The eye lock came at a distance of 50 yards.

Receiver Kody Epps was walking from the north end of the practice field. The team had just concluded practice and players were headed back to the locker room. Epps was not dressed for practice since he was recovering from an injury.

It was the final practice of BYU spring football in April. I was standing in the middle of the Cougars practice field talking to Tom Sitake, father of head coach Kalani Sitake. Tom and I have known each other since we were teens on his home island of Tonga’tapu, Tonga, at Liahona High School.

Epps saw Tom and made a beeline for the two of us. He enthusiastically grabbed Tom and gave him a bear hug. He then shook my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Kody Epps, what’s up.”

Epps treated Tom Sitake like he was his grandpa, uncle, or one of his best friends.

That brief moment from spring football epitomized who and what the effervescent Epps is all about. It’s his trademark. He’s passionate, exudes positive vibes and has become somewhat of a legend in his short two seasons at BYU. He’s beloved by teammates and fans alike.

That’s why the 30-hour circus at the start of this week over his entry and then exit from the transfer portal was so crazy. 

When news broke that Epps had entered the portal, his coaches couldn’t reach him via phone calls or texts. Then, they could.

The NCAA rules state a player enters the transfer portal by contacting the university’s compliance officer. Then, his name is placed in a database that triggers notification to other schools of his status. It is then, and only then, that schools can recruit him. It also triggers a series of cutoff moves his current school can take, including denying him team benefits like workout facilities, the locker room, food and other amenities.

Most head coaches do pull those amenities immediately and shut the transfer out. Epps is lucky BYU did not do that, and likewise, BYU is fortunate this highly liked player who is desperately needed decided to return and did so in short order.

Two burning questions remain from the Epps saga, which drew immediate attention from many teams, including offers from Auburn, Colorado, Miami and Ole Miss with interest from Tennessee, Utah, Notre Dame, Oregon, Alabama and Virginia Tech.  

First, what triggered the portal move? Was it a conversation? If so, with who and when? Was there a promise pitch given that prompted him to consider leaving a team where playing reps and role were not issues? After all, everything indicated Epps was happy at BYU. He attended The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ semiannual general conference with teammates and was a candidate for a big academic trip for off-campus study. Not to mention his existing NIL arrangement and growing networking opportunities with BYU alumni on the corporate level.

Second, what did he learn in that short time in the portal that made him decide he was just fine where he was?

Epps may clear it all up.

Or not.

But this is the college sports world we now live in.

When USU’s Blake Anderson came to Logan, he used transfers to rocket the Aggies to a Mountain West title in his first season. Now, he’s lost players and is scrambling to rebuild after struggling last year. But the portal can provide.

Eight hours to the east, new Colorado coach Deion Sanders is attempting to do something with the transfer portal that is unheard of. He will turn over 70% of his roster this offseason.

The Athletic had a report quoting anonymous Power Five coaches and staff who questioned the risks Sanders was taking, and that it could be a disaster.

Quoting an unnamed P5 staffer, writers Max Olson and Bruce Feldman wrote for The Athletic: “I can appreciate the aggression and the urgency to essentially bust things down to the studs and start over,” a Pac-12 director of player personnel said. “My concern is the rapid hemorrhaging of personnel within specific position rooms. They have an unfathomably low amount of scholarship players in some rooms that demand high-volume personnel.”

The Athletic cited another challenge with transfers this year: 

“There’s a potentially greater issue coming soon. The NCAA is concerned enough about the graduation rate of transfers that they want to hold schools accountable. Starting this year, the undergraduate transfers Sanders signs will have their financial aid guaranteed for their full five-year period of eligibility and count against Colorado’s 85-man scholarship limit until they graduate or go pro.”

Tampering? Foreknowledge of player interest before they enter the portal? It’s happening all over, let’s not kid ourselves.

Sanders must replace players he’s chased off with quality P5 athletes in the coming months. He told a radio station he knows who they are. It will take a hefty amount of NIL money to pull that off. His statement, his braggadocio and confidence in saying he’s identified who he will get makes some coaches in the business wonder if there’s been tampering, which is not allowed.

Olson and Feldman quoted a P5 personnel director about Colorado:

“It’s unprecedented enough that you could tell me this is gonna lead to them (Colorado) buying the best 25 players in the portal and I guess I’d believe it. You could tell me they got rid of the exact amount of guys that they already have silent commitments from prior tampering and I’d believe it. You could tell me that every 10 minutes they’re making a new decision and they’re gonna end up playing next season with 61 scholarship players and I’d believe it.”

Urban Meyer is puzzled with what his friend Sanders is attempting.

Speaking on the Tim May podcast, Meyer said, “How do you function? You know, I can’t even imagine the recruiting going on right now and talking to other players and other programs and trying to get them to come to you. Then I’m also trying to wrap my head around players being told just to leave.

“We’ve all been as a coach, you know, I wouldn’t be truthful to say there weren’t times I wanted to tell players to leave, but you just really can’t do that. You can make it hard on them and make them either improve or they leave.”

In days to come Epps may share more details of his story, his decision to go, then return to BYU. It’s his tale to tell. Or, he may let his published social media statement stand and just move forward.

The Epps case is a perfect example of how bewildering this can all be. It certainly makes one wonder what the heck is happening to the game.

At the least, it’s as entertaining as it is a mystery.

Colorado coach Deion Sanders gets interviewed during the school’s spring game Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Boulder, Colo. | David Zalubowski, Associated Press