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Leistikow: 'Even-keeled' Ferentz, strong relationships at center of Iowa football recruiting surge

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

There is a lot that can be extrapolated from the Iowa football program’s recent recruiting binge, but perhaps this simple statement sums it up best in today’s COVID-19-changed world: Stability is cool.

And so are the Hawkeyes, rarely known as the cool kids in recruiting. But they are quite attractive at the moment and are riding an offseason wave of momentum. After Monday’s commitment of four-star offensive tackle David Davidkov, they were ranked No. 6 nationally in 247Sports’ ranking of 2021 recruiting classes.

If you tried to call Kirk Ferentz "cool," the 21st-year Iowa coach would probably offer one of his signature snorts of laughter.

But the stability Ferentz represents during so much global uncertainty is comforting to prospects and their parents ... and those who work for him. They have seen first-hand the measured way he's handling business during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kirk Ferentz, shown with the Iowa football team on the U.S.S. Roosevelt prior to their Holiday Bowl win against USC, has been praised for his even-keeled leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ferentz’s vision: Focus on off-field successes, instead of worrying about the lost practice time with the cancellation of spring football. Ferentz scrapped the idea of trying to have schematic football meetings online with players. He instead wants their time focused on academics, eating healthy, working out and building deeper friendships with each other.

“One of the most even-keeled people that I’ve ever been around,” Iowa director of recruiting Tyler Barnes told us on our Hawk Central radio show last week on KXNO-AM in Des Moines. “A guy that can just be patient. He just sees things differently (when) putting teams together.

“That’s a huge benefit that works in our favor. We’re pretty fortunate to have that.”

Time normally focused on football instruction, Barnes noted, has allowed assistant coaches to bolster relationships with high school prospects. More FaceTime calls, more time to strengthen personal connections made early in the recruiting process with names high on their wish list.

And you’ve seen those names flock to the Hawkeyes in recent days. Iowa’s 2021 class is already 13 prospects deep, with five commitments coming since the mid-March cancellation of sports and four in a span of seven days: surging Urbandale defensive end Max Llewellyn on Wednesday; Kansas City-area offensive lineman Beau Stephens on Thursday; the crown jewel to date, Davidkov, arrived on Monday. And then Tuesday brought the arrival of athlete Arland Bruce IV from Olathe, Kansas, a three-star grab who was also considering Iowa State.

At this time a year ago, Iowa had nine 2020 commitments. And that was considered a bunch then.

Thirteen already? What’s behind the surge?

The optics of the NFL Draft certainly didn’t hurt. With Tristan Wirfs’ No. 13 overall selection to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night, Iowa is just one of eight programs to have first-round draft picks in each of the past two years. Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and TCU are the others.

That’s nice company.

But Iowa’s NFL pipeline wasn’t what sold these guys. It was their long-standing relationships.

The Davidkov example reveals how the Hawkeyes are benefiting during the pandemic. Like Stephens, he was getting a big recent push from Michigan. Davidkov also was made a top target by Ohio State in recent weeks.

If either program had been able to get him on campus, maybe things would have been different. But Davidkov stuck with who he knew best and where he's visited multiple times. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound native of Winnetka, Illinois — a top-60 national recruit, according to 247Sports — called Michigan and Ohio State and told them, "no, thanks." Iowa was the place for him.

By the way, with his commitment, that makes five straight classes that Iowa will have U.S. Army All-American Bowl representation: Wirfs and A.J. Epenesa in 2017; Tyler Linderbaum in 2018; Jestin Jacobs in 2019; Logan Jones in 2020; and Davidkov is committed to the January 2021 game.

What’s next?

Look for the Hawkeyes to continue to bolster relationships with guys who have already been on campus. Tampa four-star running back Ricky Parks, a Gaither High School teammate of Iowa commitment Jordan Oladokun, has been to Iowa City a few times already. The state’s top-rated prospect, Council Bluffs tight end Thomas Fidone, remains a nationally coveted prize, and the Hawkeyes are in the mix. Even with Bruce's Tuesday pledge, a bevy of receivers (including Ankeny’s Brody Brecht) are high on Iowa’s radar.

One last thought on why this 2021 class is coming together so nicely for the Hawkeyes circles back tothe early groundwork they laid for the 2020 class. Of their 22 signees, 21 were committed to the program as of August 2019. The lone exception was an Australian punter. With that 2020 class cemented so early, the staff could focus on the historically talent-rich in-state year of 2021 and top targets in neighboring states.

And it’s paying off.

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.

Iowa's 2021 recruiting class*

DE Jeff Bowie, 6-foot-5, 242 pounds, West Branch

WR Arland Bruce, 5-10, 185, Olathe, Kan.

OL Connor Colby, 6-6, 275, Cedar Rapids

OL David Davidkov, 6-6, 290, Winnetka, Ill.

S Cooper DeJean, 6-2, 198, Ida Grove

OL Gennings Dunker, 6-5, 280, Lena, Ill.

LB Jaden Harrell, 6-2, 220, Urbandale

DT Griffin Liddle, 6-3, 275, Bettendorf

DE Max Llewellyn, 6-5, 230, Urbandale

CB Jordan Oladokun, 5-11, 180, Tampa, Fla.

OL Beau Stephens, 6-6, 305, Blue Springs, Mo.

LB Justice Sullivan, 6-2, 225, Eden Prairie, Minn.

LB Zach Twedt, 6-3, 216, Story City

*—known commitments; sizes according to Rivals.com