Iowa is looking to a very un-Iowa-like source to find linebacker help for 2018: Junior colleges
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa Western transfer Nick Easley has been Iowa's top wide receiver this season.
But the truth is, landing junior college recruits — and then starting them — hasn’t exactly been part of the Iowa program's recipe, especially on defense. You'd have to go back to Damond Powell, who had 608 yards on 38 catches from 2013-14, to find a juco transfer who made notable contributions before Easley's emergence.
That old script is getting thrown out this recruiting season.
Iowa loses all three of its 2017 linebacker starters in Bo Bower, Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann, who have accounted for an almost absurd 208 tackles this year. The Hawkeyes have offered one juco linebacker so far, and more could be on the horizon. They hope to secure at least one transfer to add veteran blood to a position graduating seven years of combined starting experience.
The next-in-line guys on Iowa’s current roster are sophomore Kristian Welch, junior Aaron Mends, sophomore Amani Jones, junior Jack Hockaday and redshirt freshman Nick Niemann. But those five have combined for just 22 tackles this year, most of which came from time spent on special teams.
Iowa’s top juco linebacker targets to have competed with those five: Will Honas of Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, and Colton Dinsdale of Iowa Western. Iowa offered Honas on Oct. 25 and extended a preferred walk-on offer to Dinsdale two days later.
If both join Iowa's current crop of underclassmen linebackers, they'd bump the total up to 12. Iowa will also bring in at least two freshmen recruits in Dillon Doyle and Ben VanSumeren, although it's hard to see either of them playing much as rookies.
Honas and Dinsdale said linebackers coach Seth Wallace had a main theme in his recruiting pitch: You’re going to get a real opportunity to play — and start — in Iowa City.
"They’re losing a lot of older guys, and they said the spots are up for anybody," Dinsdale said. "It’s a perfect situation. I can come in the spring, prove myself there in fall camp and see what happens — they sold that a lot. They’re saying, 'We need linebackers.'"
"A lot of other schools are kind of in a similar situation," Honas added. "But most of them just have one spot, maybe two. Not all three."
Both prospects are on track to graduate in December and transfer to Iowa for spring practice.
Honas, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound inside linebacker, posted 84 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions this season at Butler. He also carries offers from Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kansas, Kansas State, Houston and Cal, among others.
Like he said, while Houston and Kansas State are getting hit pretty hard by graduation, none of those schools lose all their linebacker starters. Honas said that "definitely" will factor into his decision.
"Just from his film this year, the guy clearly has a nose for the ball," Scout’s Allen Trieu said of Honas. "Really gets to the football quickly. And from everything I’ve seen and heard, he’s a tough kid who will get physical and put his nose in the action. So I think you’re looking at a guy that’s going to come in ready to compete, at least."
Honas wants to take all five of his official visits. He said he’ll take one to Iowa in December, and likely visit Kansas State and Arkansas, too.
Dinsdale, meanwhile, is a smaller guy (6 feet, 215 pounds), but one who racked up 42 tackles at one of the country’s premier programs. He said Iowa is the only school on his recruiting radar right now. He plays middle linebacker for Iowa Western, but he’d likely switch to outside for the Hawkeyes.
"He plays bigger than his size," Trieu said of Dinsdale. "You watch him strike and take on blocks and he does everything with physicality. So I think all of that, in addition to him coming in having been well-coached at Iowa Western, makes me think if he were to go to Iowa, that’s the kind of guy you’d hope will be able to plug and play."
Iowa might not be done on this particular recruiting trail. More juco guys will pick up offers as their season wraps up and bowl season comes and goes.
One intriguing name that Trieu said he's heard lately is Lorenzo McCaskill of Holmes Comunity College in Goodman, Mississippi.
The former three-star Detroit prep standout signed with Cincinnati last winter but wound up taking the junior college route for a year. He tied for seventh in the country with 106 tackles this season.
McCaskill said he had contact with Iowa in high school, but not since. He told HawkCentral that Mississippi State, Ole Miss and North Texas are interested, and that he's waiting for "someone to pull that trigger."
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.