Leistikow: Let's talk recent Hawkeye football attrition

Chad Leistikow

The tally is now eight scholarship football players who have defected from the Iowa program since the historic 2015 season — almost 10 percent of the NCAA-allowed 85 full rides.

Lance Billings became the latest to leave, with that news surfacing Wednesday.’s Blair Sanderson reported that Billings, an incoming freshman in the 2016 class who signed in February, has gone back to Ohio and will not enroll at Iowa.

He’s the sixth Hawkeye defensive back to depart in the past two offseasons. (Good thing Desmond King came back for his senior year.)

In a perfect football world, every player who accepts a scholarship offer would turn into a dynamic on-field performer or at least an inspiring teammate.

But expecting perfection among human beings isn’t realistic.

Some guys get homesick. Some have a tough time in the classroom. Some see too steep a climb to playing time — that’s what happened with Maurice Fleming, who decided after King returned that he would play his fifth year at West Virginia.

The reasons vary. One Hawkeye, Omar Truitt, left to pursue a music career.

A big part of what I think is going on can be gleaned from this year’s team book, “Legacy,”  which I wrote about earlier this summer. The book gets inside the culture of the world’s most successful rugby team, the All Blacks of New Zealand.

One important section of the book (the title of which isn’t safe for publication) talks about players setting high standards for themselves to ensure that everyone is all-in with a team-first, me-last mentality.

“For everyone to go in the same direction,” one former All Blacks player says, “you’ve got to have strong links in the team. If there are weak links, then you will have guys going off in different directions. And that’s no good for anyone.”

The point is, going in one direction is all-important to earning and keeping one of Kirk Ferentz’s 85 scholarships. That’s part of what makes Iowa Walk-On U. — where this year’s projected starting left tackle (Cole Croston) and left guard (Boone Myers) once paid their own tuition, room and board.

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has always made hard work and commitment a central part of his program. Some guys can't cut it.

Among the eight departures, only Fleming was in Iowa’s pre-spring two-deep. The others would’ve been lucky to get special-teams work in 2016 — Billings, Truitt, running back Eric Graham, wide receiver Andre Harris, defensive end Terrence Harris, linebacker Justin Jinning and tight end Jameer Outsey.

Suddenly, the 2017 recruiting class projected to be about 16-17 deep could rise to 21-22. Another defensive back opening, for example, certainly won’t hurt the push to attract Kobe Boyce, a Texas commitment who was in Iowa City last weekend and is taking a hard look at the Hawkeyes.

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Attrition happens. Losing eight in a year is high. But until big-time signees or starters start jumping ship, there's no systemic concern.

Frankly, in the context of a 12-2 season and the recent recruiting surge, this could be a case of strengthening the core 85 ... from the inside.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.