CARMEL – When 46 percent of athletes who enter the NCAA transfer portal don’t land another scholarship, it’s a risk.
Tight end JT Byrne bet on himself when he put his name in the portal Wednesday night, choosing to leave Oregon State after two years.
“When you’re in the portal, you’re just sitting there,” the former Carmel High multi-sport standout said. “You have no home. It was extremely stressful. I was just sitting by my phone.”
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Byrne didn’t have to wait long to receive a call from Cal. He waited even less to accept an offer to resume his football career this fall for the Bears.
“It’s been one of the craziest days in my life,” said the 20-year-old Byrne, who was driving up to Corvallis to pick up his belongings. “I’ve been glued to my phone. I’m so grateful Cal reached out.”
Byrne, who played sparingly this past fall as a backup tight end and on special teams for Oregon State, will enroll at Cal this spring and participate in spring ball. The NCAA portal allows athletes to transfer without being forced to sit out a season.
Ironically, Cal was among two dozen colleges that had talked to Byrne when he was being heavily recruited at Carmel in 2020.
“I might have set the record for being in the portal the shortest time,” laughed Byrne, who made his decision roughly 25 hours after announcing he was leaving Oregon State.
Byrne, who caught 48 passes as a junior at Carmel in 2019, was looking for an offensive system where the tight end is used in more passing situations.
“I firmly believe the offense fits my talents,” Byrne said. “I’m excited for the different way that the tight end is used. I can help contribute. The bottom line is I want to help the team win.”
Last year the Bears were just 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the Pac 12. Cal hasn’t been to a bowl game or posted a winning season since 2019. It hasn’t won a conference title since 2006 — one of 14 in its storied 126-year history.
Cal did recruit one tight end this year. Five different tight ends caught at least one pass last year in Cal’s wide-open offense.
“Just talking with the coaches, I understood what their understanding of culture is in becoming a man,” Byrne said. “It’s a team that wants to work. Cal checked off a lot of the boxes.”
Byrne did not feel the need for a visit, having been a regular as a youth at attending Cal-Stanford games at historic Memorial Stadium, overlooking Strawberry Canyon.
Part of the balancing act for Byrne goes beyond football. Carrying a 3.6 grade point average at Oregon State, academics played a role in this decision as well.
“Obviously the balance of athletes and academics was important,” Byrne said. “I didn’t know it would be here. The culture Cal is building is something I want to be a part of. When you fit the mold, it’s easy to have a good time.”
Byrne, who was recruited by 25 colleges during his junior year at Carmel, wasn’t interested in waiting to see if another school might text or call him.
The thought of being closer to home, playing for a program he grew up watching and hearing what Cal had to offer was too enticing to wait.
“I felt I showed enough this year that teams would be interested,” Byrne said. “But you don’t know if anyone will reach out. I took a chance. Things happen for a reason. I told them right away I’d love to come. I was blessed to get a call from Cal. My parents are pumped about the limited number of plane tickets now.”
The emotional part for Byrne will come Saturday, when he says his goodbyes to his roommates at Oregon State, who happen to be his teammates.
“Those relationships in Corvallis will never die,” Byrne insisted. “I look forward to maintaining those friendships. But I have an opportunity to create some new ones.”
One of those likely friendships will include Salinas senior receiver Nyziah Hunter, who officially signed with Cal three weeks ago.
Byrne met and spoke with Hunter when Oregon State brought him last year on a recruiting visit to the campus.
“He is a terrific athlete,” Byrne said. “I saw him … over the summer. We will be learning the offense together. I will be more than happy to help Nyziah. He’s going to be a huge asset. It will be someone to carpool home with.”
Upon learning that they would be teammates, Hunter tweeted “He (Byrne) gave me some good advice on my visit about my commitment. Now he joins me at Cal. Go Bears.”