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Leistikow: Iowa signing-day thoughts on Aussie punter, Coy Cronk, Deuce and D-line help

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Three days after the Super Bowl, Kirk Ferentz fittingly tied his signing-day press conference into the Kansas City Chiefs’ win against the San Francisco 49ers.

Those who follow Iowa football know that there were four former Hawkeyes in the football’s premier game, tied for most of any college program — quarterback C.J. Beathard and tight end George Kittle for the 49ers; linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann for the Chiefs. A fifth, offensive lineman Ross Reynolds, was on the 49ers practice squad.

Ferentz’s way of tying that conversation into signing day was to point out that of those five, only Beathard had another Power Five scholarship offer besides Iowa. He also noted that the game’s two premier tight ends, Kittle and Travis Kelce, were under-recruited and that the game’s starting left tackles both attended Central Michigan.

“That’s the neat thing about football in general,” Iowa’s 22nd-year head coach said. “There are just a lot of good stories to be had. That makes it fun.

“It really boils down to hard work, dedication and commitment.”

So that’s the message about Iowa’s 22-player Class of 2020 that was mostly buttoned up in December, but got finished up with Wednesday’s second signing day. These guys have potential, but it’s all about what happens next.

Iowa's first signing day press conference was overshadowed by the death of Hayden Fry, so Wednesday marked Kirk Ferentz's first extended chance to address his Class of 2020.

There were two new signings Wednesday, including the “Punter from Down Under.”

Tory Taylor is the punter's name, and he hails from Melbourne, Australia. He’s 22 years old, measures 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and has four years of college eligibility. Special-teams coordinator LeVar Woods took an extended trip recently to see Taylor and liked what he saw.

“He’s got good raw skills. But he hasn’t played football,” Ferentz said. “They don’t play it there like we do here. It’s going to be an adjustment for him, and we’re going to have to work like crazy with him when we get going in August.

“It’s going to be interesting for sure, I’ve never gone down this road.”

Australian punters coming to the U.S. are hardly a new thing. As recruiting director Tyler Barnes pointed out, “When you look at the Ray Guy Award list, those guys (from Australia) litter that list. So they’re obviously doing something right.”

Barnes added that Taylor is “a mature kid that’s been training for this for a while.”

Iowa now has two scholarship punters, with Ryan Gersonde still recovering from a knee injury. Ferentz said he was hopeful that Gersonde, a junior, would be cleared by the spring.

The other new signing Wednesday was from defensive lineman Michael Lois from Elkhorn, Wisconsin, although it’s unlikely that Lois will ever play a down of college football. A serious neck injury suffered in a pool accident tragically occurred after he accepted Iowa’s scholarship offer. Ferentz said the offer was still binding, noting that Lois' commitment was "a two-way street."

“The good news is he’s functioning a lot better, but whether he can play football remains to be seen,” Ferentz said. “I’m not optimistic there.”

Assuming Lois ends up as a medical retirement, he would not count against Iowa’s 85 scholarships.

Get this: Ferentz found graduate transfer Coy Cronk on his iPad.

And now the former 40-game left-tackle starter is a Hawkeye. Interesting how things work out.

Ferentz told the story of fiddling around on his iPad in front of his fireplace after the Holiday Bowl and seeing that Cronk was leaving Indiana. With Iowa losing right tackle Tristan Wirfs early to the NFL, Ferentz was immediately intrigued.

“One thing led to another, (you) look at his film … so we’re really excited he’s here,” Ferentz said. “He wanted a change of scenery for whatever reason, and I think it was a good match.

“It gives us a little comfort … to at least have a guy coming in who has a good resume and has a maturity to him that’s maybe a little different than an 18-year-old.”

Barnes, as luck would have it, had struck up a previous relationship with Cronk when he was on staff with Vanderbilt. Barnes remembered writing Cronk a thank-you note after he ultimately chose the Hoosiers, perhaps a key document that led to his enrollment at Iowa.

“I learned this from Coach Ferentz, whether you get a recruit or you don’t,” Barnes said, “make sure you leave it in good standing.”

Ferentz added that the season-ending leg injury that Cronk suffered for the Hoosiers is not a concern and that he should be fine within a couple weeks.

One of the class headliners is Deuce Hogan, who won’t arrive until June.

But Ferentz isn’t worried about the Texas quarterback getting up to speed quickly. Hogan will get a lot of 7-on-7 time in the summer with teammates and will get every chance to prove himself during August camp.

“I think Deuce will have a chance to get caught up. He comes from a coaching family," Ferentz said. "His dad’s a coach. (Nate) Stanley’s was, (Drew) Tate’s was. That’s a good combination. (Hogan’s) a sharp guy, a football guy.”

The notable references there to Stanley and Tate, the Nos. 2-3 passers in school history? Both quickly ascended to backup roles as a true freshman. That might not be the case for Hogan, but it certainly can't be ruled out. Iowa has only two scholarship quarterbacks this spring, in sophomore Spencer Petras (the listed No. 1) and freshman Alex Padilla.

If Iowa is going to work the transfer portal any further, defensive line would make sense.

Ferentz and Barnes both said they’ll remain active in that market, as Iowa looks to replenish a defensive line that lost a probably NFL Draft first-rounder in A.J. Epenesa and two senior defensive tackles.

But don’t discount immediate help from a freshman.

Iowa’s two highest-rated recruits in the class, according to 247 Sports, got plenty of positive buzz Wednesday.

Ferentz said that former defensive line coach Reese Morgan compares Council Bluffs Lewis Central defensive tackle Logan Jones (6-3, 260) to current starting center Tyler Linderbaum, a tenacious yet quiet competitor.

And then there’s Indiana defensive end Deontae Craig (6-3, 240), who spent his final year at the Culver Military Academy. Craig had an impressive offer list and Barnes candidly said that Iowa was late to his recruitment, but defensive line coach Kelvin Bell made up ground quickly. Bell has been doing good work in Indiana.

Barnes also pointed out that Craig’s affinity for Iowa grew through his relationship with Tyrone Tracy Jr., a sophomore receiver for Iowa who hails from Indianapolis. The two played AAU basketball together.

“He’s a kid that’s kind of wise beyond his years. Very mature,” Barnes said. “And one heck of a football player.”

Some final tidbits …

Ferentz remains hopeful that backup kicker Caleb Shudak, who entered the transfer portal, will stay at Iowa. It sounds like a scholarship might be in the works. Shudak was excellent at kickoffs and pushed Lou Groza Award finalist Keith Duncan, a consensus first-team all-American. … Offensive lineman Jeff Jenkins is no longer on the team and isn't in school, Ferentz confirmed. … There will be no spring practice in the Des Moines area this year. Look for the spring game to be the fourth weekend in April.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.