Leistikow: Hawkeyes stave off football giants, tackle no-visit policy in Class of 2019

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Jestin Jacobs was decked out in a black T-shirt with yellow lettering that ready "IOWA" in a ceremony Wednesday at Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio, to commemorate the National Letter of Intent that was transmitted hours earlier to the Hawkeye football offices.

No, he wasn’t signing with the giant in-state program just a 75-mile drive east on Interstate 70.

Jacobs was officially a Hawkeye — not an Ohio State Buckeye.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday that the program's stringent no-visit policy for its commitments can be tweaked on a case-by-case basis, as it was with Jestin Jacobs.

That image was emblematic of Iowa’s signing-day haul Wednesday, in which some of the headliners of a 20-player (so far) class stuck with the Hawkeyes despite pushes from some of college football's heavyweights.

"He stood his ground. He was firmly committed to us," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "And that makes us feel good. That's not easy when you're 17, 18 years old — to make a firm commitment and then stick with it."

Put another way, Iowa director of recruiting Tyler Barnes told the Register: “It re-affirms that ... we are recruiting the right kids."

Down in Georgia, running back Tyler Goodson (he of the Akrum Wadley comparisons) made his pledge to Iowa official in writing.

That last-minute push by Jim Harbaugh worked with Karan Higdon four years ago. But the Michigan coach’s appearance in Goodson's living room last week failed to change Goodson's mind.

Goodson’s officially a Hawkeye — not a Wolverine.

And in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, quarterback Alex Padilla never wavered from his June commitment to Iowa despite that attention-grabbing October offer from Georgia.

Padilla’s officially a Hawkeye — not a Bulldog.

"Typically, we don't beat Ohio State or Georgia on guys; it just doesn't happen," Barnes said. "This year, you had a different vibe about these guys — you felt good about them. They were open and honest the whole way through. And they never wavered."

Iowa's recruiting class of 2019 is filled with high-character guys — 19 of 20 were team captains — bound to deliver some great stories someday. As always, many of them won't pan out, either.

But just generally speaking...

  • I really like the ensemble of four offensive linemen joining the fold, led by sizable in-state prize Ezra Miller.
  • I feel confident in saying at least one of the three tight ends Iowa signed, Logan Lee among them, will become a college star.
  • I think Phil Parker’s stamp of approval, including on signing-day addition Daraun McKinney out of Michigan, speaks volumes about the three defensive backs coming aboard.

Still, the headliner has to be Jacobs.

Four-star linebacker Jestin Jacobs stuck with Iowa, despite a strong late push by in-state Ohio State.

The kid who grew up surrounded by Ohio State football … the kid who got an October scholarship offer from the Buckeyes, his pie-in-the-recruiting-sky school … the kid who visited Columbus twice — including for the Michigan game — and called it a "once-in-a-lifetime experience"…

That kid stayed true to Iowa.

And, perhaps just as notably, Iowa stayed true to Jacobs.

What about that no-visiting-other-schools policy for Iowa commitments again?

Jacobs said that once he told Iowa coaches about the Ohio State offer, he also shared his intent to take a visit to Columbus. In the past, that would have been a deal-breaker. We all remember the Eno Benjamin saga of two cycles ago.

Instead, Iowa's coaches responded with … trust. The scholarship offer was never pulled.

“They supported me taking a visit,” Jacobs told the Register on Tuesday night. “They wanted me to pick the best place from me. There was no pressure from them, saying, ‘If you do this, we’ve got to do this.’ They just had confidence in me.”

What changed?

Ferentz said he treats recruiting like discipline. Every case is different. The punishment, if any, has to be fair.

In this case ... Jacobs communicated clearly with Iowa about his plans. It sounds like Ohio State was more of a bucket-list visit than a serious threat to steal Jacobs, who had developed a strong relationship with Iowa's staff (linebackers coach Seth Wallace, in particular).

"When people are straight-forward and honest, yeah, it’s a lot easier to give it thought and consideration," Ferentz said. "If there’s some missing clues that pop up after the fact, that can be a little disturbing.”

So the Hawkeyes got their big fish in Jacobs, who follows in the footsteps of current Hawkeyes A.J. Epenesa, Tristan Wirfs and Tyler Linderbaum as U.S. Army All-Americans. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Jacobs adds a physical and athletic football body to a driven mentality ... at a position of need.

He’s one of six Iowa signees enrolling for classes that start Jan. 10 at Iowa. (Padilla, Miller, McKinney, offensive lineman Justin Britt and running back Shadrick Byrd are the others.) That means full immersion in Chris Doyle’s winter strength program, and full exposure to spring practices.

Full opportunity.

Jacobs — a guy who watches Josey Jewell highlights to get fired up — wants to be Iowa's next great linebacker. He could play any of the three spots, but will start outside.

"I believe my potential is through the roof. (Iowa coaches) told me that it is,” Jacobs said.

His goal: to play immediately.

“That’s a big reason why I want to leave early," he said. "I’ve got my high school credits over with, and I’m ready for that next step. I just want to go in and start my body development so I can compete at a high level.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.