IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s robust recruiting Class of 2016 began with, and is epitomized by, the quarterback.
How fitting that Nathan Stanley led off a group of 25 commitments, 24 of which signed national letters of intent Wednesday to play for the Hawkeyes.
Stanley is a high-character, team-oriented, multi-sport star that the Hawkeyes pounced on early — before other programs were the wiser.
“It served as the foundation for the start of the ’16 class,” Seth Wallace, Iowa’s recruiting coordinator who was recently moved to linebackers coach, said Wednesday afternoon in an interview with The Des Moines Register. “It gave others who decided to jump in the boat an idea of what we’re looking for.”
Wallace was the lead recruiter on Iowa’s first two commitments, both plucked from Wisconsin more than a year ago – big-armed Stanley and powerful running back Toren Young.
“We were so impressed with who (Toren) was and what he was, and weren’t concerned about where he was in the recruiting process,” Wallace said. “We thought, ‘OK, here’s a good fit for us. We like him for what he is.’”
And that was the theme. What followed months later was a recruiting surge in June that almost filled this well-rounded class. The Hawkeyes scooped up multi-talented athletes that met the criteria of the Iowa “fit” that Wallace spoke of in the summer.
The Hawkeye staff looks beyond stars to find guys that are pure football players, good athletes who can be placed in any number of positions once they become immersed in the Chris Doyle nutrition and conditioning program.
A handful of examples that Iowa acquired in this group: T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, Romeo McKnight, Barrington Wade, Kristian Welch and late addition Shaun Beyer.
“What I’m trying to describe is you’ve got a bunch of athletes who are damn good football players,” Wallace said. “Linear build, athletic, they can run. The majority of this class we’ve had an opportunity to work with in camps. Not only can we tell they can run on tape, we’ve also had an opportunity to put them through what we believe are good indicators for potential.”
And it started with Stanley, who is worth getting excited about.
He’s listed as 6-foot-5, 212 pounds. Because he ran a wing-T offense at Menomonie High School, he didn’t throw the ball a ton. Maybe that kept him under the radar a bit — right where Iowa likes to live.
Stanley first got an offer from Paul Chryst, then the head coach at Pittsburgh. But Iowa knocked on Stanley’s door soon thereafter and built a relationship with him and his parents, Wartburg College alums Jay and Donita.
Once Iowa built that rapport with the family, Stanley felt comfortable enough to come aboard. Wisconsin made a strong late push to get Stanley to flip, but as Wallace put it, Stanley was “a man of his word.” Scout.com elevated him to a four-star talent, the highest-rated recruit in the Hawkeyes’ class.
“A lot of that was really relationship-based,” Wallace said. “We’re pretty fortunate (that originally) Nate was not heavily recruited. Had Nate not committed to us early, I could rattle off 15 teams that I know inquired about his interest. His is a very unique situation.”
Hard-to-find video clips of Stanley show a strong-armed, athletic pocket passer.
“That ball comes out pretty good,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That's not a concern.”
Stanley is about to set a school basketball record for scoring, he’s got a 90 mph fastball in baseball and averaged 45 yards as a punter.
Iowa was at No. 46 Wednesday in 247Sports’ composite national team rankings and eighth in the Big Ten Conference.
But if you trust the Hawkeyes’ evaluations, and after a 12-2 season there’s some good credibility there, this class is one that is well-crafted for a self-described developmental program.
The athletes are coming. They’re about to be shaped. And Stanley set the 2016 standard.
“Once he got here (in camps), the rest of it just kind of happened as a result of who he is and what he stands for,” Ferentz said. “The more we investigated, the more excited we were, and we're just thrilled that he was the first commitment in this class, actually. It's a good thing for a quarterback to lead it off and be the guy heading the charge.”
By the Numbers
Iowa's team ranking for the 2016 recruiting class, per 247Sports composite ranking.
Total number of recruits signed.
Number of defensive players signed; five linemen, five linebackers, four defensive backs.
11 Hawkeye signees were born that year, the last football season before Kirk Ferentz became head coach.