This year, the NCAA changed its bylaws governing the way athletes transfer between programs.
They created two “transfer windows” where athletes can leave their current school without penalty. They are free to sign with another school at any time, provided they enter the portal during one of the two designated periods. The first of these windows closes today. It coincides with the first start of classes at San Diego State.
With this deadline looming, SDSU had some last-minute movement on the makeup of its safety room. Over the weekend, junior Isaiah McElvane entered the transfer portal. He is the third player from the position group to transfer from the program. CJ Baskerville and Kristien Reyes elected to leave earlier this offseason.
Their departures left a gap at safety. Behind last year’s starters -Patrick McMorris, Davaughn Celestine, and Cedarious Barfield- rising senior Kyron White is the only upperclassman on the depth chart. On Monday, the Aztecs filled that hole. Texas transfer JD Coffey announced on Instagram that he was coming to the Mesa.
“Well, he’s going to fit in really well (with SDSU’s culture) because that’s what he’s done here,” Richard Barrett, Coffey’s high school coach, told EVT in an exclusive interview. “I know he’s going to be a hard worker. I know he’s going to put the team first. He’s going be very coachable. He’s going to listen. He’s going to apply what he’s been taught. He’ll be a great leader in the locker room, on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom, in the community. I think he’s gonna be an asset to San Diego State football.”
Coffey was a consensus four-star recruit and top safety coming out of Kennedale High in Kennedale, Texas. Rivals rated him the seventh-best player at his position and the 123rd player overall in the Class of 2021. ESPN had him as its ninth-best safety and 197th-best player. 247 sports rated him lowest at 16th and 224, respectively. He chose the Longhorns over 31 other offers, including finalists Oregon, LSU, and Michigan.
Arriving in Austin with high expectations, he only played in twelve games over two seasons. He had a career-high five tackles in the Longhorns’ 52-10 victory over Louisiana Monroe this past September. He played throughout the contest and not just when the game was out of hand.
“He’s a very cerebral player,” Barrett explained. “One of the great things about him, when we had him at Kennedale, was the fact that he was a student of the game and really studied study tape. He brings that on the field. Not only is he a physical player, but he also the mental aspect of the game. That is something that’s going to make him excel as well. So you combined being a physical type of player with a great perspective and a great understanding of the game. I think it just makes him an even better player.”
As his accolades suggest, he dominated in high school. Coffey was a four-year varsity starter accumulating 302 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, and 19 interceptions. He racked up 104 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and five interceptions his senior season on his way to earning All-American honors.
At Kennedale, he played multiple spots in the secondary before settling as a middle-of-the-field safety. In his first game as a freshman, Coffey had a dozen tackles and two interceptions, with one of those returned for a pick-six.
He provided over-the-top help to the team’s cornerbacks on both sides of the field with an elite ability to get depth on the football field. In a manner reminiscent of Aztec safety Nat Berhe, Coffey attacked downhill to support the run game. His ability to read and react better than most is clearly the reason 32 schools lined up for his services.
“Even as a kid coming up from our junior high up to our high school, he was a kid that he loved the game,” Barrett said. “He loved football. Early on as a freshman, he started developing a love to watch the game and understand why we’re doing certain things in certain situations, and then watching it on tape, being someone that would come into the office, get on the board, and ask questions about things like that.”
Fit with the Aztecs
Coffey arrives at SDSU in what should be the prime of his college career. An early enrollee, his first offseason with the Aztecs will be the third of his career. He entered college around 180 pounds and has added about ten pounds to his 6’0 frame. Coffey has yet to use his redshirt, so he has three years to play two. If he is unable to work his way into the lineup in 2023, he could spend a year getting acclimated to the 3-3-5 defense.
He profiles as a warrior safety and brings the potential to play both the boundary (BW) and field (FW) positions. Coffey could be tasked with covering receivers in the slot as a FW safety in the mold of Tariq and Trenton Thompson. Barfield and Celestine played that position last year with mixed results, especially to start the season. Defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix could also utilize him as a BW safety, where he will play in the middle of the field as he did in high school. It is this role that would appear to be his best fit as he arrives on campus.
In 2021, Barfield started the year at BW before an injury opened the door for Baskerville to assume the position. Last year, Baskerville continued to be first on the depth chart, but he did not play to the same level that he had as a true freshman. Coffey will be competing with Barfield, Celestine, White, and all of the young players to provide much-needed playmaking and support as the free safety.
Coffey also was a terrific special teams player playing on multiple units, including as a kick returner in high school. McElvane played well for the Aztecs in the third phase the past few seasons. Special teams coach Doug Deakin will be looking for someone to step into that role.
“When you’re passionate about the game, and you love the game, it’s not necessarily work going out there,” Barrett explained describing Coffey’s influence on others. “It’s not drudgery. It’s going out there and learning how to get better. When you can do that in the proper frame of mind and frustration doesn’t creep in and those types of things, having the mental clarity to understand all the things that go on. He was able to grasp that. He was just a remarkable player for us.”
Even though bringing in transfers is now commonplace in college football, the dangers to a school’s culture of adding the wrong people persists. The influence an upperclassman can have on a team is substantially greater than what an incoming freshman brings. In adding Coffey, SDSU could not have done better.
At Kennedale, Barrett has a leadership council composed of seven members that he meets with every Thursday to talk about life and gauge the mood of his team. He selects players who embody the culture of the program. They are typically seniors. Coffey was the first junior Barrett ever placed on the council.
“Everybody liked Johnny Don, that’s his middle name, Don, that’s what I’ve always called him,” Barrett said. “He’s just easygoing. He’d rather blend in with the crowd. He doesn’t want to stick out and things like that. He ran track for us. He was loved by his teammates and respected more than anything by his teammates. … As good of a player as I thought he was – and he is – I think he’s just a better person.”
SDSU landed a four-star football player this week, but as importantly, it added a five-star person to its culture.