The 2017 recruiting priority list for Iowa football has taken on a different look in the last six months.
The defensive line and running back needs the Hawkeyes once had have been checked off. They’ve added mega-coveted defensive end A.J. Epenesa and four-star running back Eno Benjamin as headliners on both sides of the football.
They’ve addressed the offensive line by adding Iowa’s top two prospects at the position, Bettendorf’s Mark Kallenberger and Mount Vernon’s Tristan Wirfs.
With 10 prospects already committed to a class that’s projected to be on the smallish side in terms of quantity, the Hawkeyes now have the luxury of selectivity. And they also have some recruiting momentum to work with after a 12-win season a year ago that vaulted Iowa back to national relevance, along with the framework of a class that’s currently ranked in the top 20 by Rivals.com.
“There’s no doubt that when you get good players in your program that other kids look at guys and say, ‘Wow, there must be something going on up there,’ ” Iowa receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said on last week's "Hawk Central" radio show. “I’ll let you know this: We were much more appealing this spring than we were last spring. It’s fun going into schools and not only are coaches excited to see the University of Iowa but also players when you’re standing out there in practice and you hear them say, ‘Iowa is here.’ That’s fun. We’ve got a really good name.”
The Hawkeyes still have a short checklist of priorities to address.
Land at least a couple receivers
Iowa brought in three receivers in 2015, but two of them played last fall as true freshmen and Devonte Young was the lone receiver in the 2016 class. That’s why receiver is a high priority for the Hawkeyes between now and February.
“It’s like they’ve put a bunch of lines in the water and they’re seeing who’s going to nibble,” HawkeyeReport.com publisher Tom Kakert said. “They’ve got 15 offers out — that we know of — to wide receivers, and that’s a pretty high number for them.”
The receiver search has taken the Hawkeyes from one coast to another. They’re in the running for three-star California native Maurice Bell and they’ve reportedly offered receivers from Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey. Iowa has been most active in Texas, reportedly offering at least five receivers from the Dallas area.
Four-star receiver Camron Buckley listed the Hawkeyes in his top seven, along with Arizona State, Auburn, Houston, Miami, Mississippi and Texas.
Iowa City West’s Oliver Martin doesn’t have an offer yet from the Hawkeyes, but he’s on their radar and is scheduled to attend Iowa’s camp this month. The state’s top receiver in the 2017 class boosted his profile last month by winning the receiver MVP award at The Opening regional in Chicago.
“He ran really good routes, he caught everything that was thrown at him — whether he was open or if there was a defender draped on his back,” Scout.com analyst Allen Trieu said. “I think what really impressed the coaches was how technical he was. They really talked about how good his route-running was, how well he caught the ball away from his body. I think it was a really strong group of wide receivers, and he stood out — even from that group.”
Supplement the secondary
Iowa signed four defensive backs in February and also added Pella star Noah Clayberg, who’s expected to join the program in 2017, so this might not seem like a need area on the surface. But the Hawkeyes are thin in the secondary in the three classes ahead of the 2016 group.
“I think they were probably one short last year in that spot, so I’m sure (defensive coordinator and secondary coach) Phil Parker is pounding the table wanting to get three guys at least in this class at that position,” Kakert said.
Iowa secured a commitment in March from Kansas City-area prep Djimon Colbert, a Scout.com four-star safety.
The Hawkeyes forged relationships with Jordan Rowell and Andrew Clair, two of the top running backs in the Midwest, but they could look to those two to help in the secondary.
Iowa has been connected to Georgia athlete Connor Heyward, the son of former NFL Pro Bowl fullback Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.
The Hawkeyes have also been busy in the Cincinnati area, where defensive backs Josiah Scott, Jarell White and Keontae Jones have surfaced on Iowa’s radar.
Sign a quarterback
As a rule of thumb, the Hawkeyes like to take a quarterback in every class, but their long-term needs here could become a higher priority if Ryan Boyle’s move to receiver becomes permanent. If the Boyle transition sticks, Iowa would have three scholarship quarterbacks for 2017 and beyond.
The Hawkeyes have seen several of their quarterback possibilities land elsewhere in the Big Ten, forcing Iowa to explore other options. Texan Peyton Mansell recently reported an offer from the Hawkeyes. Fellow Texan Kamron Fields, a three-star dual-threat quarterback, told HawkeyeReport.com last month that Iowa is at the top of his list.
“As an athlete goes at a dual-threat quarterback position, he fits the mold as well as anybody,” Rivals.com Texas recruiting analyst Nick Krueger said. “He does well on the run, he improvises well and he can get the ball to receivers downfield when a play breaks down. I think he’s an interesting prospect.”