IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa assistant defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell sat down with the Register on Wednesday to discuss the Hawkeyes’ 2018 class and the state of the team’s recruiting moving forward.
Here are highlights from that conversation:
Dallas Craddieth — surprised?
Christmas came early in Iowa City when Dallas Craddieth, a highly touted four-star safety from St. Louis, picked Iowa over Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
It was quite the delightful surprise for Hawkeye fans, as Craddieth had previously said he wanted to extend his recruitment past the early signing period.
Bell wasn’t surprised at all. (And not just because Craddieth called him Tuesday night to share the good news.)
"He’s a kid that we’ve been recruiting for, gosh, I think Dallas’ first time on campus might've been a junior day in 2016. So we’ve been on this kid a long time — March of 2016," Bell said. "So it wasn't a surprise for us. We knew we were in his wheelhouse."
"In terms of recruiting, we look at how often a kid comes to campus. And I think when Dallas came here for his official visit, that was his fifth time on campus. That’s a lot. That one time we’re paying the expenses because it’s an official. But the other times, he’s paying his way. So there’s got to be some genuine interest there. So to say it was a surprise? It’s a welcomed addition, let’s put it that way."
Craddieth was one of the top remaining defensive backs in the 2018 class. His stock took a jump after his senior season, which featured 66 tackles, five interceptions, one forced fumble, one sack and three tackles for loss.
"You can’t get enough guys that are physical enough to get in the box and make tackles in space, yet athletic enough to cover guys in space," Bell said. "And to say, 'Oh, well he’s a safety,' I think you’d be limiting his potential, defensively. He’s just a guy you want on the field, because he can tackle and he can cover. That’s what we covet."
Late stages of John Waggoner's recruitment
Iowa’s highest-ranked signee is Dowling Catholic defensive end John Waggoner. His recruitment was a bit odd, though.
Interest appeared to waver late this fall, as talk was that Iowa had filled its needs at his position. Minnesota, UCLA and Nebraska looked like they might be the new front-runners.
But then Kirk Ferentz visited Waggoner at Dowling on Nov. 29. Six days later, Waggoner committed to the Hawkeyes.
So what happened? Bell said positional needs took a backseat. Bottom line: Iowa just wanted Waggoner on the roster.
"You have to look at how we’re built and what we value here, especially on the defensive side of the ball — it all starts up front," Bell said. "So, as many of those guys as you can get, the better. The roster is fluid. Guys move around, in terms of guys that are already on the team, and you can project certain things down the road. He was a good player that you didn't want to lose on."
The Hawkeyes expect three signees from Indianapolis this week: receiver Tyrone Tracy and defensive backs D.J. Johnson and Julius Brents — all high-profile Midwest prospects. Johnson picked Iowa over Notre Dame and stayed loyal despite a late LSU offer.
Bell credits a lot of Indianapolis success to former defensive assistant Jim Reid. But the main element for the recent recruiting victories, Bell said, is a three-pronged recruiting pitch to Indianapolis prospects: 1) You’ll be close to home; 2) If we make the Big Ten championship, you’ll get to play at home. 3) We play many road games driving distance from Indianapolis.
"Those are really big factors that, in terms of recruiting that area, are selling points for us," Bell said.
Thing that stands out about 2018 class
Bell said two things stood out about this class: its size and strength, and its loyalty.
On size and strength: "Doesn’t mean anything for them as far as their development here, but I just feel like, with the way athletes are being trained right now and the knowledge they have with recovery and strength and conditioning, this class is probably — in terms of physically ready — there are guys coming in that are going to look like they’re ready to play. That’s an upside. That’s one thing you notice off the hoof: It is a big class. Not just big with the linemen, but just a big class, even with the skill guys."
And on the loyalty of a class that has has only seen Ben VanSumeren flip to Michigan: "At one point in the season, we were 5-4 before we played Ohio State, and there was no fear in losing any of these kids. They were totally bought into what we’re doing, and we appreciate that."
The Hawkeyes signed three recruits from Iowa. Waggoner gets a lot of attention because he was the state’s top prospect. Iowa City West linebacker Dillon Doyle will get some press, too, because he’s Chris Doyle’s son.
But Iowa is just as thrilled to sign Solon defensive tackle Tyler Linderbaum — the lone 2018 signee who will play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He’s a three-sport athlete. A rare, athletic breed for defensive line; he recorded a 70-yard pick-six this season.
Bell sees a bright future for him.
“Maybe on the size chart, you’re looking around the Big Ten at defensive tackle and they’re bringing in big guys, but Tyler fits the mold of all the great defensive linemen that played here," Bell said. "And it has nothing to do with the scale or the height chart. It’s all about what’s inside: The kid’s an animal.
"Of course he’ll come here. He’ll eat, he’ll lift, he’ll grow. He’ll get bigger, faster, stronger. But his drive to compete? That’s something you can’t coach and you can’t protect. It’s off the charts. That’s what’s going to make him special."
So does Bell get to sleep now?
"Nope," he laughed. "Recruiting never stops."
Up next: Focusing on remaining 2018 targets after this week. (We’ll see what Will Honas and Drake Stoops do.) Ferentz said he expects 16 to 18 early signees and 20 to 22 for the full 2018 class, so there’s still some work to do.
Bell is also already neck-deep in 2019 recruiting.
"Time’s going to be a factor with these 2019 guys because they sign a year from now," Bell said. "They sign 12 calendar months from now. So we’re still in the process of getting those 2019 kids from other areas on campus. That’s going to be important for us over these next 4-5 months, to get those guys on campus as much as we can so they know what we’re about."
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_.