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Before the transfer portal opens Monday, here are our picks for BYU’s top 10 additions in 2023 season

Most impactful transfer portal additions included CB Eddie Heckard, QB Kedon Slovis, LB AJ Vongphachanh

SHARE Before the transfer portal opens Monday, here are our picks for BYU’s top 10 additions in 2023 season
BYU cornerback Eddie Heckard (5) celebrates his fumble recovery touchdown against Texas Tech, Oct. 21, 2023, in Provo, Utah.

BYU cornerback Eddie Heckard (5) celebrates his fumble recovery touchdown against Texas Tech Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Provo, Utah. The Weber State transfer more than lived up to the hype after arriving to Provo from the Ogden school.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Although the NCAA transfer portal for football players doesn’t officially open until Monday, many have said they plan to transfer, including several from BYU.

Among those who have said they are moving on are brothers Michael Daley and John Henry Daley, Michael having made his intentions known after the loss at TCU and John Henry having said he’s joining his brother in the portal a few weeks ago.

“Every program in America has to recruit their own players to stay, yeah. At the same time, I think every program in America understands that guys are going to come and go. You just gotta deal with it and be ready.” — BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick

Wednesday, long snapper Austin Riggs announced on Instagram that he’s entering the portal as a grad transfer with one year of eligibility remaining.

On Nov. 8, BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick spoke extensively about how the transfer portal has affected college athletics, noting that recruiting has taken on a whole new meaning nowadays.

“Every program in America has to recruit their own players to stay, yeah,” Roderick said. “At the same time, I think every program in America understands that guys are going to come and go. You just gotta deal with it and be ready.”

While the transfer portal opens soon, the early signing period for high school recruits is quickly approaching as well. It begins Dec. 20 and runs through Dec. 22. According to 247sports.com, BYU currently has 15 commitments from the class of 2024, most notably four-star tight end Ryner Swanson of Laguna Beach, California, and three-star quarterbacks Noah Lugo of Haslet, Texas, Enoch Watson of Queen Creek, Arizona, and Carson Suesue of Granger High. Watson and Suesue will serve church missions before enrolling.

The Cougars lost about 20 players to the portal last year, most notably tight end Dallin Holker, who had a brilliant season at Colorado State and is a finalist for the Mackey Award.

“We have a lot of guys returning next year, so I don’t expect us to need to do as much as we did last year (in the portal),” Roderick said. “I mean, we will see how it goes. But I don’t expect there to be as much turnover.”

Before we jump headfirst into this year’s comings and goings for BYU, now seems like a good time to look at last year’s additions and analyze which of the 20 transfer portal additions made the biggest impacts in 2023.

Here is the Deseret News’ inaugural ranking of the top 10 transfers to Kalani Sitake’s program this past season:

1. Eddie Heckard, senior, cornerback

A case could be made that the Weber State transfer was BYU’s best player in 2023, after he led the Cougars with five interceptions and had a pick-six against Oklahoma State that really should have propelled the Cougars to victory. Heckard was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after recovering a fumble for a touchdown and posting an interception against Texas Tech.

“Eddie has been outstanding,” said defensive coordinator Jay Hill. “He does things the right way. He’s intimidating and he’s tough.”

2. AJ Vongphachanh, senior, linebacker

Utah State transfer finished second on the team in tackles, with 85, only seven behind leader Max Tooley. Vongphachanh was especially needed when BYU’s leading tackler from 2021 and 2022, Ben Bywater, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Kansas. He had five quarterback hurries, second on the team to Tyler Batty’s eight.

3. Kedon Slovis, senior, quarterback

The USC and Pitt transfer arrived with so much hype that it would have been impossible for him to deliver on all the lofty expectations laid before him, but he attacked the role full bore and led the Cougars to five wins in eight starts before an elbow injury sidelined him the remainder of the season. He finished his only season in Provo completing 57.5% of his passes for 1,716 yards and 12 touchdowns, with six interceptions, and a passing efficiency of 122.1.

4. Will Ferrin, sophomore, kicker

Nobody saw this coming except BYU special teams coach Kelly Poppinga, who brought the former Davis High star with him from Boise State. Ferrin seized the starting role after a three-way tryout of sorts in spring camp, and was steady and reliable all season on kickoffs, field goals and PATs. The 48-yard field goal he made to force overtime against Oklahoma State was clutch, and he finished 11 of 14 on field goals and 32 of 33 on PATs. Ferrin led BYU in scoring with 65 points, twice more than second-place Chase Roberts (32).

5. Aidan Robbins, junior, running back

BYU running back Aidan Robbins carries the ball during a game against Sam Houston at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

BYU running back Aidan Robbins carries the ball during the game against Sam Houston at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. The UNLV transfer was hampered by injuries this season but was still a solid contributor.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Having transferred in from UNLV, where he was a 1,000-yard rusher, Robbins was expected to make the biggest impact, along with Slovis. A rib injury suffered in the second week of the season caused him to miss four games, and he didn’t quite lead the Cougars in rushing. Freshman LJ Martin took that honor, picking up 518 yards to Robbins’ 485. Robbins played especially well against No. 14 Oklahoma, picking up 182 yards on 22 carries.

6. Darius Lassiter, junior, wide receiver

The Eastern Michigan transfer is another player who was doing impressive things before a torn LCL caused him to miss two games and slowed him in a couple others. In addition to making several highlight-reel catches, Lassiter was BYU’s third-leading pass-catcher with 29 catches for 365 yards and four touchdowns. As of last week, he was undecided on whether he would return in 2024.

7. Paul Maile, senior, offensive line

The University of Utah transfer started the season at center, then was moved to guard and performed well enough there to make our list. Maile did not allow a sack across 187 passing snaps in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus. He missed only one game, at West Virginia, and also emerged as a valuable leader off the field.

8. Kamden Garrett, senior, cornerback

Garrett was overshadowed by fellow Weber State transfer Heckard at the beginning of the season, but quickly showed his worth with outstanding games against Arkansas and Kansas. He missed the Texas game with an ankle injury, and he was sorely missed. Garrett finished the season with one interception, five pass breakups and 28 tackles.

9. Keelan Marion, sophomore, wide receiver

Marion proved to be almost as valuable as a kick returner than as a receiver, and was one of the rare receivers who could take the top off a defense. His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against West Virginia was called back by a penalty, or his contribution would have been even greater. Marion was fifth on the team in receptions, with 20, and also carried the ball nine times for 40 yards and three touchdowns.

10. Crew Wakley, sophomore, safety

A walk-on from Utah State, Wakley was buried on the depth chart when the season began, but injuries suffered by safeties Micah Harper, Talan Alfrey and Tanner Wall moved him into the starting rotation, and he delivered a solid season that should earn him playing time the next few years. Remarkably, Wakley played in every game, and finished with 31 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one interception.

Other transfers who contributed in 2023

Among the other transfers who made significant contributions in 2023 and their previous school: defensive end Isaiah Bagnah (Boise State), defensive tackle Jackson Cravens (Boise State), offensive lineman Weylin Lapuaho (Utah State), offensive lineman Caleb Etienne (Oklahoma State), linebacker Harrison Taggart (Oregon), running back Deion Smith (Colorado).

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BYU linebacker Harrison Taggart celebrates the win over the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. The Oregon Ducks transfer stepped up after starting linebacker Ben Bywater was lost to injury.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News