Leistikow: Thoughts on Iowa football's recent recruiting binge, 2020 class

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

In a matter of two weeks, Iowa football’s 2020 vision has come into focus.

What was a nice haul of 10 committed Class of 2020 prospects as of mid-June had exploded to 20 by Monday … and the tally was seemingly climbing by the hour.

How to process such a recruiting bender?

Let’s have some fun with this. I’ll try to mention all 20 verbal commitments in one standard-length column and address some curiosities you might have.

Iowa’s massive recruiting weekend, with 20-plus official visitors, paid off with six 2020 commitments and another biggie for 2021 (more on that later).

Director of recruiting Tyler Barnes bat-signaled with his #StillNotDoneYet hashtag that there would likely be more commitments harvested from this past weekend’s crop. But it was hard to miss the focus of the six pledges between Saturday and Monday.


The capper was Monday night’s addition of Minnesota defensive end Aaron Witt, who was once committed to the home-state Gophers. We’ve been over the value of star rankings, but for what it’s worth, Witt is the highest-ranked player of the newest six in 247 Sports’ composite.

The five who preceded Witt received five of the 247’s lowest six ratings in Iowa’s 2020 class. In order, highest to lowest: Illinois defensive end Lukas Van Ness, Alabama safety Reginald Bracy, Illinois cornerback A.J. Lawson, Indiana linebacker Jay Higgins and Michigan cornerback Brenden Deasfernandes.

My first reaction: What’s the rush to fill up the class with lower-rated prospects? The first signing day isn’t until December.

My second reaction: The Hawkeye staff trusts its evaluations. It’s historically stingy with scholarship offers. To make targeted offers this early in the process suggests, in Iowa’s eyes, that the star ratings undersell the talent being acquired.

Iowa has a pretty good track record on this subject.

Among the bottom-five 247 signees in 2016: Cole Banwart, Toren Young, Kristian Welch and some guy named T.J. Hockenson. In 2017: Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Geno Stone. In 2018: Nico Ragaini, Kaevon Merriweather and Riley Moss.

Iowa’s 20 commitments, as of Tuesday morning, ranked only behind Alabama’s 21 in terms of sheer volume nationally. The class is likely to settle in the 24 range, with attrition annually an expectation and a norm — via NFL Draft, transfer, injury, whatever.

Don’t worry about the final number. Do appreciate the fact that most of the Iowa staff’s time and energy can now be focused on the field for 2019 and off it for 2021 and beyond.

It all starts with the quarterback, right? Deuce Hogan, the first commitment of the class a year ago, was given deserved props for an impromptu, inspiring speech he gave to assembled visitors over the weekend. Hogan’s delivery and pocket presence reminds me of C.J. Beathard’s; and it seems like he’s got that type of charisma, as well.

Hogan can be comforted that Iowa’s big haul of 2019 offensive linemen has been followed up with another in 2020. Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Josh Volk (recovering from a torn ACL) is the headliner, at 6-foot-4, 295 pounds.

By the way, I saw a video of Kansas offensive lineman Mason Richman (6-6, 252) playing tight end in a 7-on-7 camp. He looks like a tremendous athlete. Illinois lineman Tyler Elsbury (6-5½, 292) has a nice offer list, and it seems the Hawkeyes are still hunting for one more up-front blocker. (Tampa four-star Connor McLaughlin, who officially visited June 7, would be the whale of the group.)

The fact that Iowa is loading up on offensive-tackle types and defensive linemen is an inkling that there could be vacancies at those positions. (Tristan Wirfs, Alaric Jackson, A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston are all juniors with NFL upside.)

Of the six defensive linemen who are committed to Iowa, Council Bluffs’ Logan Jones is the gem. He’s 247Sports’ highest-ranked prospect in the class, and he could become a defensive tackle in Iowa City.

I really like the frame of 6-6 Minnesota defensive end Yahya Black; he just seems like a sneaky-good early for Iowa.

Van Ness, Witt, Illinois defensive tackle Isaiah Bruce and Wisconsin defensive end Michael Lois round out the group. Lois’ playing future is uncertain, with a serious spinal injury he suffered in September. That’s a story that’ll need further monitoring; it’s too early to say whether he’ll be able to play football for the Hawkeyes.

On our bonus recruiting podcast Monday, colleague Matthew Bain picked his sleeper of the class as Cedar Rapids Xavier linebacker Ethan Hurkett. Sounds like the kid is a pure football player; Iowa does well with those types. (Josey Jewell, anyone?)

Is Alabama becoming Iowa’s new Georgia? With Derrick Foster’s ties there, the Hawkeyes are trying to gain a foothold in previously foreign turf. Foster attracted running back Shadrick Byrd to last year’s class from Alabama, and now Bracy joins the mix, too. The idea of creating a domino effect in a talent-rich state is a good one. Let’s see how it plays out.

Iowa isn’t giving up on Florida, either. Largo teammates Quavon Matthews (a receiver) and Keylen Gulley (a cornerback) are on board, following already-here receiver Calvin Lockett. Iowa is looking to add another receiver or two before its 2020 class is done.

The Hawkeyes are set at running back with Dowling Catholic’s Gavin Williams and Illinois’ Leshon Williams, but there’s one skill position that still needs addressing.

“Tight End U.” has another opening, to be paired with Elijah Yelverton of Dallas. Yelverton has the most impressive offer list in the entire Hawkeye class. It seems like there’s momentum that Luke Lachey, a visitor over the weekend from Ohio, will join the growing swarm.

So … counting it up … yep, I mentioned all 20. And it’s definitely worth mentioning the weekend’s Class of 2021 commitment in Cedar Rapids Kennedy offensive lineman Connor Colby. Michigan had offered him. Ohio State, too. But he’s going to be a Hawkeye.

In the early stages of the post-Reese Morgan era, protecting in-state talent is a big deal. Iowa has done that with Volk and Jones in 2020, and now with Colby in 2021.

In totality (again, #StillNotDoneYet), it feels like Iowa is in a zone on the recruiting trail in terms of accomplishing what it wants to accomplish. The effort led by Seth Wallace and then Kelvin Bell and now Barnes has focused on obtaining high-character athletes with a football passion.

Take a look back at the 2015 class sometime; boy, that was a rough one.

But starting with the 2016 class, led by quarterback Nate Stanley, there have certainly been a lot more recruiting hits than misses.

Given that trend, there's a lot of reasons to be encouraged about what Iowa is doing for 2020.

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.

This photo is from the end of Iowa's 2018 win against Nebraska. But there's reason to be excited about what the Hawkeyes have done lately on the recruiting trail, too.

Iowa’s recruiting class of 2020

Known verbal commitments as of Monday afternoon (measurables according to 247Sports):

QB Deuce Hogan (6-3½, 197), Grapevine, Texas (Faith Christian)

RB Gavin Williams (6-0, 195), West Des Moines (Dowling Catholic)

RB Leshon Williams (5-10, 208), Oak Lawn, Illinois (Richards)

WR Quavon Matthews (5-11, 165), Largo, Florida (Largo)

TE Elijah Yelverton (6-5, 225), Dallas, Texas (Bishop Dunne)

OL Tyler Elsbury (6-5½, 292), Byron, Illinois (Byron)

OL Mason Richman (6-6, 252), Stilwell, Kansas (Blue Valley)

OL Josh Volk (6-4, 295), Cedar Rapids (Xavier)

DE Yahya Black (6-6, 250), Marshall, Minnesota (Marshall)

DE Logan Jones (6-3, 255), Council Bluffs (Lewis Central)

DE Michael Lois (6-4, 258), Elkhorn, Wisconsin (Elkhorn Area)

DE Lukas Van Ness (6-5, 240), Barrington, Illinois (Barrington)

DT Isaiah Bruce (6-1, 270), Lena, Illinois (Lena-Winslow)

LB Jay Higgins (6-2, 215), Indianapolis (Brebeuf Jesuit)

LB Ethan Hurkett (6-3, 230), Cedar Rapids (Xavier)

CB Brenden Deasfernandes (6-1, 160), Belleville, Michigan (Belleville)

CB A.J. Lawson (6-1,177), Decatur, Illinois (MacArthur)

CB Keylen Gulley (6-0, 165), Largo, Florida (Largo)

S Reginald Bracy (6-0, 190), Mobile, Alabama (St. Paul's)