Beginning Again

by Monique Bowman

It was one of the hottest topics in college athletics that receives its fair share of attention: the student-athlete transfer.

Sports fans may notice an increased amount of coverage about whose name is now entered the NCAA transfer portal depending on the time of year. As of late, the topic is back in the public eye thanks to new rules limiting immediate eligibility.

While there’s more of a focus on this particular aspect of collegiate athletics, NCAA research shows there hasn’t been a dramatic increase of students hopping from school to school. In NCAA Division I, transfer trends have remained fairly steady from 2004-17.

No school or program is exempt from student-athletes transferring in or out. Followers of Ohio State athletic programs may recall coverage of a certain quarterback named Justin Fields—regarding his decision to transfer, speculation and ultimately confirmation of his decision. More recently, quarterbacks Matthew Baldwin and Tate Martell also took their respective steps away from Columbus.

But what about life after the decision to transfer? Here are four viewpoints of outcomes from Buckeye transfers deciding to begin again with the scarlet and gray.

“Not letting little things faze me.”

Ohio State wrestler Te’Shan Campbell transferred from the University of Pittsburgh, leaving his native city to move to Columbus. For him, the jump wasn’t too difficult, as he knew at least one person on the team and easily connected with others.

“These guys made it easy,” Campbell said of his new wrestling teammates. “[Luke] Pletcher reached out to me first. I knew him because we were both from the same area. I took my visit, got to talk to a few of the guys, and talked with my parents. They were comfortable with it and I felt like it was a good decision.

“Coming here, I didn’t have a car or anything so Myles (Martin) and Ke-Shawn (Hayes) helped me get around and made it easy for me to just build a better connection. It was everything I expected when I came here.”

Campbell was an accomplished wrestler as a Panther, leaving that program with a 40-16 overall record, 10 tech falls, seven major decisions and three falls in his two seasons at Pitt. He was also the 2017 ACC champion at 165 pounds and qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of his years. But even with that experience behind him, he knew Ohio State would be a different level.

“I knew I would have better partners. The coaches here are elite. I knew the schedule would be tougher,” he explained. “I kept it real with myself. My parents pretty much let me know the harsh reality of coming here that no spot will be secure. I knew I would be challenged but that’s why I was coming here—to get pushed on and off the mat.”

As a Buckeye, he split time between 165 and 174 pounds, ultimately qualifying for the NCAA championships at the former weight class. He advanced to the round of 12 and ended with a tiebreaker loss shy of reaching All-American status.

Throughout the entire process, Campbell believes he has grown as a person in addition to becoming a better competitor.

“I learned I have good emotional control. That was probably the biggest thing I learned about myself and the area I’ve been challenged the most. With the schedule being tough, wrestling top-ranked guys week in and week out—I didn’t really panic or lose myself or stop believing in myself.

“Not letting little things faze me, stuff like that. I learned a lot about my emotions and my mental capabilities.”

“You’re more confident in yourself.”

Women’s basketball guard Carmen Grande had one of the more unique transfer experiences, coming to Ohio State as a graduate transfer. After her time in the club basketball circuit in her native Madrid, Spain, Grande competed and completed her mathematical science undergraduate degree at Ball State University, where she was named an All-American, Academic All-MAC and ranked second in the country in assists in those three seasons.

When deciding on a new experience, Ohio State wasn’t initially on the list.

“I didn’t plan to go nearby. I wanted to experience something else in the states like a different area. But all the ideas I had in mind just weren’t the right fit. Then I took an unofficial visit to Ohio State and I really liked the place so I was like, ‘This may be a real shot at something and I actually may like it.’ When it came down to making the decision, it was just the one that was a better fit.”

The 2018-19 Buckeye women’s basketball team had a unique makeup, as seven of the team’s 11 players were brand new faces as either freshmen or graduate transfers. The new blood turned out to have a positive impact on team chemistry.

“One of the things that actually helped was that everybody was a transfer and everybody was trying to find stuff to do. With our personalities, we liked trying to do stuff. That wasn’t challenging like it was when I first got to the states—finding stuff to do or finding friends. We had this built in group where we all just got along.

“But at the same time it was challenging because it’s all new people trying to build a team. I think that’s something that you don’t realize how long it takes. If we had another year together, it would be amazing.”

Grande finished out her collegiate career with 841 assists, making her just the 31st player in NCAA history with 1,000 career points and 800 career assists. She averaged 8.3 points and 3.8 boards per game as a Buckeye, and led the team with 42 steals last season.

Being new is difficult no matter when you do it but it can be an easier transition when doing it in a different time in life’s journey.

“When you’re old enough, you don’t think you’ll have to go through being a freshman again but you kind of do because you don’t know where things are. At the same time, you care less about getting everything right and you’re more like, ‘Okay I’ll figure it out.’ You’re more confident in yourself and what you’re doing.”

“Things are real big here.”

It’s no secret that Ohio State’s size can attract or deter some people. The size of the student body, the campus’ physical footprint and the increased expectations were all realizations for men’s basketball guard Keyshawn Woods once he arrived in Columbus from Wake Forest University.

“I would say both campuses are big but this one is bigger. There are a lot of people always around,” Woods explained. “[Expectations] are real big here and you have to uphold those expectations. You are playing not only for the school and your family, but you playing for the fans. So I’d say that’s probably the biggest challenge here.”

It took little time for Woods to make an impact for the Buckeyes on the court last season. He played in all 35 games, making 15 starts and averaging 8.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. The season itself was a bit of a roller coaster for the squad but Woods feels like it was for the best for him.

“I went through a lot of adversity this year. I feel like I was challenged more mentally here and mentally I felt like I got better throughout the year.”

Reflecting back on his year as a Buckeye, the adventure was the most attractive part of this part of Woods’ journey.

“Coming to place where nobody really knows me is probably the best part. I get to leave my legacy in a different area of the country. I’ve never been to the Midwest but it was really good to adapt and be able to play.”

“Asking for help isn’t a bad thing.”

Osman Fofanah is a rising senior for the Ohio State men’s soccer team and unlike the aforementioned Buckeye student-athletes, he has a full year of experience settling into this new environment. However like his comrades, the transition had its ups and its downs.

“I think it has all worked out better than expected,” Fofanah recalled. “I was a bit scared coming to a big school and leaving all my friendships I had at my last school, but being a student-athlete worked to my advantage. You have that built-in network with your teammates—a group of people who want to get to know you.”

Echoing Woods’ experience, the transition to Ohio State’s size was quite the jump for Fofanah. Born in Sierra Leone and a native of Australia, Fofanah spent two years as a defender at Monroe College (N.Y.) starting in 36 of his 37 games played for the Mustangs.

“Ohio State is a really big school and as soon as classes start, you have to figure out your way around—south campus, north campus and how traffic works here, all within a week. My old school had 6,000 people. Here you have 60,000 people. That was the hardest thing for me.”

The spotlight on student-athletes also shines brighter, as “being a student athlete at Ohio State is bigger than other schools. The craziest thing is having people come up to you and talk to you about your sport and how the team is doing.”

Heading into his senior year, Fofanah is preparing himself to take on bigger roles on and off the pitch. At the start of the summer, he was one of 46 student-athletes to participate in the Wolstein Leadership Academy, a three-day leadership intensive retreat. For Fofanah, it was not only a chance to build upon his skills but also network with student-athletes and staff he may not have had the chance with otherwise. In all, the leap to becoming a Buckeye has been an eye-opening experience.

“I’ve learned that how much value I add to a team. I’m a quiet, shy guy. But coming here, although I don’t say much, when I do it means something to people,” Fofanah explained. “I also realized I need help, but I don’t ask for it. Asking for help isn’t a bad thing. There is a lot of support and many opportunities to make use of here, and I need to make sure to take advantage of those resources and networks during my time here.”

The decision to intentionally start over is not one taken lightly. Not only are transfers choosing to learn all new systems and communities, but also choosing to prove themselves again to a new crop of teammates.

“Coming into this type of situation, I was confident enough to be a leader of the team. At the same time, you have to respect those who have been here,” Grande said. “I felt like I’ve been three years in the making to finally be somebody that everybody listens to. But (transferring in), it’s like you start from zero and you have to re-establish yourself. That part sucked a little.”

However having that previous school and team experience allows a student-athlete to grow personally, making the transition to new surroundings a bit easier. As Woods noted: “If you show who you are when ynou first step on campus and you keep that throughout, people respect you much more.”

Offering similar thoughts, Campbell adds, “I didn’t really change my personality or who I am. I didn’t have to change anything like that or act brand new. If you made the right decision from the jump, it’ll be easy.”

Sometimes the toughest part of starting over is actually starting and the challenges don’t start there, but Fofanah advises to dive deep into the new environment.

“Open yourself up. Don’t wait for people to come up and have people ask if you’re okay. Try to be around people who have been here for a year or two. Get involved and make the best out of your opportunity.”