The stars have been aligning this year along Iowa’s football recruiting trail, with Chevin Calloway’s Monday commitment the latest example.
The four-star cornerback from Dallas picked the Hawkeyes over the likes of Alabama, Texas, Notre Dame and, most satisfyingly for Iowa fans, Big Ten Conference rivals Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
“You could make a case that Chevin Calloway is the best recruit on paper that Kirk Ferentz has landed in his tenure,” said Tom Kakert, publisher of Iowa’s Rivals.com site, who has been around for all 17 of those years. “If Iowa gets a kid like that, there’s generally got to be a little hook. (Defensive end) A.J. Epenesa is a better prospect than Calloway, I think, but his dad (Eppy) played at Iowa. Chevin has no ties to Iowa. This is really remarkable, what we’re seeing.”
Calloway is the 15th commitment in Iowa’s class of 2017 and the fifth from Texas. His long-distance embrace of the Hawkeyes lifted their recruiting class to a No. 15 national ranking, Kakert estimated.
But Iowa’s not done yet. There are probably another five spots to fill, with positions of need like wide receiver and cornerback already addressed, meaning the Hawkeyes can be even more selective going forward. Whom do they have their eyes on? Recruiting experts Tuesday agreed on three high-profile targets:
Damion Daniels, DT, Dallas
Daniels is currently a three-star recruit, but Kakert thinks he could add another star before the summer is out. A teammate of Calloway’s at Bishop Dunne High School, Daniels handled camera duties Monday on Periscope while his friend donned his Hawkeyes cap. Daniels has Iowa in his final 12 schools, but hasn’t visited recently.
“I think he’s leaning towards Iowa. (Daniels and Calloway) are pretty tight, and they’ve talked about playing together,” Kakert said. “Iowa lost Juan Harris (the North Fayette Valley product decommitted last month), so they have a spot open at defensive tackle. This kid’s as good, if not better. That fills a natural position right there.”
Daniels is familiar with Iowa, having tagged along two years ago when older brother Darrion made his official visit here. Hawkeye coaches offered “little” brother a scholarship then and have watched as Damion has grown to 6-foot-2, 310 pounds.
“They’ll want a space-eater. Daniels would fit the bill,” said Derek Young, publisher of Scout.com for Iowa. “Judging by the way they’re recruiting defensive tackles, there’s really no other names that they’re actively seeking, so I would say they’re pretty confident they’re going to get him.”
Oliver Martin, WR, Iowa City West
Martin’s rise this summer from little-known to must-have has been amazing to watch. The 6-1, 190-pounder had no major-college offers heading into June and now can choose from among Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon and, yes, Iowa.
“The kid has just blown up. He’s creating hand-wringing among the Iowa fan base that he’s going to go somewhere else,” said Rob Howe, publisher of Hawkeye Nation.
Martin was so impressive at The Opening recruiting showcase in Chicago this summer that he was the only Iowan invited to the national 7-on-7 camp in Oregon last week. While there, he picked up the interest from Michigan and Oregon.
“He looked like one of the best receivers there. He was just constantly open,” Howe said of the Chicago showcase, where he witnessed Martin. “When you see him in an environment like that, where he’s able to go against kids that are the top and perform well, it really opens your eyes.”
Howe thinks Iowa remains the favorite to land the in-town prospect. Others aren’t so sure. Martin is close friends with quarterback Rocky Lombardi of West Des Moines Valley, who is heading to Michigan State. There was also talk that Martin bonded well with Michigan recruits at The Opening in Oregon, including quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, who was his teammate there. Martin has been guarding his thoughts on his future.
Young believes Martin is another athlete on the verge of moving from three-star to four-star territory.
“He’s got a luxury of time. He’s got plenty of options, and now it’s a much tougher decision,” Young said.
Russ Yeast, CB, Indiana
The four-star recruit is listed as an “athlete” by scouting services. But Iowa is viewing him as a cornerback, Young said, and may be in the lead to bring him on board. Yeast originally committed to Kentucky before reopening his recruitment.
“Iowa is light at cornerback on its current roster. They may have only four scholarship players there this year,” Young said. “He’s definitely someone that they can land, and he would be a difference-maker.”
The trail ahead
The Hawkeyes are hosting another recruiting “tailgate” event July 30-31, and another commitment or two could come then. If Daniels or Yeast decide to visit that weekend, it would bode well for Iowa’s chances.
“Those things have just been gold for them in terms of being able to get recruits from those gatherings, because it’s a way that the families get together and network,” Howe said.
Regardless of what occurs in late July, though, Iowa’s 2017 class won’t be finalized for months. There are other prospects who have verbally committed to schools but have kept the Hawkeyes on their short list, among them cornerback Kobe Boyce (Texas) and wide receiver Cameron Buckley (Texas A&M). Perhaps even Spirit Lake offensive lineman Zach Dykstra can still be pried away from Miami. Such “flipping” is a constant worry, and an enticing possibility, in football recruiting.
Either way, Iowa should end up with one of its most highly regarded recruiting classes ever, perhaps just a step below the 2005 standard-bearer (five top-100 players that included the likes of Rafael Eubanks, Tony Moeaki and Dace Richardson).
“Our regional recruiting analyst (Josh Helmholdt) predicted after Epenesa signed (in January) that Iowa would have at top-25 class. I was really skeptical. But now I’d be surprised if they were out of the top 25,” Kakert said.
“They’re in a good spot with some of these kids because you can kind of play them against one another and say, ‘There’s one spot left here, if you want it. You’d better take it quick.’”