Leistikow: Landing John Waggoner was a big win for the Hawkeye football brand
John Waggoner counted “17 or 18” full-ride major scholarship offers during his recruitment. Florida, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn State and UCLA — a who's who of college-football brands — were among them.
But the state of Iowa’s top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2018 is staying home.
The defensive end who stands all of 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds is going to be a Hawkeye.
The Dowling Catholic senior made his commitment public Tuesday.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “Iowa just felt like home for me.”
Recruiting rankings, as Iowa coaches are known to remind us (and their players), are meaningless when it comes to on-field performance.
Ask Josh Jackson or Josey Jewell or Akrum Wadley — to name some recent examples — what their two-star ratings meant.
Waggoner realizes that, too, even though he was given a four-star rating by Rivals.com.
“You can’t really believe all the hype about anything," he said. "You’ve just got to get in there (and work)."
But keeping the No. 1-ranked guy home goes down as a significant win for the Hawkeye brand.
The Iowa fan base has seen the state’s supposed-best-player flee before.
In the Class of 2014, Ross Pierschbacher of Cedar Falls famously de-committed from Iowa to join Alabama — where he’s a starting offensive lineman for a team headed to its fourth straight College Football Playoff.
Then last year around this time, the state’s recruiting talk was over where Iowa City West wide receiver Oliver Martin would go. The No. 1 prospect in the state ultimately chose Michigan.
This time around, Waggoner said he was getting a late push from Minnesota and UCLA, and “Penn State was a little bit in the mix at the end.”
But since a summer visit to Iowa City, he’s felt pretty certain that he would be a Hawkeye, a lean which had other programs starting to back off.
“The relationship and the culture of the program was really the selling point for me,” Waggoner said.
Waggoner actually called head coach Kirk Ferentz on Sunday to inform him he would be a Hawkeye. Iowa assistant Reese Morgan drove to Dowling on Tuesday to seal the deal in person.
Waggoner will take his official visit to Iowa City this weekend, as will many other players expected to officially sign in Iowa's Class of 2018 (currently 15 deep) when the first early signing day arrives Dec. 20.
“I just like to get in and get to work — kind of a blue-collar type of thing," Waggoner said. "I think Iowa does that type of stuff really well.”
As young, shiny Power Five coaches continue to pop up to the north and west of Iowa City, there is still something to be said about stability and a proven track record.
Ferentz, who will be starting his 20th season at Iowa when Waggoner joins the program in June for summer conditioning, remains a fixture atop the Hawkeye program.
It’s important for Ferentz to pull in the state’s biggest catches, and he's showing that, at 62, he still can.
According to the 247Sports composite, the state’s top three prospects in the Class of 2018 have a Tiger Hawk (symbolizing their Iowa commitment) next to their names — Waggoner, Solon defensive tackle Tyler Linderbaum and Iowa City West linebacker Dillon Doyle.
In the Class of 2019, Iowa already has commitments from Nos. 1 and 2 — offensive linemen Tyler Endres of Norwalk and Ezra Miller of Ridge View.
From quarterback to receiver to offensive tackle to defensive back, the Hawkeyes counted on a slew of young players on the way to a 7-5 regular season.
Waggoner watched Iowa with great interest this fall, and he sees something special happening in Iowa City.
“They’ve got a lot of young talent on the team this year," Waggoner said, "that’s going to be exciting to join and be a part of.”
Waggoner sees himself as a prototypical rush end. He's open to red-shirting, with defensive end an anticipated 2018 strength for the Hawkeyes.
But he has shown Iowa — and a lot of other major programs — that he has the tools to someday make an impact at the Big Ten Conference level.
We'll see. Recruiting rankings are just rankings.
But it's better to reel the best guy in than to let him get away.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.