same day that I received my release from Houston, my grandfather passed away. The main driving force for me transferring was gone. This didn’t change the fact that I wanted to be closer to family.
Walking On With The Horns … Or Not
Texas State and Texas were really my only options at the time. No offense to the Bobcats, but I had no interest in being in San Marcos. Texas was my favorite team growing up and I knew the defensive line coach, Oscar Giles, from my high school recruitment. It seemed to be the best option even if I wasn’t going to be on scholarship. An hour from home versus the three-hour drive from Houston seemed to be the best move.
I had my heart set on walking on to the football team at the University of Texas and be coached under Mack Brown (for what ended up being his final season in Austin). I had interviews, went to the spring game, and even moved into an apartment just north of downtown Austin.
But there was very little communication with the program though, probably due to graduate transfers still being a fairly new concept. Russell Wilson had done it but he was the only big name that had gone through the process at the time. The summer came and there was still little communication from UT. I was then told that the academic department was having issues with current players’ eligibility. They put me on the back burner. I started worrying that my final year of eligibility was about to be wasted.
Time was of the essence so I called Brian Stewart, my former defensive coordinator at Houston who was now at Maryland. He had heard that I was transferring but I never had any interest in going to Maryland. I wanted to stay home and be by my family. There was no transfer portal at this time so my decision to leave wasn’t as noticeable to other programs like it is today.
Some coaches, from different programs, did go as far as contacting my high school head coach to get more information. I even received a verbal offer from one coach over Facebook. That was a pretty interesting method.
He A Terp
Things changed a bit once my sister’s husband received a transfer and was to be stationed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. My sister is nine years older than me and moved away from home right after high school. Nine-year-old Zeke didn’t exactly cherish his time with her as much as he should have.
So now, Maryland was back in the picture. Though it wasn’t San Antonio or Austin, it did provide me the opportunity to be close to family. Once I went on my Maryland visit, I never heard from UT again. I’ve talked to Coach Giles since then but that was due to our previous relationship.
Maryland was able to put me on full scholarship, and I was able to fit into their defensive line rotation and finish out my eligibility.
I don’t regret transferring. It had nothing to do with the University of Houston and I’m proud of my alma mater. It had nothing to do with the coaching staff or my teammates. And the transfer process ended up being an enjoyable one. I met a new set of friends and coaches, some of which I still talk to on a regular basis. I was also able to achieve my goal of being close to my family though it wasn’t what I had originally planned.
In today’s world of four-game transfers, the portal, and redshirting as a Senior, I would ask that people keep an open mind on all of the variables that could be going into this decision for anyone. Transferring is not always a bad thing – for the player or the program. Coaches are now having to take transfers into account more than ever and players have more control over their careers.
Not only is there more visibility with the transfer portal but graduate transfers are now being taken into account for recruiting. The biggest takeaway in regards to the current situation on Cullen is that Houston can benefit from this. If everyone keeps their word it will all be fine. But as Coach Holgorsen alluded to in his press conference, there are some people out there who aren’t going to play by the rules. If anyone ends up leaving, I’d be looking for some foul play.
Transferring isn’t a new idea and I’m sure that the rules aren’t totally clear to most people. They weren’t for me! Ill-informed players combined with well-informed coaches are not a good thing – nor is all of the power resting with the school. As I learned in my transfer experience, situations are always fluid so tread carefully with this situation, Coogs.
It could all be fine but only time will tell.
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Zeke Riser played football for UH from 2009-2012. Zeke made the 2009 C-USA All-Freshman Defensive Team and was a two-time member of the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll.