Recruiting: Hawkeyes keep hard line on trail ahead of early signing, evaluations

Chris Cuellar
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Love it or hate it, Iowa stood by its controversial “no-visit” policy last season as 2017 recruits defected for other programs.

With offseason NCAA recruiting rules changes implemented ahead of the Class of 2018’s arrival, the Hawkeyes have debuted a polite, yet firm point: If you’re verbally committed before December, you should make it official during December’s new early signing period.

Iowa recruiting coordinator and assistant defensive line coach Kelvin Bell says that guideline has been communicated well to the prospects Iowa expects to get next season, but an accelerated recruiting calendar brings him a whole host of other issues in 2018 and beyond.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell answers questions during media day on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017.

Bell knows a program famous for stability and tradition will be forced to evolve ahead of National Signing Day for the foreseeable future.

In a one-on-one conversation with the Register earlier this month, the Mississippi native explained how the Hawkeyes plan to handle early evaluations, find recruits with good character as well as physical talent, and get beyond shoe brands.

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At the time of the interview, Iowa had 11 verbal commitments for 2018 and four for 2019. It has since added its top-rated 2018 prospect in Indiana cornerback D.J. Johnson. Per NCAA policy, coaches cannot comment on unsigned prospects.

DMR: Iowa already has 11 commits in what will probably be a smaller-than-usual recruiting class. How much flexibility would you like to have in January after going through the first early signing period in December?

KB: Without the early signing period, you’re fighting off other schools in January. Big fish eat little fish. If those big, brand-name schools don’t get the guys they want, they matriculate down. For us to be able to get those kids that we want, that we’ve identified early, that are committed, to get them signed in December opens up how we can hone in on the rest of the class once we hit the road in January. We’re not having to save what we already have committed. Normally, that means we’re juggling a lot of balls.

What has communication been like with current commits about signing in December?

Whenever you commit to school and if you’re going to commit to a school — given the opportunity to make it official — the first opportunity you get, you should do that. If that’s not what you’re going to do, you shouldn’t commit.

We’re really looking forward to those committed guys, because we anticipate all of them signing in December. If not, we have a plan in place for that. There’s no hard feelings. There are so many players out there hungry for an opportunity.

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This staff likes to take its time with recruits. Does the new calendar speed up how you evaluate them?

Yeah, and that’s the tricky part. You’re either getting better, or you’re getting worse. Some kids peak early, some kids bloom late. It’s tricky for us, because you get a kid committed, but it’s early and you still want to see, is this kid’s arrow going up or down? The only way to figure that out is watch a kid play his junior and senior year of high school. But if you don’t get in the game early, they think you’re not interested and you’re way behind. That’s the balancing act for us. Our early evaluations are going to be critical going forward. And that’s not just on the field, because these kids will constantly be maturing. You want to make sure that when it’s time to sign, you’re getting the best fit for Iowa football.

How do you best determine a kid’s “fit” when they’re coming off their freshman or sophomore year of high school?

For us, the fit portion is all character-based. You check out a kid’s home life. You check out the way he treats his teammates and what his high school coach has to say about him. Whether a kid is a sophomore or a senior, those things are paramount for us. Those are the pillars that we base evaluations on. Everybody can turn film on and watch tape. You have to really dig. And when you’re evaluating and taking commitments early? The digging is continuous. It’s not like when we get a commit, we consider him stashed away. That is when the monitoring has to continue, because now that the kid has found a little bit of success and increased attention, how is he going to react to it?

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Kelvin Bell, right, and Reese Morgan are both defensive line coaches at Iowa. Bell is in his second year as the Hawkeyes' recruiting coordinator. Morgan helped lead the recruitment of 2019 commit Tyler Endres.

Do you see any other recruiting issues on the horizon nationally that might affect how Iowa operates, outside of schedule changes?

I don’t see any major issues coming up, but I’ve got concerns about binding contracts and kids being able to sign a National Letter of Intent in the month of December. The landscape of college football changes drastically when bowl season is over. I could see an issue where a kid chooses a school for the coach and not choosing it for the school. The could be situations where a kid has signed and that coach — position coach, head coach, support staff member, whatever — may not be there in January, and you’ve just signed a binding contract for a year.

That’s why I think it’s important that kids do their homework about schools they’re interested in. Scratch beyond the surface, ask tough questions to the coaching staff. And that’s asking a lot for a 17-year-old. All some kids care about is Nike or Adidas.

Given how important January has been to Iowa’s recruiting in recent seasons and that this will be the first time experiencing early signing, what are you most interested to see happen ahead of National Signing Day?

Honestly, I’m more interested to see how things shake out in December. In the past, January has been a complete free-for-all. It’s the wild, wild West of recruiting. Schools just coming out of the blue.

And that’s kind of what I tell kids all the time, that yeah, it’s fall, and we’re doing this talking and doing this recruiting, but recruiting doesn’t start until January, when I’m able to come into your house, sit on your couch, eat dinner with your family. And then there’s another coach from another school waiting to come inside. That’s when it really starts. Speed that up to December. That’s the interesting part.

There are going to be guys that other schools, including us, might think will be available in January, and they won’t be. You can’t wait on them.

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