If Iowa’s recruiting cycle were to mimic its regular season, last month’s football decommitments would look like the Penn State loss.
A public meltdown away from home. Fans and followers questioning the gameplan. Panic over how the Hawkeyes could possibly bounce back.
But head coach Kirk Ferentz’s staff has been busy during the NCAA-approved contact period, taking the past two weeks to try and refill the 2017 recruiting class. The plan is to end on a win streak with prospects, too.
“It might take a while, but Iowa is doing well with its top targets, and I think they’ll get some of them down the line,” Scout.com Midwest recruiting analyst Allen Trieu told the Register on Friday.
“In cases where they don’t, I think they’ve been one of the best staffs over the years of having backup options, having kids on the backburner, and guys you may not know about come in right before (National) Signing Day. You never see Iowa in too much of a panic.”
Iowa currently has 13 verbal commitments from high school seniors. The class was ranked among the nation’s top 20 in recruiting circles until four Texans — running back Eno Benjamin, cornerback Chevin Calloway, and receivers Beau Corrales and Gavin Holmes — had high-profile departures in the span of a month.
Now, the Hawkeyes have to fill a few more spots before Signing Day on Feb. 2. Blair Sanderson, editor of the Rivals.com site Hawkeye Report, believes finishing with 20-22 commitments is still feasible.
“It sure seems like they’re staying patient on new targets and are very comfortable with the guys that are high on the board already,” Sanderson told the Register this week.
“It’s been a little drought, for sure, but they’re sitting tight.”
The midseason drop to 13 recruits may seem drastic, but Iowa’s coaches have been out in full force ahead of their Outback Bowl preparation and the staff is known for uncovering or flipping prospects late in the process. With five-star defensive end A.J. Epenesa still locked in and grayshirt Noah Clayberg counting toward the 2017 scholarship chart, December and January could be as positive off the field as late November was on it.
“It’s funny, because even six or seven years ago, if you saw a staff that only had eight or so spots to fill, you’d be like, ‘Wow, these guys are way ahead,’” Trieu said.
“Things move so much faster now, and it might seem like they’re somehow behind. But this is the time of year that schools clamp down and you see a sprint to the finish. I think that’s going to happen with Iowa.”
Iowa has spent the bulk of its early contact period time talking with 2017 commits, meeting and offering 2018 and 2019 prospects, and zoning in on its top remaining 2017 targets.
The latter group only consists of a handful of names, but they play at positions of need for the Hawkeyes.
Scott Nelson is a three-star safety from Detroit who has offers from more than half of the Big Ten. Trieu thinks the rangy defensive back is basically deciding between Wisconsin and Iowa.
Linebacker Thomas Johnston finished his prep career as Alabama’s all-time leading tackler and is considering Iowa, along with Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, and Ole Miss. He was in Iowa City with family members for a visit last weekend. All three of Iowa’s returning starters at linebacker will be seniors next season.
And perhaps the most high-profile priority recently is Peoria, Ill., lineman Kendrick Green. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound prospect plays center or guard on offense and tackle on defense, with Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz serving as his primary recruiter.
“Initially, Kendrick was an offensive lineman, then everybody started recruiting him as a defensive lineman,” Trieu said. “He didn’t have much tape on defense until his senior year, but then the tape was outstanding, so (Scout) moved him there in the rankings.
“Then, of course, Iowa likes him as an offensive lineman. He can do just about anything. It sounds like Iowa would start him as a center, and that probably is his more natural side of the ball.”
Iowa would appear to need Green sooner on the defensive front, but it likely won’t rush a position projection when a player is at least a high school semester and redshirt year away from action.
“If there were two Kendrick Greens, I think Iowa would take one on the offensive line and one on the defensive line,” Sanderson said. “He’s really good on both sides of the ball.”
The all-important skill position spots could make or break Iowa’s recruiting ranking for 2017. The staff is busy in New Jersey with interested running back Jon Lovett and receiver Jahmin Muse, but getting a receiver commitment close to home might mean the most.
Landing Iowa City West’s Oliver Martin would be the recruiting equivalent of Iowa’s upset over Michigan, a school that just so happens to be another top offer for the most productive receiver in Iowa’s Class 4A history.
“Getting Oliver Martin — the hometown kid, the No. 1 prospect in the state — would go a long way,” Sanderson said. “You’ve got to protect your borders, and a lot of people are paying attention to his recruitment. And there’s a need at receiver. He would be vital for numbers and talent.”
Like Iowa’s regular season, recruiting followers will have to wait and see what the Hawkeyes can accomplish down the stretch. There’s plenty of work left to do.
“Iowa will never stretch itself just to fill spots or scholarships,” Trieu said. “And as far as next-in-line type of guys, their staff does a pretty good job of holding that back and keeping it away from the public. Iowa will definitely have kids under the radar that come in later.”
The NCAA’s recruiting dead period runs from Dec. 12 to Jan. 11, then becomes an open contact period again through Jan. 28.