IOWA CITY, Ia. — Where to start with this first Iowa football recruiting class in the early-signing period era?
How about three letters: DBU.
The hashtag #DBU — social-media lingo for Defensive Back University — was used by Indianapolis’ D.J. Johnson, one of many DB prospects set to join the Hawkeyes’ Class of 2018.
A 2019 Hawkeye defensive back commit, Larry Tracy, also tweeted Wednesday: “This is the new #DBU, stay tuned.”
While this clearly is an annual ritual of optimism — everyone’s a future star on signing day — there’s a clear message that’s reaching recruits: Iowa has a reputation for sending quality defensive backs to the NFL.
Just this week, 2012 Hawkeye co-captain and safety Micah Hyde was selected to his first career Pro Bowl with the Buffalo Bills.
Desmond King, the 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner, has been tearing it up in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Chargers.
And no doubt Josh Jackson’s ascent to consensus all-American in his first year as a starting cornerback cemented the college decisions of the decorated defensive backs in this 2018 class.
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The crown jewel came late-morning Wednesday, when four-star St. Louis safety Dallas Craddieth delivered his commitment and national letter of intent to the Hawkeyes.
“Our guys have played really well back there,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said after locking up about 80 percent of his 2018 class a week before the Hawkeyes play in the Pinstripe Bowl. “A bunch of different stories.
“I think the neat thing is they all come from different backgrounds, different pedigree, if you will. The common denominator is they're all guys that like playing football, they're all good teammates. We feel good about the group coming in.”
Craddieth (6 feet, 197 pounds) is a hard-hitting prospect from Hazelwood Central High School, which also produced Iowa all-time receiving yards leader Marvin McNutt.
Cornerback Terry Roberts (5-10, 171) was a sneaky get for Iowa who hails from Cathedral Prep in Erie, Pa., the home of Hawkeye legend Bob Sanders.
Though unannounced by the school Wednesday, two sought-after Indianapolis defensive backs are going to be Hawkeyes: Rivals four-star safety Julius Brents (6-2, 179) and three-star corner Johnson (6-0, 170).
Also in the mix is Ankeny Centennial grayshirt recruit Riley Moss (6-1, 182), who is signed but won’t join the program until next spring.
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Add that quartet to the pile of defensive backs that arrived with the Class of 2017 — which already has produced a starting corner in Matt Hankins and contributing safety in Geno Stone — it’s hard not to like what defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s got going in the Iowa secondary.
Maybe #DBU isn’t far off.
Other stuff to like about this class?
The current Hawkeyes aren’t where they need to be at defensive tackle. But they’re upgrading.
Original Hawkeye signee Daviyon Nixon (6-5, 295) leads a three-man group — Solon’s Tyler Linderbaum (the 2018 class’ only U.S. Army All-American) and Oswego, Ill., native Noah Shannon (a 300-pound Minnesota decommit who held a slew of major offers) are the others — after he played one year at Iowa Western Community College.
Nixon had to fight past academic hurdles, and Iowa had to stave off a late-October offer from Alabama. (Yes, that Alabama.)
But he's a Hawkeye. He'll join the team in January.
And Ferentz said he might play immediately.
“Give (linebackers coach) Seth Wallace credit on that,” Ferentz said. “He put an awful lot of time into that whole thing, starting last winter. … It's been a lot of effort.
“That's our jobs. I mean, nobody is looking for a pat on the head or a bonus on that one. It's what we do.”
The class' quarterback, California’s Spencer Petras (6-5, 225), looks like the real deal. It’s a bonus to also get a guy who will come in and compete with an extra spring.
"We just really felt good about the way he projected with us," Ferentz said.
There are playmakers in this group, too. Iowa signed the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois (Samson Evans) and Indiana (Tyrone Tracy Jr.). Tracy, a prolific producer, no doubt will get an immediate chance to contribute at wide receiver.
Top to bottom so far (another signing day is coming in February, at which point Iowa will add roughly 4-6 players), this class is flooded with guys who had offers from big-name programs. Those types of guys were few and far between in the Classes of 2014 and 2015, but the Hawkeyes seem to be humming now.
Dowling Catholic defensive end John Waggoner had offers ranging from UCLA to Penn State.
Johnson, as another example, chose the Hawkeyes over Notre Dame — then stuck with them after picking up a late offer from LSU.
That brings up Iowa’s no-visiting-other-schools-once-committed policy that was thrust into the spotlight in last year’s recruiting cycle. It's now very old news that four Texas prospects de-committed from Iowa in less than a month.
Chad Leistikow and Matt Bain report on Iowa's signing day.
But Ferentz stuck to his guns on the no-visit issue, even as it seemed to be blowing up in his face. The Hawkeyes are willing to let “committed” prospects walk if they want to check out other places. They lost one to Michigan last week.
Which means maybe they weren’t a good fit after all.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is a good policy for the roster Iowa tries to assemble.
It's not for everybody. But it’s helped Iowa solidify a strengthening culture of guys who are excited to be Hawkeyes.
“It's nice to have kids that want to come here,” Ferentz said. “Again, we try to be really transparent — more than transparent — in the recruiting process just to let them know.
“I think our recruiting department has done a really nice job of setting up visits in (June) and even in-season where we are getting prospects here, getting to know them, they're getting to know us a little bit better. It’s not just the computer dating world, or catalog shopping, all that.
“I think we're doing a better job that way. That's really important, because the bottom line is you don't want a player to come here and be unhappy.”
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.