Transfer athletes make major impact

In his 14 years of coaching, head coach of men’s swimming and diving Tim Wise has only seen one transfer, Paschall Davis ’14.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said an average of two athletic recruits have applied each year to transfer to Yale for the past five years. With limited spots, very few transfer athletes get in. Even so, some are major figures in Yale athletics. They include Stephanie Kent ’12, captain of the women’s tennis team and Patrick Witt ’12, football quarterback.

“Have you ever heard of anyone who’s transferred out of Yale?” asked Wise. “Nobody leaves, so there’s not much space.”

WHY TRANSFER?

Both Witt and Davis started their explanations the exact same way: “Well,” they both paused. “It was a combination of a lot of things.”

Witt, who considered 26 scholarship offers as a high school senior, graduated early in January 2007 and enrolled in the University of Nebraska. The younger brother of a football player for Harvard, Witt considered the Ivy League but liked Nebraska’s “quarterback-friendly system,” its coaching staff (which included current NFL coach Bill Callahan) and the general feel he got from his visit.

But the coaching staff that originally played a large role in his decision-making process was fired after Witt’s first year, and he decided in March 2009 that he wanted to leave Nebraska.

“I wasn’t being challenged the way I wanted to in the classroom, and I saw how fast college years go by,” he said. “Seeing my brother’s experience, I realized I needed to make the switch.”

Davis felt similarly about the University of Tennessee, where he enrolled in the fall of 2009. He wanted to get out of the South after spending his life there, especially given the way he felt about his team. He decided to transfer after two years at Tennessee.

“I wanted to contribute more to my team, and I realized I wasn’t happy with my place on the team at Tennessee,” he said. “Some of the reasons I chose Tennessee in the first place ended up being some of the reasons I didn’t like it.”

THE APPLICATION PROCESS

Wise said athletes must first obtain a release before contacting any schools or coaches as a potential student. For Witt, getting released from his scholarship at Nebraska was an obstacle that took him one week.

“Coaches have the power not to release you from your scholarship,” Witt said. “It’s in the interests of the school to keep you there. They spend a lot of time and money on you. A week doesn’t sound long, but it was a long seven days.”

Davis, however, obtained his release almost immediately due to his close relationships with his coaching staff and the fact that he was not at Tennessee on a scholarship.

Both athletes contacted schools as soon as they got their releases. Witt sent footage of his games; Davis sent in his best times. According to Brenzel, transfer athletes then go through the same process other freshman recruits go through. Coaches make strong recommendations for particularly talented athletes, and the admissions office ultimately decides.

Witt looked at eight to 10 schools, but for him, Yale was the only one that rivaled Harvard. Davis had already narrowed his list down to Yale, Cornell and Columbia after unexpectedly discovering that some schools, such as Princeton, do not accept transfers. The generous financial aid played a large role in Davis’ decision to choose Yale.

Witt received his likely letter in early May 2009; Davis received his in early May 2011.

TRANSFERRING TO A NEW TEAM

Prior to Witt’s arrival, Brook Hart ’11 was the team favorite to be starting quarterback. But head football coach Tom Williams, who said Hart was a “team locker room favorite,” pulled both players aside and told them that both of them they were competing for the spot.

“It wasn’t easy at first, because you come in as a transfer to people that have played together three or four years who know each other.” Witt said. “Certainly there was someone who was planning to be the starting quarterback before I ever showed up on the doorstep.”

Jake Stoller ’12, a defensive linebacker on the football team, added that pre-existing friendships on the football team biased most players towards supporting Hart, but he said he thought Witt did a great job of transitioning to the team.

Despite initial tensions, Witt said the team, especially the transfers, was supportive. It took him just a few weeks to feel fully adjusted.

“[Hart] and I are friends. It was kind of an awkward situation but the best way to deal with that is to be yourself and blend in,” he said. “I was pleased with how it went, despite the circumstances.”

Though Davis did not have potential tensions with teammates, formulating a routine with Wise has taken time. Davis considers himself a sprinter, but Wise emphasized training with longer swims, and they have been working on a compromise.

As a 21-year-old sophomore, Davis said he spends much of his time with juniors. At the same time, he said he appreciates how people of different ages interact with each other on the team; at Tennessee, he felt there was an artificial divide between younger and older students.

Coach Williams and coach Wise both said that Witt and Davis are undoubtedly fully integrated into their respective teams now.

“Obviously, [Witt’s] made a name for himself on and off the field,” Williams said. “If there’s anyone who’s done more on campus in the past three years, I’d like to know who it is,” he said.

THE ACADEMIC ADJUSTMENT

Both of them appreciate the focus on academics among athletes here.

“I fit in more with these guys than I did at Tennessee,” Davis said. “I felt like kind of an oddball over there.”

But Witt said he received very little academic guidance with his course selection. Yale held a small pizza party for transfers, where past transfers were available to answer questions, and then Witt was on his own.

Davis agreed that there was not much academic help, but as an electrical engineering major, his rigid course track and a meeting with the DUS of electrical engineering made his course selections easier.

He did, however, say that “the whole shopping period thing was kind of crazy.”

Yale accepts around 30 transfer students each year, Brenzel said.

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