Pat Harty: Running back could fill a need for Hawkeyes

Pat Harty

For a college football prospect, a verbal commitment used to signify in most cases the unofficial end to the recruiting process.

Now, in many cases, making a verbal commitment is when things just start to get interesting as the number of de-commitments in football continues to rise.

The days of backing away from a committed prospect are long gone for college head coaches, including Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and his assistants. Every high school prospect out there — including 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back Karan Higdon — are still available, even if they've already made a verbal commitment to a school.

Higdon, who is from Sarasota, Fla., is scheduled to be in Iowa City this weekend on an official visit despite having been committed to South Florida since late January.

Iowa currently has 14 players in its 2015 recruiting class, all of whom are high school seniors, but the search for a running back for the class still continues.

Landing a running back might not seem like a priority, considering Iowa's current depth at the position with six players currently on scholarship. However, two of the running backs — Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock — will use up their eligibility this season, while a third, Jordan Canzeri, will be a senior next season and LeShun Daniels will be a junior.

There is also no guarantee that 2014 running back recruit Markel Smith will make it to the University of Iowa after attending a prep school this fall. That reportedly is Smith's plan, but he still has to execute it on the field and in the classroom.

And there is always the threat of injury and attrition, two recent examples being former Iowa running backs Barkley Hill and Michael Malloy. They both were hampered by injuries during their brief time as Hawkeyes and have since transferred to Northern Iowa.

"Iowa needs to land at least one running back in this class," said Rob Howe, publisher of "Ferentz and the Iowa fans are well aware of the injuries at that position."

Any coach would be a fool to turn down a talented running back prospect. Landing Higdon won't be easy, though, because he is also considering Arkansas and Kentucky in addition to his first choice, South Florida.

No matter which school Higdon ultimately chooses, his decision won't become official until he signs a letter of intent on the first Wednesday in February.

Higdon is among three Florida natives who are expected to make official visits to Iowa this weekend. The others are Leesburg, Fla., receiver Adrian Falconcer, who already is committed to Iowa, and defensive back Jonathan Crawford, whose coach in Largo, Fla., is former Iowa safety Marcus Paschal.

Iowa has benefitted from its Florida recruiting pipeline under Ferentz, landing star players such as Brad Banks, Colin Cole and Fred Barr, but not so much recently. The fact that three Florida natives are expected to be in town this weekend might suggest a change in recruiting strategy in which the Sunshine State becomes a priority again.

Or does it?

Howe credits this current wave of interest from Florida mostly to connections made by Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker.

"I think Iowa is dedicated to focusing its attention outside the region on Ohio and Texas," Howe said. "That said, Phil Parker retains some strong connections in the Tampa area and I think the Hawkeyes will continue to pick their spots in the Sunshine State."

• RAEQUAN WILLIAMS UPDATE: Chicago defensive lineman Raeqaun Williams visited Iowa City for the third time last weekend and he continues to speak highly of the Hawkeyes.

"It kind of feels like home," the 6-5, 265-pounder told Hawkeye

Williams said he will take official visits to Arizona, Iowa, Missouri and Oregon before deciding. He also reports offers from Arizona State, Illinois, Penn State and Tennessee.

• MEN'S HOOPS UPDATE: Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery has shown a willingness to recruit all over the United States, signing players from Ohio, New York, California, New Jersey and Georgia among other states.

But he is still determined to make his mark in talent-rich Chicago.

Iowa already has one player from Chicago — 6-5 small forward Brandon Hutton — in its 2015 recruiting class and McCaffery is trying to land another.

Ed Morrow, a 6-7, 4-star forward from Simeon High School in Chicago, is expected to visit Iowa City this weekend. He is also expected to visit Nebraska and most of the speculation has it coming down to the Cornhuskers and Iowa.

The Iowa program, and the university as a whole, appears to have made a strong impression on high school senior forward Ogugua Anunoby.

Anunoby, who lives in Jefferson City, Mo., and goes by the initials O.G., told that he was tempted to commit during his visit to Iowa City this past weekend. But it was only Anunoby's first official visit among four that he has scheduled, so he decided to wait.

He also has scheduled visits to Vanderbilt (Sept. 20), Georgia (Sept. 27) and Indiana (Oct. 11).

"It's kind of hard to be patient," Anunoby said. "You see all of the stuff that you like and you don't know if you want to end the process, but I'll take a few more visits at least. I'm really impressed with Iowa. I really like it a lot, but I want to compare it to something,"

• STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Receiver Adrian Falconer, who is from Leesburg, Fla., continued his strong senior season by catching five passes for 101 yards during his team's 16-8 victory last week. He has caught 11 passes for 212 yards and one touchdown in two games. ... Linebacker recruit Jack Hockaday was a force on offense in his last game, rushing for 283 yards and scoring three touchdowns as a quarterback. However, the Moroa, Ill., native also threw three interceptions during his team's 39-36 loss. Hockaday has 353 rushing yards and a 160 passing yards through two games. … Tight end Nate Vejvoda, who attends Providence Catholic High School in suburban Chicago, caught five passes for 82 yards, including touchdowns from 45 and 5 yards in the first of quarter of his team's 56-13 victory over Minooka. ... Receiver Emmanual Ogwo had four catches for 85 yards and one touchdown, helping his team from Mesquite, Texas, defeat Duncanville, 27-22. ... Linebacker Justin Jinning, who is from The Colony, Texas, led his team with 13 tackles and one sack during a 22-15 victory over Corsicana High School, according to Jinning has 23 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks in two games. … West Des Moines Dowling quarterback Ryan Boyle completed 5-of-9 passes for 106 yards and had a 9-yard touchdown run during a 49-0 rout against Urbandale. … Regina quarterback Drew Cook completed 16-of-29 passes for 93 yards and one touchdown during a 38-14 victory over Cascade. Cook also rushed for 70 yards and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter after lining up at receiver. … Quarterback Jack Beneventi, who attends Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill., completed 11-of-31 passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns during a 35-32 loss to Bishop Lynch High School from Dallas, Texas. … Offensive lineman recruit Brett Waechter, who is listed at 6-5 and 265 pounds, led his Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn team in rushing for the second consecutive game with 86 yards on 12 carries.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or