Four Positions UNI Should Prioritize in the Transfer Portal
Since its inception, the transfer portal has allowed UNI football to strike gold on a barrage of former DI FBS athletes. Safety Benny Sapp III (Minnesota), quarterback Theo Day (Michigan State), cornerback Woo Governor (Central Michigan), wide receiver Desmond Hutson (Iowa), and running back Dom Williams (Kansas) to name a few.
The opportunity has come once again as the transfer portal officially opened Monday, December 5, giving Coach Mark Farley and his staff the ability to recruit young men that want a change in scenery.
Factoring in the graduation of seniors, other players leaving in the transfer portal, and the future outlook of the Panthers, there are four key positions UNI should -- and will -- pursue in the portal this offseason.
The front end of the Panther defense was worn thin this season. With injuries to DT Khristian Boyd and DE Caden Houghtelling, Coach Farley and company had to make significant changes to the scheme and structure of the defense. UNI switched between a 3-4 and 4-3 base defense several times this season due to a lack of depth.
Additionally, the collective D-line registered just 10.5 sacks in 2022. For a frame of reference, in 2019, Jared Brinkman registered seven sacks himself.
Not that Boyd, Houghtelling, Devin Rice, or Cannon Butler need replacing, but added depth to ensure a level of healthy talent and fresh bodies in each game would greatly benefit the Panthers in 2023.
So far, UNI has offered Iowa State defensive end Blake Peterson and Wagner defensive lineman Andre Cawley Jr. out of the portal.
After this season, UNI loses Sapp III, Korby Sander, and Jevon Brekke to graduation. All three oversaw the top of the Panther defense for several seasons, and Sapp III is expected to be an NFL Draft pick this spring. Additionally, corner Stefan Black II entered the transfer portal after starting the last two seasons for UNI.
Governor will be a mainstay at one corner spot, but the safety, rover, and the other corner positions will need to be filled in 2023. Either by transfer, or someone already on the roster.
With defensive backs like Dewuan Mack, Dalesean Staley, Jahsiah Galvan, Deven Foster, and others waiting in the wings, the Panther secondary may be -- for the most part -- taken care of already.
But, adding a ball-hawking safety or a DB with the versatility to play multiple positions like Sander and Brekke wouldn't hurt. Lord knows those that enter the portal from the FBS will have the physical tools to fulfill both of those tasks.
The staff has already offered eight defensive backs out of the portal, including Iowa's Terry Roberts, Pitt's Khalil Anderson, Central Michigan's Rolliann Sturkey, and Alabama walk-on Rodney Johnson III.
The UNI offensive line will look completely different in 2023. Erik Sorensen, Justin Peine, Matthew Vanderslice, and Nick Ellis are all graduating. The only returning starter is left guard Jared Penning. Tristan Roper is a returner with some starting experience, but other the other three spots will be filled with new faces.
With the developmental skills that offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ryan Clanton has shown, it shouldn't shock anyone if they plug-and-play someone like redshirt freshman Benjamin Kuehnast, who was a three-star recruit out of high school. Coach Farley told me that Kuehnast impressed him in camp, too.
But with the pedigree of UNI football and the production of NFL-quality linemen (see Trevor Penning and Spencer Brown), that should serve as a calling card to transfer portal offensive linemen across the country.
The Panther coaching staff has offered Ben Hoitink from Penn out of the portal.
After this season, Spencer Cuvelier and Bryce Flater won't be in the middle of the Panther defense for the first time since 2018. The graduation of two guys (specifically Cuvelier, who was the quarterback of the defense) that played at a high level like those two did over the last four seasons is a big loss.
Ben Belken returns after seeing snaps the last two seasons following Flater and Cuvelier injuries, and Edwin Dearman will likely fill the nickel linebacker position again next year. However, no other linebacker on the UNI roster has spent significant time on the field yet. Cameron Baker, Tucker Langenberg, Caleb Frazer, and Washington State transfer Peni Naulu are names to watch, but if the staff can bring in a seasoned linebacker to compete for a starting role next to Belken, it wouldn't hurt.
The lone linebacker the staff has offered out of the portal so far is Colin Bohanek from Eastern Illinois, who committed to Southern Illinois Thursday, December 8.
I've made the argument on Twitter that UNI should look into the portal for another FBS transfer at quarterback. With Day presumably back for 2023, the next in line in Cedar Falls will be Aidan Dunne. Following Dunne are Nate Martens, Matthew Schecklman, and Braylon Kammrad.
If the Panther staff wants continued high-level play at the QB spot, they should tap into the portal -- where there are currently 36 three-star (or higher) quarterbacks that are redshirt sophomores or younger, according to On3.com. With a COVID year, each of them has three years of eligibility remaining.
Getting an heir apparent to Day and having a real QB competition in 2024 should be on the minds of the UNI staff.
Though the WR corps is still loaded with Sam Schnee, Sergio Morancy, Desmond Hutson, and possibly Logan Wolf, (along with West Virginia transfer Devell Washington, Brady McCullough, and incoming three-star freshman Grant Larkin), the staff has made it known that they're on the lookout to add more talent via the portal.
So far, they've offered scholarships to Wagner's Naiem Simmons, Colorado State's Melquan Stovall, NDSU's DJ Hart, and Merrimack's Jacari Carter.
Though the running back position was not mentioned in this article, the other offer UNI has extended was to Eastern Illinois tailback, Jaelin Benefield.