1-on-1 with Tyler Barnes: Iowa recruiting director talks 2019 class, pursuit of WRs
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Register sat down with Iowa recruiting director Tyler Barnes on Wednesday to discuss all things recruiting — the keys to keeping Jestin Jacobs, the approach to landing in-state talent, an emerging southern pipeline, the running back situation, pursuing wide receivers, philosophy regarding offers and much more.
Let's get to it.
What is Iowa's approach to landing in-state talent?
The Hawkeyes were quite successful in their home state for 2019, landing the Nos. 2, 3, 4, 8, 9 and 14 recruits in the Register's 2019 rankings.
They've got a handful of major homegrown targets in 2020 and 2021, as well.
In 2020, Iowa has offered Southeast Polk running back Gavin Williams (although he might not be a Ram for line), Cedar Rapids Xavier offensive lineman Josh Volk, Lewis Central defensive lineman Logan Jones and Carroll Kuemper defensive end Blaise Gunnerson.
In 2021, Iowa has offered Clear Creek Amana defensive end T.J. Bollers and Bettendorf defensive tackle Griffin Liddle.
The key, Barnes said, is getting in-state targets on campus often so they can see what the Hawkeye program is all about.
"We want to lock up our borders. Iowa is priority No. 1, without a doubt," he said. "It always has been for the last 20 years with (head) coach (Kirk) Ferentz and his staff, and it will continue to be. You look at the core of our team — it’s Iowa kids. Whether that’s scholarship guys or walk-ons, we’re going to continue to make that the core of our team.
"We do everything we can to get those guys on campus and put an impression on them as much as possible. It starts with those guys. It starts and ends with Iowa guys, without a doubt."
IOWA'S 2019 CLASS:The official list and details on each recruit
What happened at running back?
This talking point was popular among Hawkeye fans as the early signing period approached.
When Tyler Goodson committed in July, Iowa stopped recruiting any additional running backs. They stood well with some good ones — including four-star Iowa State signee Jirehl Brock — but they decided they only wanted one.
Well ... things change. Needs get re-evaluated.
Barnes said that's exactly what happened.
"When Tyler Goodson committed to us, we were set to take one," Barnes said. "Prior to that, we were talking about taking two. At the time with the numbers on the roster, the thought was, 'Hey we really only need one at this point and we’re going to shift this needed spot to a different position.' And we did. And we get into the season and we lose a guy at that spot (in Kyshaun Bryan). You’re playing all year and you’ve got three guys you feel really good about that are playing. Really, only two a week that are healthy, which is kind of scary. You sit there and you think, 'Hey, can we dodge that bullet again next year?'
"We thought it was best to go out and find another running back. And try to find the right guy. We weren’t just going to take a running back. We wanted to find the right guy. And if we couldn’t find the right guy, we would’ve moved it forward into next year."
Barnes said he's confident they found the right guy in Alabama three-star Shadrick Byrd, who received his Iowa offer last week, took an official visit last weekend and committed to the Hawkeyes over Troy on Wednesday.
Byrd will enroll early and be on campus in January.
"He’s a really impressive kid from Alabama, from a powerhouse program," Barnes said. "He had an incredibly productive year. You talk to anybody around that area, and they have nothing but great things to say about Shad."
How was Iowa able to hold on to Jestin Jacobs?
If you want to read more about this from Jacobs' point of view, our Chad Leistikow talked with the four-star linebacker and wrote this behind-the-scenes piece.
In case you didn't know: Ohio State offered Jacobs, an Ohio native, in November and tried to flip him from Iowa.
He stuck with the Hawkeyes.
"A hundred percent (credit to) the relationship and the job that (recruiting coordinator Kelvin) Bell, (linebackers coach Seth) Wallace and (defensive coordinator) Phil) Parker did with him and his family," Barnes said. "(Jacobs) had a plan on what he wanted to do, and it included being an Iowa Hawkeye. We knew if Ohio State came calling, it might throw a wrench in some things.
"(The Jacobs family) told us all the way through, 'Look, this is something we’ve got to see. But we’re all in (at Iowa).' He did a great job. That’s a tough decision for a young kid. It’s Ohio State, 30 minutes away, and to stick with your original commitment and stay true to what you told us you were going to do. He did. That’s a recruiting win."
How might Jacobs' recruitment affect Iowa's no-visit policy?
Leistikow dove into this topic, as well as how the Hawkeyes held off several powerhouse programs to keep their signees, in his National Signing Day column.
Barnes said Iowa sits down as a staff every year to evaluate everything they do on the recruiting trail — and that includes the no-visit policy.
"Every player, every situation is definitely a case-by-case basis. The communication of everything is key," he said. "We’ll talk about it as a staff. Some conversations are going to be harder than others, but at the end of the day, we’re always going to do what we feel is best for Iowa football, regardless of what our fans think is best for Iowa football. I promise they should trust us as much as possible. But yes, it’ll be talked about. It’s always going to be case-by-case."
Hawkeyes building a footprint in Georgia and Alabama
Iowa has now signed three southern recruits (Byrd from Alabama; Goodson and freshman linebacker Jayden McDonald from Georgia) since running backs coach Derrick Foster, an Alabama native, joined the staff last winter.
The Hawkeyes had gone down to Georgia before Foster was hired, but they've since ramped up their efforts in the Peach State. Alabama is a brand-new recruiting ground for Iowa, and Foster has the connections and reputation to make some headway.
Kirk Ferentz doesn't suddenly need to become ruler of Nick Saban's kingdom. But Iowa would benefit from tapping into some under-recruited pockets in the talent-rich state.
"We’ll talk as a staff every year about recruiting areas and we’ll kind of analyze, 'Hey, are we in the right spots? Do we need to pick up efforts in these spots? Do we need to pull back in these spots?'" Barnes said. "And then, obviously, when you hire coach Foster as our 10th coach last year, we talked about, 'Hey, we need to think about maybe getting a little bit stronger in Georgia and getting into Alabama.'
"I was at Vanderbilt for three years, and I had a chance to recruit Alabama. I tell coach Ferentz all the time that Alabama is so under-recruited, because if you don’t have ‘Bama or Auburn (interested in you), people think you can’t play. But some of the best players we had in my time at Vanderbilt were from Alabama, and they were kind of under-recruited guys — like Shad, if you will.
"We’ll keep swinging away, and we’ll see how that works. But obviously, it helps to get one guy over there. I told Shad, 'Hey, you can be the first and you can help us get started on that pipeline.' If you get one, you've got a chance for more."
Is there an issue with receiver recruitment?
This is another popular topic among Hawkeye fans, who are yearning for their team to land an elite receiver. Iowa has come close recently with Iowa City West product Oliver Martin in 2017 and Indianapolis four-star David Bell in this class ... but no cigar.
Is there a concern within the program about not landing highly-ranked receivers?
"Absolutely not," Barnes said. "We were set to take one receiver and one receiver only this year. That’s always been the plan. We had some offers out there to some other guys and some best-available guys, and that’s what it was. But no — we’ve got guys in this program we feel really good about. The fans don't get to see practice every day. I promise the worry isn't as bad as they make it seem like.
"We’re excited about getting (2019 signee) Desmond (Hutson) up here and getting him working. He’s a big-body kid that’s got great ball skills. His highlight reel is fun to watch. The guy will go up and get just about anything."
How does Iowa go about recruiting the slot corner position?
Recruiting services list Hawkeye signees Sebastian Castro and Dane Belton as safeties, but there's a good chance those two play slot cornerback at Iowa.
Amani Hooker's dramatic success this year has led coaches analyze how they recruit that position, and how they go about organizing their defensive big board.
"It’s still very much ongoing and fluid. We’re still talking about it," Barnes said. "I think it’s just finding safeties that are athletic enough to do it, but also physical enough to play in the run game. ... It’s funny — I was asking coach Wallace, 'What are we looking for at this position?' And he said, 'Hooker.'
"You’ve got to project a little bit. That’s probably the trickiest part. We’re probably more comfortable projecting than most places. But it’s something we are talking about and kind of altering, 'Hey, rather than taking as many linebackers as we have in the past, do we adjust that to another DB or two?'"
Thoughts on Iowa's offer philosophy
On Tuesday, Barnes retweeted a tweet from The Athletic's Max Olson that showed Iowa had extended 131 offers in the 2019 class — eighth-fewest among Power Five schools.
Along with the retweet, Barnes wrote: "To all those in the #Swarm19 that will sign tomorrow...you are obviously part of a select group."
So, what is the threshold prospects must hit to receive a Hawkeye offer?
"Some schools will watch film and throw out an offer and try to recruit you from there. And that’s OK. That’s the way they operate, and that’s completely fine," Barnes said. "We’re a little different. We may watch your film, and that may get you in the door, but then from there we’ve got to answer some other questions. Character. Any off-the-field issues. What’s your social media activity look like? Who do your grades look like? What do people in the building say about you? What do your coaches say? What do your counselors say? We’re going to go through a lot of that before we put an offer out there and actively start recruiting you.
"The film is just such a small piece of it here. Fit and culture is everything. That’s got more to do with being successful here than the talent portion of it. Everybody has talent at this level. We’ve got to make sure we’re correct on the person. We’ve got to protect the integrity of our locker room downstairs, because that’s everything to this team and how we operate."
Where will Logan Lee play?
Most consider Lee a tight end, but he told the Register coaches have let him know it's possible he'll play defensive end, too.
Barnes said he's entering the program as a tight end.
"He’s a good football player. He’s a guy you want on your team," he said. "He could be a tight end here in four years. He may be a D-end. Who knows? But we’ll start at tight end and let him go from there, and we’ll see what happens."
What's left in 2019?
With a handful of scholarships remaining, Barnes said Iowa will likely look to add another defensive lineman and another defensive back. For a third scholarship, he said Iowa will go after the best available player. They'll consider high school, junior college and transfer prospects.
"We’ll look high and low and anywhere," he said. "The biggest thing is we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right person and the right fit and culture."
Of course, things change. So just because these positions are needs right now doesn't mean there won't be different needs throughout the winter and spring.
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_.