The repeated trips to Iowa City for game-day experiences, facility tours and conversations with coaches gave Rocky Lombardi a chance to see everything he needed to see inside the Iowa football program.
But time after time, Valley’s all-state quarterback came home without hearing the words he hoped to hear.
And in the days leading up to his visit Sunday when Iowa brought in a collection of top underclassmen, Lombardi wondered about the long-term future of his recruiting relationship with the Hawkeyes.
“I’d say that one or maybe my next one was probably going to be my last visit,” Lombardi said. “I figured they’d given up on me.”
This was a rare instance when Lombardi made the wrong read.
Coach Kirk Ferentz threw Iowa’s hat into the recruiting ring for the three-star quarterback, and the scholarship offer gave Lombardi a chance to look at the program in a different light.
“It was a little bit more real than the touristy attraction that it was before,” he said.
In the last year, Lombardi also collected offers from Iowa State, Virginia, Miami (Ohio), Western Michigan and Dartmouth. He said he hopes to make a decision on his college plans before the start of his senior season.
For now, though, he’s gearing up for track season, which comes on the heels of his medal-winning performance at the state wrestling meet.
Football, however, is his college meal ticket. He connected on 57.6 percent of his passes for 4,355 yards and 46 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during the past two seasons.
“He continued to progress in all the ways we needed him to progress,” Scout.com analyst Allen Trieu said. “We liked him (going into last season), so it wasn’t like there were a ton of glaring things we said we needed to see from him. But he got bigger, he got stronger, and I had a chance to see him in person last year at Minnesota’s camp and I was surprised at how put together he is.
“He’s obviously won a ton of games, he’s been in pressure situations, takes good care of the football, very accurate. I don’t know that he’d wow you in a combine setting, but once the lights are on, the ball’s getting to the right places and he’s winning games. To me, he’s under-appreciated nationally.”
The Cy-Hawk recruiting battles
For two programs that share recruiting territory in a state where the demand for Division I prospects far outweighs the supply, Iowa and Iowa State seldom clashed for the same players in recent years.
Though there were exceptions – T.J. Hockenson (Iowa), Anthony Nelson (Iowa), Allen Lazard (Iowa State) and Jake Campos (Iowa State) are a few of the recent prospects who picked up offers from both schools – the Hawkeyes often went in one direction and the Cyclones went in another on in-state recruiting paths.
That trend has discontinued since Matt Campbell replaced Paul Rhoads as Iowa State’s head coach.
“Campbell has emphasized the entire Midwest more, and certainly in-state,” Trieu said. “They’ve gotten in early on some guys and been the first offer to a number of in-state guys, which I think you saw very little of prior to this. It’s creating some battles. I think you’ve also seen Iowa, in the last couple years, up their aggressiveness.”
“You’re seeing more spring battles between those two schools than ever before because both schools are being much more aggressive on the recruiting trail,” Trieu said. “I don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.”
Hawkeyes land defensive back
Iowa’s 2017 class added its sixth member on Sunday when the Hawkeyes picked up a pledge from Djimon Colbert.
Colbert, a defensive back from Bishop Miege High School in Shawnee Mission, Kan., picked the Hawkeyes over offers from Nebraska, Iowa State and Kansas. He’s rated by Scout.com as a four-star prospect.
“He’s a kid we’re really high on at Scout,” Trieu said. “I think we might have him ranked a little higher than some other people. Finding guys who can play in the secondary with some length is a challenge for schools every year and he’s a kid who brings that to the table. He’s a kid who can play cornerback at 6-1 and 190 pounds. When you have the athleticism to play out on the outside and play corner at that size, I think it’s a huge advantage. Those kind of kids with that body type and talent don’t come around very often.”