Duranko’s Digest: The Strange Saga of Notre Dame Quarterback Transfers

Notre Dame Quarterback Transfers - Gunner Kiel
South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Gunner Kiel (1) stretches during practice at the LaBar Practice Complex. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The fortcoming departure of Gunner Kiel triggers synapses of quarterbacks who left Notre Dame in the past.  It is a coat of many colors…..

Once upon a time, most college coaches recruited many quarterbacks.  In the days before passing offenses “arrived” the run was emphasized and the quarterback was, very often, the cliched “Best athlete on the team.”  College coaches would routinely overrecruit quarterbacks and then move the least quarterbackesque to other positions.  Of course there have been some extraordinary successes, nationally, of quarterbacks who transferred, Troy Aikman from Oklahoma to UCLA, Jeff George from Purdue to Illinois, and Joe Flacco from Pitt to Delaware.

Over the years, Notre Dame has had more quarterbacks move to other positions (Tom Schoen, John Pergine) and other sports (the great Phil Wittliff, hockey player, included) than to play quarterback for other schools.

But there were some humdingers of quarterback transfers.


Nobody did it better.  In the middle of his Heisman winning season of ’43, after just six games, Bertelli left ND and transferred to Quantico, then Camp Lejeune, then later Guam and Iwo Jima where he fought with as much distinction for the fighting Marines as he had for the Fighting Irish.  Bertelli had enlisted with the marines before his senior year, and when they contacted him in the Fall of ’43, he apparently went over to Sacred Heart Church and read the arch over the East door.  You know, the one that says “God, Country, Notre Dame.”  Angelo knew “Country” outranked “Notre Dame” and off he went.

No other school has ever had this happen.

There are some interesting tales regarding quarterbacks who’ve transferred from Notre Dame.  Quite a few have examined what appeared to be a quarterback logjam in South Bend and have changed venues with some significant success.

The Ragin’ Cajun

Roy Henry

This NOLA QB candidate came in with the great recruiting class of ’73.  Roy was one of the players dismissed along with Browner, Fry, Bradley, Hunter and Dan Knott in the “dormitory incident” of the summer of 1974. Unlike the other five,  Roy never returned to Notre Dame.  Instead  he headed to Lafayette to join the Ragin’ Cajuns, where he was an all  Southland conference first team qb in ’76 and passed for 14 TDS and over 1800 yards in 1976.

The Boomerang

Scott Grooms

Grooms was a highly-pursued prospect who came from Washington Court House, Ohio, the same program that produced Art Schlichter.  Schlichter was something of an anomaly.  After he struggled under Woody Hayes in ’78 (the year that ended with Woody punching a Clemson player in a Bowl game, leading to his termination) Schlichter blossomed in ’79 under Earle Bruce and was arguably the best qb in the country as a sophomore.

It was later that Schlichter’s personal travail and degenerate gambling began to undermine his considerable football skill.  Grooms was thought to be as good, and looked good in the ’81 Spring practice.  However, Blair Kiel held the job, and Grooms transferred to Miami of Ohio.  Interestingly, Grooms later returned to Notre Dame and graduated.

A Green Wave

Ken Karcher

Recruited by Devine a year after Blair Kiel and Scott Grooms, Karcher was from the Pittsburgh Shaler district. Because of Lujack,  Clements and Montana, the Irish were predisposed to Western Pennsylvania quarterbacks and Karcher had been a stud at Shaler.  He left to play quarterback at Tulane with some success: he started in ’84 and ’85 and threw for over 3300 yards and 17 TDs for the Green Wave.  Karcher later had a four game cup of coffee with the Denver Broncos in the NFL.

10 YEAR NFL Player

Kent Graham

A hot-shot recruit from Wheaton, thought to be the best prospect there since Red Grange went on to become the Galloping Ghost of the Illini.  He came to campus a year after Tony Rice,  and Lou chose Rice to use his option magic to start for the Irish.  Graham moved on to Ohio State and was the Buckeye starter in 1991.  Interestingly, Graham had NFL size and a big arm, and he collected paychecks in the NFL with the Giants, Washington, Pitsburgh and Arizona for 10 years. Carrying a clipboard can be lucrative! He’s probably pension-eligible.

Notre Dame WR CJ Sanders Seeking Graduate Transfer

Jake the Snake

Jake Kelchner

A well-recruited prospect from Berwick, Jake signed with with the Irish in 1989, the same year as the Goshen motion, Rick Mirer.  Mirer bested Kelchner, who went on to play at West Virginia.  Behind Jake Plummer of Arizona State, Kelchner was probably the second most renowned “Jake the Snake” in college football in that era.  He quarterbacked an unbeaten West Virginia team in 1993.  Kelchner passed for over 2500 yards and 18 TDS in ’92 and ’93.  In ’93 Kelchner led the Mountaineers to victories over Missouri, Va Tech and Miami (FL) before they were demolished by Florida in the Sugar Bowl, 41-7.  The Irish had burned no  bridges in Berwick and signed Ron Powlus for the 1993 frosh class.

Purple Reign

Zak  Kustok

Kustok was interesting, as his transfer from Notre Dame was presaged by a controversial transfer in high school.  As a callow freshman, Kustok led Lincoln Way West to a Sica championship.  But Zak became disenchanted and the family moved to Orland Park, with Zak transferring to Sandburg High, where he was heavily pursued as a quarterback prospect.  He signed with Notre Dame in 1997, served on the scout team in ’97, then found himself down on the depth chart in the Spring of 1998 behind Arnaz Battle and Jarious Jackson.  Kustok was no slouch in the classroom, and had a 3.5 during his academic career at Notre Dame.  He decided to transfer, and was recruited by Gary Barnett to play for Northwestern just as Barnett was leaving to coach Colorado.  Kustok quarterbacked with distinction for Northwestern.  Kustok was a howling success at Northwestern, playing as soon as he became eligible, and then starting in 2000 and 2001, when he was named the Wildcats’ Most Valuable Player.  The Wildcats were 12-11 the two years he started, and, in the pre-Pat Fitzgerald era, that was outstanding for Northwestern.  Kustok passed for over 500 completions for over 5800 yards and 42 touchdowns.

Hurryin’ Hoosier

Matt Lovecchio

Matt had quarterbacked Bergen Catholic and caught the Irish eye, signing in 2000 and being named starter by Davie. In 2001, Lovecchio started the first two games, both of which were losses, and he was demoted by Davie who wanted to throw Carlyle Holiday under the bus in an initial start in College Station against the Aggies. A&M 24-Notre Dame 3.  In the Spring, Lovecchio and his stage dad sought assurances from new coach Willingham that Matt would be the starter. The taciturn Willingham demurred.

Lovecchio transferred to IU and started for the Hoosiers in 2002 and 2003.  He completed over 300 passes for over 3600 yards.  The Hoosiers, under former  ND star Gerry Dinardo, won only 4 games  in those 2 season.  However in a late recount courtesy of Joe Paterno’s failure to supervise Jerry Sandusky, two of the losses to Penn State have been vacated.  So the Hoosier football program has that going for it.

The scapegoat

Demetrius Jones

Demetrius Jones was a wunderkind  coming out of Morgan Park, a dual threat.  He came in a year before Clausen, with Frazer.  While most thought that Clausen was pre-annointed by the previous coach,  Demetrius Jones was named the starter for the ’07  game against Georgia Tech.  There have been many examples of cowardice by a general.  There is Jubilation T. Cornpone (q.v.), from Al Capp’s “L’il Abner.”  There is General McLellan, who exasperated Lincoln during the Virginia campaign before being replaced by Abe.  Then there is the gameplan from the schematic genius for the ’07 Georgia Tech game.  Jones was fed to the stings of the Yellow Jacket’s blitz package, in a game the Irish lost 33-3.

The game was not nearly so close as the final score indicated.  Schematic advantage concluded that only a sheer defensive genius could blunt his “brilliant” game plan, and then demoted Jones and went in hot pursuit of Jon, “Blitz package” Tenuta.  Jones transferred to Cincinnati to play for Brian Kelly and got some time at linebacker.  Tenuta?  Don’t Ask!

The Uconn Huskies BCS quarterback

Zach Frazer

A highly rated quarterback from  Eastern Pennsylvania (Mechanicsburg) Frazer signed with the Irish in February 2006.  He was injured for the 2006 season and was informed that he was not a competitor for the quarterback job thereafter, prompting his transfer to UCONN.

Brace Yourselves, Another Notre Dame Quarterback Competition is Coming

Zach had considerable success at UConn, starting in 19 gajmes, throwing for over 3000 yards and 17 touchdowns and led the Huskies to a BCS bowl game against Oklahoma.  He threw for over 200 yards against the Sooners in that Fiesta Bowl

The Jayhawk

Dayne Crist

A Rivals five star from California, he was recruited by ol’ schematic advantage to serve as the lady-in-waiting for Clausen.  Crist had injury issues but started at QB in both the ’10 and ’11 seasons for Brian Kelly’s Irish. Dayne was quickly replaced by Rees in the ’11 season and became the Joan of Arc of the Kelly bashers on a increasingly odiferous bevy of internet sites.  Crist, who was a very nice young man who fit in well at Notre Dame,  violated a rule. The rule is “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” and left, despite other options to pursue rock chalk and Jayhawks in Lawrence.  Crist quarterbacked Kansas to a stirring victory over the mighty South Dakota State Jackrabbits, 31-17.

The next win by Kansas was by the basketball team.  Crist completed 103 of 216 passes for 1300 yards and four touchdown passes and nine interceptions.  Rock chalk, Jayhawk, KU.  Kelly still awaits the first apology letter from the chimpanzees who vilified him for replacing Crist with Rees in 2011.  Players like Henry, Karcher, Kelchner, Graham, Kustok and Frazer have had some success and fun, albeit not fame, playing quarterback after they left Notre Dame.

May Gunner Kiel find the same!  Good luck, Son!

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  1. duranko 5 years ago

    chitown copper. I neither recall nor can find any record of Glenn Foley having played at Notre Dame. But I am scarred by his passes to Pete Mitchell (cover the TE, Minter!) that fateful November day in ’93.

    Neither can I find any record that Matt Ryan signed an LOI with ND.

    Not saying you’re wrong, just that I can not confirm.

    And Happy Easter to all. It’s about 28 hours until the cantor intones the Exsultet, my second favorite Catholic Prayer.

    Spirit of Resurrection to all.

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  2. JTRAIN 5 years ago

    Adios davonte neal…good luck

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  3. Chi-town copper 5 years ago

    Didn’t Glenn foley transfer to BC then go on to beat us and ruin our nc chances? Wasn’t matt ryan also a signee?

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  4. Justin 5 years ago

    Don’t forget about Chris Olsen. I think he went to Virginia around the Brady Quinn era. More importantly his transfer triggered Greg Olsen transferring to the U.

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  5. Shazamrock 5 years ago


    Interesting article!

    The only transfer QB that really sticks out in my mind was Zack Frazer.

    That’s probably because of a game in November 2009.
    He went 12 for 25 and one TD in a double overtime win (33-30) over his former team (ND).

    Interesting thing… that win against his former coach/team helped seal the fate of the high exhalted hooddie. Not only was Frazer probably the best QB out of Jones and Clausen, he was also allowed to transfer to a team that was on our future schedule. I guess with Charlie’s keen eye for talent, he never figured the kid would amount to anything.

    Fate is a funny thing…. Charlie Weis, not so much!

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    1. NDQuebec 5 years ago

      Better than Clausen? Hello? You are joking right? Clausen was one hell of a QB and Frazer was not in the same league as him.

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      1. Shazamrock 5 years ago

        “Probably” better than Clausen… “Probably”.

        Of course proving that would have meant Frazer being properly evaluated, properly developed, and given a fair and honest shot at the starting QB job.

        Charlie Weis and his man crush on little Jimmy prevented that.

        And that was his mistake.

        Jimmy Clausen’s mistake was showing up in a limo and fur coat before ever taking a snap.

        The only one with any smarts was Frazer, who transferd, won the starting job at UCONN, won enough games to lead his team to the BCS orange bowl, AND, by the way, defeated Little Jimmy head to head at ND stadium on senior day in 2009 in double over time.

        Given all that, I whole heartily agree that Frazer and Clausen were not in the same league!

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      2. C-Dog 5 years ago

        I have to agree. One
        wonders if Frazer had been developed with the same level of attention given to Clausen. Jimmy was sort of a punk.

        Kelly now has some holes to fill at receiver. That will hurt more than QB. Hopefully Neal finds peace wherever he lands.

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