Ian Bunting announced Tuesday night that he is pursuing a grad transfer.
The fifth-year senior tight end was once seen as the heir apparent to Jake Butt. Now, he’ll finish his college career elsewhere.
“This has been a very difficult decision, but I have decided to forgo my 5th year at the University of Michigan in order to play football and earn a graduate degree elsewhere,” Bunting wrote on Instagram. “I have obtained my release. … This place will always be a special one for me and it has been the opportunity of a lifetime.”
As a graduate transfer, Bunting will be immediately eligible for whichever program he joins. He ends his four-year career at Michigan with 11 catches for 124 yards.
The 6-foot-7, 252-pounder isn’t the first member of his class to leave the program. Quarterback Wilton Speight and receivers Drake Harris and Moe Ways will also play their final year elsewhere, having announced their intentions to do so earlier this offseason. The Wolverines have also brought in a grad transfer of their own in former Utah cornerback Casey Hughes.
A highly-touted four-star recruit with offers from Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma, among others, Bunting never completely developed into the weapon many originally envisioned him as.
After redshirting his freshman year, he found the field as a backup tight end during Jim Harbaugh’s first season in Ann Arbor. In the first four games, Bunting caught four passes for 55 yards. But he didn’t record a catch over the following eight games.
With the return of Butt, an All-American in 2015, Bunting once again saw limited time as a redshirt sophomore during the 2016-17 season. Through the first 12 games of the season, he recorded just two catches for six yards.
Yet when Butt suffered a torn right ACL in the second quarter of the Orange Bowl, it was the seldom-used Bunting who stepped into the Mackey Award winner’s absence. He would finish the game with three catches for 40 yards, including a 21-yard reception on a crucial fourth down in the second half.
Bunting’s breakout performance in the bowl game was seen as a harbinger of future success. He entered 2017 as the most experienced and most productive tight end on Michigan’s roster. But Bunting couldn’t hold off younger players such as redshirt freshman Sean McKeon and redshirt sophomore Zach Gentry. The pair surged ahead of Bunting on the depth chart, finishing the season with a combined 48 catches for 604 yards and five touchdowns. Bunting, meanwhile, had one catch for six yards.
Bunting’s transfer leaves the Wolverines with four scholarship tight ends on the roster. Four-star Mustapha Muhammad and three-star Luke Schoonmaker are set to enroll this summer.