Iowa aims to add star recruits for offensive line arsenal
Iowa’s offensive line legacy can speak for itself.
But its reputation is getting a little louder on the recruiting trail as the Hawkeyes head into an important summer stretch for 2018 and 2019 prospects.
Top targets for head coach Kirk Ferentz’s staff have become more highly-rated than under-the-radar, with the Hawkeyes building off pro-style success and development to attract big-name interest.
“This early in the process, the targets are usually kids that end up being no-brainer prospects,” said Blair Sanderson, editor for Rivals site Hawkeye Report. “Iowa is still going after high-rated kids around the Midwest, like it has done in the past, but the talent now is home-grown or interested in Iowa even earlier.”
Iowa has other positions of greater immediate need — wide receiver, defensive back, defensive tackle — for future recruits, but its attempted offensive line stockpile appears to be ahead of schedule.
Two 2018 three-star commitments have already arrived from Crystal Lake, Ill.: guard Jeff Jenkins and Balsam Lake, Wis. tackle Cody Ince. The latter announced his verbal late Sunday night, selecting Iowa over an offer from nearby Minnesota and without waiting on home-state Wisconsin.
And the 2019 haul is off to a tremendous start with the top-rated prospect in Iowa, Ezra Miller, who pledged in April. Miller is a four-star recruit from Holstein and the nation’s No. 83 overall player, according to 247 Sports.
The 2016 and 2017 classes each finished with three scholarship offensive linemen.
“They’re chasing these higher profile guys because they’re starting to have success with these higher profile guys,” said Derek Young, publisher for Scout site Hawkeye Insider. “In the past, they might lose or come up short on top targets like Ross Pierschbacher.
“I wouldn’t say the staff’s approach changed, but the results have because of the feedback that they’ve gotten. They developed guys that were lightly-recruited and would wind up in the NFL, anyway. What could they do with high-level recruits?”
Early commitments can help Iowa maintain its offer efficiency, too. Tristan Wirfs and Mark Kallenberger, tackles from the 2017 haul, both ended their recruitments with in-state verbals, which pushed off interest from other Big Ten and SEC programs. And even if those other schools get involved, Iowa might have an edge at the position based on recent results and dynamic new offensive line coach Tim Polasek.
“Iowa is going to stick with a formula that has worked,” said Allen Trieu, Midwest recruiting analyst for Scout. “They have the things that they look for in a developmental line prospect, and sometimes that’s not going to be a ready-made four- or five-star guy. It might be a tight end or a kid off the beaten path.
“But there’s a balance there. And they are getting talented players that want to be there.”
Targets for the future show how high the Hawkeyes feel comfortable aiming. An immediate 2018 solution could be taking the 6-foot-8, 330-pound shape of Iowa Western Community College’s Anthony McKinney. A native of Rockford, Ill., McKinney holds more than a dozen Power 5 offers, including Arizona State, Georgia, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Oregon and TCU.
Iowa expects to be right in the race, with McKinney taking a trip to Iowa City last week and already having set up an official visit for July.
“He brought his whole family — including his grandma and high school coach — and Iowa seemed to check every box for him,” Sanderson said.
“(Offensive coordinator) Brian Ferentz told him up front that they don’t look at many JUCO prospects, but they think, at tackle, it might work. He can come in at semester.”
Iowa’s current offensive line is expected to start three seniors and two juniors. The program rarely opts for transfers, but a young four-star recruit from an in-state school could soften that practice.
Another high-upside 2018 prospect may be Wisconsin native Jack Plumb. At 6-8, 240 pounds, Plumb plays tight end, but Iowa projects a potential move to the line like it made with former Cedar Falls standout Ike Boettger.
“Jack and his high school coaches are realizing more and more by the day that his future is as an offensive lineman,” Trieu said. “Iowa has a great advantage there by having success with that body type and position convert inside. But it’s always tough to go into Wisconsin and beat them for an in-state kid, too.”
If McKinney or Plumb go elsewhere, or the smaller 2018 class can’t take many more names, the 2019 options are impressive.
After Miller, but before Lewis Central quarterback Max Duggan in the state recruiting rankings, is Norwalk tackle Tyler Endres. The 6-6, 290-pound four-star is considered the No. 131 overall prospect nationally by 247 Sports and has two strong varsity seasons in Class 3A under his belt.
Iowa State and Minnesota have also offered, and Wisconsin just extended an offer to Endres on Monday afternoon. Penn State and Oregon have also expressed interest.
“You can’t manufacture big, and you can’t manufacture fast,” Norwalk head coach Paul Patterson said. “Tyler has got the big aspect down. He’s physically got a big head, big hands, small ankles, small knees and not a whole lot of hair on his legs — he’s where he needs to be at this age. Everybody can see the upside, and we knew things would pick up the way Iowa State and Iowa were knocking.”
An early commitment from Endres would put a clear stamp on the state’s 2019 talent as Iowa could pair him with Miller to draw even more highly-regarded prospects.
“Tyler and I had a conversation when Ezra Miller committed — about committing as early as he did,” Patterson said. “It had zero effect on Tyler. He’s still going to do what he wants to do, as far as picking the right school and the right fit and making sure he’s comfortable with where he’s going to spend five years of his life.
“But those come after two more years here.”
Endres is in a long list of four-star linemen that Iowa is taking seriously and keeping an eye on. Trevor Keegan and Will Putnam of Illinois, Nolan Rumler from Ohio, and Quinn Carroll of Minnesota all have gigantic offers on the table, but count the Hawkeyes among their suitors. Indiana’s Justin Britt added an offer last week.
“I thought the 2018 class might be less than 20 simply because they’re running out of space to add scholarships,” Young said. “It can go deeper in 2019, but they might be content just going with Miller and Endres, if they can get his commitment. Those are the type of tackle prospects right now that could effectively end it.”
The mammoth Joe Moore Award for the nation’s top offensive line in 2016 may draw a few looks from visiting prospects. Pulling in multiple early four-star commits may mean more for recruiting in the long run.
“If it was wide receiver or a different position, you might wonder if they can pull these guys in,” Sanderson said. “But you would think offensive line at Iowa, if anything, would have as a good shot as anybody.”