The college football offseason has added a new wrinkle over recent years — the transfer portal. With the NCAA practically holding free agency, it gives coaches an extra challenge in recruiting to not only hold on to their own players, but to add more talent. Northwestern has already seen All-American safety Brandon Joseph jump ship for Notre Dame, but has added four different players over the past week.
Taishan Holmes, DL, 6-foot-3, 315, two years of eligibility, UMass
Holmes is onto his fourth different program in five years. The defensive lineman started his career at HBCU Virginia State, transferred to the JUCO level Garden City Community College, then found his way to the FBS level at UMass in 2020. In his two seasons with the Minutemen, Holmes racked up 18 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Holmes will serve primarily as depth in run defense. Northwestern was last in the Big Ten with 213 rushing yards allowed per game. Not being able to swallow up gaps in the offensive line killed the ‘Cats on the ground a season ago. Holmes may have bounced around in his collegiate career, but the three-star’s size will give him a home in Evanston for the next two seasons.
Luke Akers, K/P, 6-foot-2, 180, three years of eligibility, UCLA
Akers is the son of former NFL All-Pro kicker David Akers and was the starting punter for two seasons on the Bruins. Across his 58 career punts, Akers is averaging 43.1 yards per attempt with a long of 66 yards.
It is expected that Akers was looking to transfer to get more opportunities as a placekicker, and Northwestern is just the place for that. Charlie Kuhbander is expected to graduate from the program after going 6-of-13 on field goals a season ago. Akers has a strong leg and could bring stability back to the kicker position for the ‘Cats.
Vince Picozzi, OL, 6-foot-4, 310, one year of eligibility, Colorado State
Another aspect of Northwestern’s struggles came from pass protection. While running back Evan Hull racked up 1,000 rushing yards, the ‘Cats struggled to put together consistent blocking in the passing game. Picozzi adds strength into the interior offensive line, which is especially needed after the departure of Sam Gerak.
Picozzi played five seasons at Temple and played every position on the o-line outside of right tackle. The Collegeville, PA native began his career as a walk-on and worked his way into the starting lineup. After transferring to Colorado State in 2021, Picozzi was named to the Preseason All-Mountain West Team. Picozzi will add experience to a still learning group of offensive lineman, headlined by Peter Skoronski.
Henrik Barndt, DL, 6-foot-5, 285, one year of eligibility, Indiana State
Fitz and Co. got to analyze Barndt close up when the Sycamores faced Northwestern early in 2021 season. In the Wildcats’ 24-6 win, Barndt collected two solo tackles. Throughout the remainder of the season, the defensive tackle notched 17 total tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks. In his career, Barndt has 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
The 6-foot-5 stature of Barndt should be enough to make Northwestern Defensive Line coach Marty Long excited as is. The Arvada, CO native additionally brings strength and a resume of success over from the FCS Sycamores. Northwestern continues to add power into the defensive line, and for the better.