IOWA CITY, Ia. – On the high-interest topic of college football recruiting, perspective is important. Yet, for fans and even media members, it's almost impossible to grasp a true picture of what's going on.
But that doesn't mean we can't try, and it doesn't mean there aren't some tangible takeaways to discuss.
The Iowa football program has received 13 verbal commitments to its Class of 2016 in the last 21/2 weeks. With Friday's announcement from New Jersey defensive end Brandon Simon, the Hawkeyes' class reached 17 members, a record high for the program in June, and there's a good chance it'll grow to 18 or 19 by Monday.
No matter how many stars are behind a guy's name (more on that later), there's legit momentum — some might say much-needed momentum — in the Hawkeye program.
"It's been a real positive for us," Iowa recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace said Friday in an interview with the Des Moines Register. "It's like a snowball, once you get it going."
So, considering none of the 17 commitments carry the four- or five-star rating from recruiting websites that fans like to see, should Hawkeye Nation be excited?
Most signs point to yes, but again, it's all about perspective.
Targets identified, acquired
HawkeyeReport.com publisher Tom Kakert noticed a lot of "panic and anxiety" on his message boards in mid-May when Iowa had just two 2016 commitments.
The count was at four until two in-state prospects and the brother of a current Hawkeye starter began a 15-day frenzy.
"They saw two commits on the board, and I told people, 'We'll probably have a better idea of where this recruiting class is by August.' And it didn't take till August," Kakert said. "On June 22, we kind of figured it out."
Commitments have come from Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, Indiana and the Chicago area.
"They're getting targets that they wanted early, and I think that can only be viewed as a positive," Kakert said. "It's not like it's Jan. 15 and they're scrambling to fill out a class."
Wallace, who is just wrapping up his first calendar year as recruiting coordinator after he was hired to replace Eric Johnson last June, brings up the phrase "right fit" consistently.
Like it or not, Iowa knows its best chance to compete with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan on the field is to locate guys that'll "fit" the template of a developmental program.
"There's a lot that goes into the fit," Wallace said. "The fit is football. The fit is socially. The fit is academically. There's a lot that goes into the evaluation process, and that's not just turning on the tape and watching an individual play football."
This past weekend, Iowa hosted a "Hawkeye Tailgater" for 17 targeted prospects on unofficial visits. It was productive, netting four more commitments, including Simon. Illinois defensive end Romeo McKnight and Oklahoma defensive back Max Wariboko, another two who were at the tailgate and have said they will announce their intent Monday, have Iowa in their top three.
"All the guys they're getting from around the country have one thing in common," Chicago-based national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "They're all outstanding athletes."
Beware of the stars
Lemming, in his 36th year on the recruiting trail, admitted that even though he uses stars to rate high school prospects, they're so prevalent now that they've become misleading and misused.
Of Iowa's 17 commitments, Rivals.com rates 11 with three stars and six with two. No fours, no fives.
"The fans should realize the stars are the most bogus thing ever. I'm one of the guys that helped start that stuff," Lemming said. "But it's mainly based on how many offers the players have. And some schools, once they see a few big names offer, the rest of them just offer. It doesn't mean they know the players that well. It comes down to evaluation and developing, and Iowa does a great job at both."
That's something Iowa and Wallace are counting on. For example, Lemming said early Iowa quarterback commitment Nathan Stanley of Menomonie, Wis., should be rated with four stars but the lack of major offers hold him to three. He puts Brownsburg, Ind., running back/athlete Toks Akinribade in the four-star category, too.
Wallace said flatly: Stars don't tell him who to recruit.
"There's a 'fit' that is specific for Iowa," Wallace said (there's that 'F' word again). "Recruiting analysts, media, they may not see it the same way. They don't know what we know. They haven't had the opportunity to see the kid in our camp. Some of these prospects don't go to these camps that gain all the media attention."
The Iowa way, old and new
Lemming called Iowa, Michigan State and Minnesota the best talent evaluators in the Big Ten Conference. Iowa needs to excel at that part, because as he put it, "it's never a great year" for in-state recruiting.
But the Hawkeyes recently gained a state-of-the-art edge on the big boys in recruiting. There's no question the new football operations center — which began housing football staff in December — is a game changer. Recruits have raved about the facility, with a 23,000-square-foot weight room the centerpiece.
"When I saw it in January," Lemming said, "I said right away Iowa's going to have a better recruiting year."
It's an attractive selling point for a developmental program and tells recruits: everything is here for you to make it to the NFL. Kirk Ferentz was doing that even before the facility's unveiling; ESPN.com lists 33 former Hawkeyes on current NFL rosters.
"We've got the best development, arguably, of any school in the country," Wallace said. "And that's not just me saying that."
Another factor in Iowa's increased pace on the recruiting trail — it has offered scholarships to more than 200 Class of 2016 prospects — can be attributed to more personnel devoted to recruiting. Without a complete recruiting staff for the first time, things like the Hawkeye Tailgater wouldn't have taken place. Wallace's support staff includes Max Allen (director of new media), Kelvin Bell (director of on-campus recruiting), Chigozie Ejiasi (director of player development) and Scott Southmayd (director of player personnel).
Things are changing at Iowa, even as the head coach (Ferentz, in his 17th year) stays the same.
Development is great, but...
The Ferentz factor can be polarizing. Some fans are ready for a change. They might buy into the developmental label, but they justifiably wonder if more wins would attract more talent.
To that, Lemming challenged Iowa fans to a history lesson. Iowa finished in The Associated Press' final Top 10 from 2002-04 behind low-rated recruiting classes.
"They didn't have four-star players then," Lemming said. "They developed them into four-stars."
Only once, in 2005, Ferentz landed what recruiting websites deemed an elite class. But remember how recruiting ratings work: Who's to say that 2005 class didn't receive star inflation because Iowa's national brand was so high?
But back to this class. We won't see most of these guys on the field until 2017 or later.
For a program who had its team cap a three-game, season-ending losing streak by getting pasted by Tennessee in the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl, gravitating toward a recruiting surge isn't a bad thing.
"I don't think there's any question this program needed a boost of some level, somewhere, somehow," Kakert said. "Since the TaxSlayer Bowl, and really, you go back to the last two games of the season, it's been tough for the Iowa program to generate any momentum."
Iowa likes its building Class of 2016, which should end up about 25 strong. The key becomes keeping the current 17 committed for eight months — until National Signing Day on Feb. 3, 2016.
Those who follow Hawkeye recruiting still remember the sting of February when Michigan swooped in to sign running back Karan Higdon, billed as one of the few studs of Iowa's 2015 class that wound up ranked 13th out of 14 Big Ten teams by Rivals.
"We love the ones we've got," Wallace said. "But they've got to continue to know how much we love them."
Iowa is working ahead on the Class of 2017, which has two commitments, including West Union four-star, 350-pound defensive tackle Juan Harris, who said Thursday on Twitter his third commitment to Iowa was final.
But the focus now is filling out needs in the Class of 2016 — predominantly defensive line (which got help from Simon on Friday), receiver and cornerback — and keeping the positive momentum going.
"Iowa's in very good hands," Lemming said. "They're going to do what they're going to do."
IOWA'S FOOTBALL RECRUITING CLASS OF 2016
The 17 Hawkeye football commitments as of Friday, arranged by Rivals.com's star ratings. Verbal commitments are not binding:
THREE STARS (11)
- Toks Akinribade, ATH, 6-0, 205 (Brownsburg, Ind.)
- Chauncey Golston, DE, 6-5, 235 (Detroit)
- Amani Hooker, DB, 6-1, 195 (Brooklyn Park, Minn.)
- Amani Jones, LB, 6-0, 215 (Chicago)
- Cedrick Lattimore, DE, 6-4, 251 (Detroit)
- Nick Niemann, LB, 6-3, 205 (Sycamore, Ill.)
- Austin Schulte, DE, 6-4, 240 (Pella, Iowa)
- Brandon Simon, DE, 6-1, 236 (Ramsey, N.J.)
- Nathan Stanley, QB, 6-4, 193 (Menomonie, Wis.)
- Kyle Taylor, LB, 6-2, 220 (Washington, D.C.)
- Barrington Wade, RB, 6-1, 207 (Skokie, Ill.)
TWO STARS (6)
- Cole Banwart, OL, 6-4, 275 (Algona, Iowa)
- Frank Darby, WR, 6-1, 180 (Jersey City, N.J.)
- T.J. Hockenson, TE, 6-5, 230 (Chariton, Iowa)
- Spencer Williams, OL, 6-3, 275 (Cedar Falls, Iowa)
- Devonte Young, WR, 6-0, 191 (Waldorf, Md.)
- Toren Young, RB, 5-11, 206 (Monona Grove, Wis.)