Brent Schrotenboer|USA TODAY
Jason Oliver never really got a chance to prove himself to new Colorado football coach Deion Sanders.
After playing in all 12 gameslast year as a freshman, Oliver underwent surgery for his torn labrum in November and missed most of spring practice as he healed from his injury, according his father.
But that didn’t matter to Sanders, who has made clear since his hiring in December that he wanted to “replace” players like Oliver after last year’s team finished 1-11.
On Monday, the backup cornerbackwas pushed off the team after meeting with Colorado coaches.
“He didn’t get a chance to compete to stay,” Oliver’s father, Jason Sr., told USA TODAY Sports. “That was the hardest part of it.”
Oliver Jr. is one of at least 27 Colorado players who said they were leaving the team to enter the transfer portal since the end of the spring practice season on Saturday. The mass exodus was expected and in most cases was initiated by Sanders and his coaching staff as they continue a roster overhaul that is unprecedented in the modern era of college football.
Sanders started the spring with 51 scholarship players inherited from last year’s team. Less than sixweeks later, at least 37 of them had entered the portal, which remains open through April 30.
That means only 14 scholarship players from last year remain, as of Wednesday afternoon, and that at least 71 of Colorado’s 85 scholarship players (83.5%) could be newcomers by the time the Buffaloes open the season at TCU Sept. 2.
“It’s no way I can put new furniture in this beautiful home if we don’t clean out the old furniture,” Sanders said Wednesday on the Pat McAfee Show.
Why the purge?
It’s a numbers game for Sanders, whether the players were injured or not. He’s already got at least 30 transfer players coming in to play for him this fall, a transfer class that ranks No. 1 in the nation mostly because of its size, according to 247Sports. On Wednesday, two defenders from Florida State added their names to the list by announcing they were transferring to Colorado.
This influx of “new furniture” in turn requires a purge of “old furniture” to make room under the NCAA limit of 85 scholarship players per year.
It still can be difficult for those on the way out, even if they were warned about it during their first team meeting with Sanders in December. He told his inherited players then to get ready to “jump in that portal."
“The inherited players were on thin ice to begin with, and they were going to have to compete and show that they wanted to bethere,” said Oliver Sr., a former player at Southern California. “In this situation, (Oliver Jr.)didn’t get to compete because he was cleared two days before the spring game.”
Why others left
Sophomore linebacker Zion Magalei had an experience similar to Oliver’s, according to Magalei’s father Gabriel. He pulled a pectoral muscle during a workout and was out with the injury for four weeks before returning last week.
“He still played in the spring game,” his father told USA TODAY Sports. “But when he had his exit interview yesterday, they told him, 'Man, it doesn’t look like it’s going to work out. So it’s probably best to go into the portal.’ ”
Same goes for Xavier Smith, a freshman safety from Atlanta. He didn’t make his college debut until the last game of the season last year after coming back from a broken leg. Now he’s looking for a new team after being pushed out.
“He understood,” his mother LaToya said by phone. “He was injured. He got back right. It’s a job. We understood.”
The speed and scope of this revolving door was fueled by an NCAA rule change in 2021 that allowed college players to transfer to another four-year college without first sitting out a year of competition. Before that, players who graduated from four-year colleges also were allowed to switch teams without sitting out.
Starting defensive tackle Jalen Sami said he started thinking about taking the latter route before he met with Sanders recently.
“I already thought I was going to do it,” Sami said in an interview with USA TODAY Sports. “I was just waiting for the spring to see where Coach Prime felt I fit in the program or not. And it took us a couple of days, but we both came to a consensus that I should enter the portal.”
Why they weren't surprised
Sami, a Colorado Springs native, has one year of eligibility left after starting 36 games at Colorado since 2018. He and others interviewed by USA TODAY Sports about their departures from Colorado didn’t express bitterness at Sanders, mostly because they realize this is the “business” college football has become.
“Coach Prime came and did what he said he was going to do,” Sami said. “He’s pretty much making room for the team that he wants. For the other guys, it sucked to see them leave. We’ve been through thick and thin.”
Sanders issued another reminder about this Wednesday when asked about the roster overhaul on the McAfee show. He noted morenewcomers areexpected to join the program this summer.
“We already know who we got on the way in, baby,” he said. “They probably at the airport right now.”
He also said he told his inherited players “as often as possible” that “when a whole coaching staff gets terminated, who do you think is next?”
He likened it to the business world when a failing company is taken over by new executives. In this case, Sanders replaced coach Karl Dorrell, who was fired after an 0-5 start last year after his team got blown out of every game.
Caught in a whirlwind
Likewise, it was a business decision for receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig, who starred in the spring game Saturday but then put his name in the portal to leave. Sami said he spoke with him afterward and was told he made the decision to leave on his own.
Lemonious-Craig since has posted on social media that he has received offers to join Penn State, Arkansas, Auburn and many others.
Such high-profile interest hasn’t been shown to other departing players at CU, underscoring why Sanders feels the need to upgrade his personnel by replacing them.
Four players started at quarterback for the Buffs last season, but all have since left and transferred to schools outside the limelight of the Power Fiveconferences –Nevada, Arkansas State, Texas-San Antonio and Miami (Ohio). They were replaced by Sanders’ son Shedeur, who came to Colorado with this father from Jackson State.
“I think everybody understands at this point – most of those boys, it wasn’t their decision,” Oliver Sr. said. “I can only speak for my son. He had no intention of leaving. That’s just the situation. Unfortunately, it’s the business side of college football. Unfortunately for my son, he’s got caught up in this whirlwind.”
And it’s not over. On Wednesday, backup quarterback Drew Carter announced he also was entering the portal with three years of college eligibility remaining, leaving little depth at that position behind Shedeur Sanders. But his father doesn’t appear worried. To the contrary, he said this was his plan all along.
“Deion is gonna do what he does,” said Zion Magalei’s father, Gabriel. “It’s like a whole big show over there man. I think some kids are getting lost in the shuffle. I get it.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org