Michigan’s Top 10 Football and Basketball Transfers of All Time

Willie Heston, perhaps Michigan's greatest football player ever, was actually a transfer. He began his career at San Jose State.
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Michigan’s college basketball fortunes would have been vastly different this season had it not been for two players who started their college careers at other schools.

Williams College transfer Duncan Robinson was the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year for the Wolverines, while Kentucky transfer Charles Mathews was the West Regional MVP. Both of them were keys to Michigan winning the Big Ten Tournament championship and making a run to the NCAA championship game.

But transfers are nothing new to Michigan. While there’s been a major influx in the last few years, the school has been benefitting from transfers for decades.

With that in mind, here’s my list of the Top 10 Michigan Transfers of All Time. These are the players who transferred TO Michigan; not the ones who transferred FROM Michigan.

The ground rules for the list:

  • The list is confined to football and basketball players only. My ignorance of other sports would be on full display if I tried to branch out. I’m ignorant enough when it comes to football and basketball.
  • These are players who played at least one season at another school. And to be eligible for the list, the player had to actually play at least one game for another school. (Hence, Makhtar N’Diaye is not eligible, since he never played a game for Wake Forest before transferring to Michigan. Same thing with Stephen Threet and Georgia Tech.)

So, without further ado, here’s the list of the Top 10 Michigan Transfers of All Time:

1. Willie Heston, San Jose State to Michigan

That’s right – the guy who was perhaps Michigan’s greatest football player ever was a transfer. Heston played one season at San Jose State before Michigan’s new coach, Fielding H. Yost, lured him to Ann Arbor. In his four seasons at Michigan, Heston went 43-0-1, scored 72 touchdowns and was a two-time All-American.

2. Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, Wisconsin to Michigan

One of the most storied college athletes of all time, Hirsch was a legend at Wisconsin before World War II brought him to Michigan. In 1943, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was transferred to Michigan as part of the V-12 Navy College Training Program. He led Fritz Crisler’s 1943 team to an 8-1 record. That year, he ended up winning letters in football, basketball, track and baseball, becoming the first U-M athlete to win four letters in a single year. While he’s still a legend at Wisconsin, he’s not exactly revered at Michigan, thanks primarily to an incident in 1973 in which Wisconsin A.D. Hirsch (probably) voted for Ohio State to go to the Rose Bowl over Michigan.

Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch

3. Rickey Green, Vincennes to Michigan

Michigan’s greatest juco transfer of all time, Green played basketball for two seasons at Vincennes Junior College in Indiana before transferring to Michigan in 1975. One year later, in 1976, he led Michigan to the NCAA championship game against Indiana. A lightning-quick point guard, most folks consider him one of the 10 greatest basketball players in Michigan history.

Rickey Green

4. Duncan Robinson, Williams to Michigan

As you heard one billion times during the NCAA tournament, Robinson is the only Division 3 player ever to win a scholarship on a Division 1 Power 5 basketball team. After one season at Williams College, Robinson transferred to Michigan, where he played three seasons and helped U-M win two Big Ten Tournament championships and make a trip to the NCAA championship game this season. Along the way, he was voted the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year.

5. Jake Rudock, Iowa to Michigan

Before Jim Harbaugh came to Ann Arbor, there were only a handful of football transfers through the years, but Harbaugh has made them an integral part of the program. The most successful one to date has been Rudock, a former starter at Iowa who transferred to U-M in 2015 when he lost his job with the Hawkeyes. After a slow start in his one and only season in Ann Arbor, he caught fire and led the Wolverines to a 10-3 record.

6. Bill Daley, Minnesota to Michigan

Like Crazylegs Hirsch, Daley came to Michigan in 1943 as part of the V-12 Navy College Training Program. A fullback, he played on two national championships teams for Minnesota in 1940 and 1941. In his only season at Michigan (1943), he led the team in rushing and helped the Wolverines win the Big Ten. He holds the distinction of being the only player to win the Little Brown Jug for both teams, Michigan and Minnesota.

7. Charles Matthews, Kentucky to Michigan

A five-star recruit who got lost in the shuffle at Kentucky, Matthews came to Michigan in 2016 and became a star. After sitting out a year, he became a starter in 2017 and helped U-M make it to the NCAA championship game. Along the way, he was named the Most Outstanding Player in the West Region.

8. Len Ford, Morgan State to Michigan

A defensive stud who’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Ford played one year at Morgan State before coming to Michigan in 1945. In 1947, he helped Michigan to a 10-0 record, a 49-0 win over USC in the Rose Bowl and a national championship.

9. Robbie Reid, BYU to Michigan

After playing both basketball and baseball at BYU, Reid served a two-year Mormon mission and came to Ann Arbor in 1997. He played two seasons and was especially excellent in 1998-99, averaging 13.5 points a game. He also helped Michigan win the inaugural Big Ten Tournament in 1998 (although that entire season was later wiped out due to NCAA sanctions).

10. Ty Isaac, USC to Michigan

A five-star running back who played one season at USC before coming to Michigan in 2014, Isaac had flashes of brilliance in his three seasons playing for the Wolverines. At times in 2017 – especially during his 133-yard game against Cincinnati – Isaac was the team’s best back.

11. Shea Patterson, Mississippi to Michigan

Aw, what the heck – let’s add a No. 11! Hopefully when all is said and done, he’ll be right up there with Willie Heston at the top of this list.

Honorable mention: Howard Yerges, Fred Brockington, John O’Korn, Jaaron Simmons, Russell Shaw, Spencer Brinton, Grant Mason, Austin Panter

About Buddy Moorehouse 168 Articles
Longtime Livingston County journalist Buddy Moorehouse is director of communications at the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.