College football 2024: After leading team to Fiesta Bowl, Liberty quarterback Salter opts for transfer portal

After taking the national stage in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl, Kaidon Salter said he would enter the transfer portal. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – Even after a tough loss to Oregon in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl, the Liberty football team reflected positively on a 13-0 regular season and heaped praise on quarterback Kaidon Salter.

“He’s the face of the football program,” Flames coach Jamey Chadwell said after the game Monday.

Not anymore.

On Tuesday, Salter told On3sports that he was entering the transfer portal, a move indicative of the changing face of the sport, thanks to NIL deals and transfer opportunities.

Salter started his career at Tennesse but was dismissed from the team in June 2021 following his arrest for misdemeanor drug charges. A month later, he enrolled at Liberty.

He had the best year of his career in 2023, Liberty’s first season in Conference USA. He recorded 2,750 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and only six interceptions, while posting 1,064 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. He was also ranked sixth in the country in quarterback rating (83.8)

Walking off the field after a 45-6 blowout loss to the Ducks at State Farm Stadium, Salter could feel the love from the Flames fan base after the end of a historic season. Little did they know it would be the last time they would cheer for him as a Liberty player.

“It just shows how much love (they have) and what our fans mean to us,” Salter said after the game. “I mean, they love us, win or lose, and it just shows right there, just walking off the field and hearing my name and all the screaming, that brought more cheer to me.”

For the first time in program history, Liberty went undefeated and landed at No. 23 in the final CFP poll of the season. The Fiesta Bowl stage was set for an unlikely upset and the Flames capitalized for the first 15 minutes.

Salter threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Bentley Hanshaw in the corner of the end zone on the opening drive to put the Flames up 6-0. The trickery on offense and a solid running game suggested they could hold their own against a team that was on the fringe of landing in the College Football Playoff. A field goal by the Ducks made it 6-3 at the end of the first quarter. Signs were pointing toward success for the Flames, until they weren’t.

Oregon rattled off 42 straight points following the field goal on the back of Heisman candidate and Ducks senior quarterback Bo Nix. His performance took the spotlight from Salter statistically, but Chadwell gave praise to his quarterback after the game and said the two had similar skills.

“Everybody that followed us knows the ability and the talent that Kaidon has and what he was able to display this year from week one all the way through tonight. … With what we have, returning with him, continuing to improve and work on the things he needs to do, I have no doubt that he comes back and has a fantastic spring and summer that he’ll be right up there,” Chadwell said. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks in this country.”

Unfortunately for Chadwell, his quarterback made the decision to transfer a day after the Flames loss to the Ducks.

Salter was the only four-star recruit on Liberty’s offense. Programs including Ohio State, Auburn and USC are expected to make a run for a quarterback and Salter could be their guy. After the loss Monday, Chadwell said he knows that Salter can go up against any quarterback in the country.

“We believe that there is no difference from a talent standpoint … from the guy on the other sideline if you were watching today,” he saidl. “That’s the talent he has and he knows that. He knows what he has to do to continue to maximize what God’s given him.”

Salter maximized his trust with teammates and specifically with junior wide receiver CJ Daniels. The connection between Salter and Daniels is unquestionable, as the latter had 47 receptions for 988 yards and 10 touchdowns during the regular season. In the Fiesta Bowl, the duo connected for eight receptions for 79 yards.

“He had some big catches out there and it shows the hard work he’s put in throughout the entire season,” Salter said. “Our bond is a little bit stronger than me and other guys. I mean, he’s like my man in my back pocket and when I know I’m in trouble and things like that … I can trust him to make the plays that need to be made.”

Senior linebacker Tyren Dupree was sitting next to Salter at the podium after the Fiesta Bowl. As Dupree played his final game and was soaking in the moment, he put on his leadership hat and offered advice to his quarterback.

“I just told him that in the locker room, I was like, ‘Do not have your heads down,’” Dupree said. “I was like, ‘This is not the last time you guys are gonna be here. We’ve done this in the short amount of time that we’ve been an FBS program.’ I’m so excited to see what God and coach has to bring to this university.”

As Salter made his walk back to the locker room, he reflected on the journey the fans made from Lynchburg, Virginia, to Glendale in support of the Flames.

“I never had my head down after the game,” he said. “I knew that our team did everything we could do to go out there and try to win this game. So I had no reason to walk off the field with my head down. And walking off the field just hearing the crowd, you know, (calling) my name and give me the cheers and the praise.

“That felt amazing but still, I just wish we could have finished the season better.”

It appears his next chance to do that will be with another team.

Hayden Cilley HAY-din SIL-lee (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Hayden Cilley expects to graduate in December 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Cilley covered the Phoenix Mercury in 2022 for The Next Hoops and is writing and podcasting about the Mercury for PHNX Sports.

Bennett Silvyn BEH-nit SIL-vin
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Bennett Silvyn expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business, marketing and sports management. Silvyn has interned in marketing and social media for the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, as a reporter for Arizona Foothills Magazine, in sponsorships for the Arizona Rattlers and in social and digital media for FC Tucson. Silvyn has also reported for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and The State Press.