Air Force quarterback Isaiah Sanders has entered the transfer pool, keeping his options open to continue his football career while exploring graduate school options.
The Palmer Ridge graduate’s decision was first reported by 247Sports on Tuesday and confirmed to The Gazette by the academy.
Sanders — largely a backup at quarterback while gaining national acclaim for his off-the-field academic and service work — will join senior linebacker Kyle Johnson in pursuing a chance to play as a graduate transfer, a move that would not impact their military service.
Entering the transfer pool has a negative connotation among college football fans, because everywhere else it means a player is choosing a different program over the one he currently attends. At a service academy, that is not the case.
As graduating seniors, Sanders and Johnson could not continue playing at Air Force even though both had eligibility remaining because they did not play as freshmen.
The NCAA allows five years to play four. Air Force and the nation's other military academies allow only four years, barring a special circumstance like a "medical turnback," which grants an extra year at the academy for those who are delayed by illness or injury.
Sanders and Johnson can only continue their football careers if they leave. And it is only by putting themselves in position to earn a grad school spot that that opportunity would be possible.
This is an avenue that no Air Force player has previously taken, in part because the graduate transfer rule that allows for immediate eligibility has been in place for less than a decade and because earning one of the few graduate school spots at the academy is a tall task. Getting into graduate school requires more than acceptance, they also have to get Air Force orders sending them for more education.
Neither Sanders nor Johnson has officially received a graduate school spot, but both have the academic profiles to make that all but a certainty.
By entering the transfer portal, both players are taking the necessary steps to continue in football should they land grad school spots from the Air Force and are then able to match up graduate school programs with a football team that would take them.
For Johnson, a second-team all-Mountain West linebacker, finding a willing football program to take him should be doable. For Sanders, a triple-option quarterback, finding a match for his skill set might prove difficult at the FBS level where so few teams utilize a similar system.
Sanders certainly had his moments at Air Force. In his first start in the season finale as a sophomore he ran a team-record 44 times for 196 yards and three touchdowns in a 48-35 victory over Utah State.
As a junior he was part of a three-way tug-o-war for the starting position with Arion Worthman and Donald Hammond III, but in a two-week stretch against UNLV and Boise State he completed 19 of 26 passes for 427 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while running for 270 yards and four touchdowns.
As a senior, Sanders played a part-time role — throwing just five passes — but earned a spot on the Allstate Good Works Team and was one of three finalists for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award. A human factors engineering major, Sanders interviewed for a Rhodes scholarship during the past season.