“A wild time and a wild transition”: How Luke Altmyer Took a Unique But Important Transfer Portal Path To Illinois

Whether he likes it or not, Luke Altmyer’s month of December is uniquely different but still chaotic representation of the transfer portal era of college football.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst

January 26, 2023

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Whether he likes it or not, Luke Altmyer’s month of December is uniquely different but still chaotic representation of the transfer portal era of college football.

The new Illinois quarterback, who will more than likely be the starter behind the center for the 2023 season, voluntarily took a more haywire path with the transfer portal long before arriving in Champaign for the spring semester classes. Once a player announces he’s entering the transfer portal, the process is pretty straightforward: You wave goodbye to your former teammates and coaches (more often than most involving a somewhat lengthy social media post), you spend the month of December finishing your class work at the school you’re transferring for while planning several extensive weekend official visits to multiple schools looking for your future destination and in some instances, watch your former teammates practice and play in a bowl game after you’ve already opted out. Altmyer basically did the opposite of all of these things.

New Illini QB Luke Altmyer signs an autograph for a fan after an Ole Miss game last season. (Photo courtesy Matt Bush/USA Today Sports)

“That was a wild time and a wild transition for me,” Altmyer said on Thursday afternoon. “That was a difficult decision because of everything with the portal and how crazy it is with the timeline being so difficult to navigate.”

The first thing Altmyer did after announcing he would be transferring away from Ole Miss, where he’d spent the better part of two years battling for playing time, was not leave the team. In his first local media session since arriving as a transfer this month, Altmyer described himself Thursday afternoon as “purpose driven and somebody who walks through the doors each day for his teammates, not for himself” and confirmed that his decision to participate in Ole Miss’ practice preparation for the Texas Bowl against Texas Tech was a reflection of the leadership skills he hopes to bring to Illinois’ huddle and locker room.

“There’s no point in just living for yourself...I’ve never shown up just for myself, never have,” Altmyer said. “It’s why I love this game so much. You’re able to be surrounded by guys from all over the world, all over the country and be in the center of all of it and have a voice and have an impact in such a small amount of time and have that kind of impact just provides so much purpose in my life.”

Altmyer was initially skeptical in a business transactional world of college football that includes the transfer portal whether he’d be welcome to finish the campaign at Ole Miss. However, it was the player who beat him out for the starting quarterback job in the first month of the season - Jaxson Dart - who, unbeknownst to Altmyer, went to Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. to plead the case that his backup and best friend on the team remain for bowl prep.

“I remember when he got into the portal, he wasn’t really sure if he was gonna play in the bowl game, and obviously he’s busy with a lot of other things. A lot of schools want to contact him and stuff,” Dart said in a local media session on Dec. 13. “But, we kind of have to have a backup quarterback, and I talked to coaches about how I wanted him to play. So, I had a talk with him and was just like ‘bro, I want you to come back, you know, finish this thing out with us. We’d all love to have you around’ and I knew I’d love to have him around.”

Kiffin, who gave himself the nickname ‘Portal King’ to reference his affinity and high usage of the relatively new tool given to college football coaches to recruit from, easily agreed to have Altmyer continue as the backup quarterback for the matchup against Texas Tech.

Since Altmyer was committed to finishing his responsibilities as the backup quarterback at Ole Miss in the month of December, the 20-year-old from Starkville, Miss. (who was born in Memphis) knew he’d have a short amount of time to investigate his transfer options. Therefore, Altmyer elected to use the weekend before Christmas for a whirlwind tour of programs interested in making him their starting quarterback for the 2023 season and Illinois fit that criteria for a visit that the 6-foot-1 quarterback described as “less than a day”.

"I was here for a morning and an afternoon and felt like I got everything I needed to see,” Altmyer said. “Usually on official visits you’re here for two days and you’re doing a lot of different things, but I was here strictly for business.”

Why was it less than a day? Because on Monday, Ole Miss had practice for its Texas Bowl matchup to be played 10 days later on Dec. 29. Altmyer said he basically knew on the plane ride home that he’d be joining Bret Bielema’s operation at Illinois.

“My mom got me this big (winter) coat for Christmas and I think I’ve worn it everyday since I got here,” Altmyer said.

In the current climate of college football, this former four-star prospect who had never left Mississippi for school was mentally still processing the idea of his future being in Illinois but his present being one more game as a backup at Ole Miss.

In Ole Miss’ 42-25 loss to Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl, Altmyer did more than wear a headset and signal in plays. He actually had to play. Following a 9-yard touchdown scramble run by Dart to close the deficit to 35-19 with seven minutes and 35 seconds remaining, the Ole Miss starting quarterback was laying on his back in the middle of the end zone at Houston’s NRG Stadium. The injury timeout meant if Kiffin wanted to go for a two-point conversion, which he clearly did, Ole Miss would need another quarterback. So, Altmyer, a former Mississippi Dandy Dozen prospect who knew he was silently committed to playing at another school starting in less than a month, trotted out to the field after being given a play to run that ultimately resulted in a rollout incomplete pass.

On Dec. 29, Altmyer sent out a tweet announcing his commitment to Illinois and less than 24 hours after participating in a game at Ole Miss for the final time in his career.

Within the chaos of entering the portal, finishing a season at the school you were leaving and the experience of being hundreds of miles from home for the first time in his life over just a matter of a month, Illinois’ newest quarterback has certainly seen what he calls “the chaos of the portal”.

“I was looking for a home and it was a very stressful time,” Altmyer said. “I was just looking for a place where I felt valued and a place where they believed in me. It was crazy how my first conversation with Coach Bielema in his office was just about all of those things. The words he used were almost too good to be true but they’re not. This is my home, obviously, and I plan to be here a long time.”


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