In-depth with Josh Volk: Why the Cedar Rapids Xavier OL committed to Iowa
Late on the night of Oct. 12, after Cedar Rapids Xavier beat Center Point-Urbana 41-0, Josh Volk and his dad hopped in the car and drove 5 1/2 hours to Notre Dame.
They got to South Bend, Indiana, around 4 a.m., slept for a blink and arrived at Notre Dame Stadium at 10 a.m. They met coaches, watched the Fighting Irish sneak by Pittsburgh 19-14, and then drove back home to Cedar Rapids.
It was just another weekend in a stressful junior season for Volk, who is one of the Midwest’s top offensive lineman prospects.
"It wears you out," he said of the recruiting process.
Volk ended that process last Friday when he committed to Iowa. The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder stayed quiet over the weekend, but he spoke with the Des Moines Register on Monday about his commitment to the Hawkeyes and what led to his decision.
What led Volk to Iowa City?
When he tore his ACL during Xavier's state semifinal in November, Volk said most schools that hadn’t already offered him a scholarship backed off. But Iowa and Iowa State kept on him and made it clear he was still a 2020 priority.
By the time Nebraska offered in January, Volk said he had already narrowed his focus to the Hawkeyes and Cyclones. He said choosing between Kirk Ferentz's and Matt Campbell’s programs was the hardest decision of his life.
"They’re both great at football," he said. "I couldn’t choose that (based on) 'Oh, this team is a better football team. Let’s go there.'"
In the end, academic fit played a major role.
"I’m kind of a hobby farmer," Volk said. "But I went to look at one of the farms at Iowa State and I was just like, 'That’s not for me.' I’d rather get a business degree from Iowa and then go sell maybe for Pioneer — like seeds or chemicals. It was more academics that I chose. I just felt more comfortable at Iowa, academically."
What were the primary recruiting pitches?
Another factor, Volk said, was Iowa’s track record developing offensive lineman during Ferentz's tenure.
"Their recruiting pitch was, 'Hey, come to Iowa. We can develop you the best,'" Volk said. "That wasn’t just a sale. They develop people at Iowa. Like, serious people. So they have stuff to back that up."
What was the Cyclones’ message?
"It was more, 'Hey, you’re going to be around the best coaches,'" Volk said. "That was great, too. But I felt like, if I want to play at the next level, development would be better."
How did everything go down?
Before he announced anything, Volk wanted to call Campbell. The three-star junior built a strong relationship with Iowa State’s head coach. He didn’t want Campbell learning of the commitment through social media.
"I was shaking," Volk said. "I was scared. It was hard. It was the manly thing to do. It was the right thing to do. … He said, 'Hey, Josh, thank you for doing all the right stuff. We really appreciate it. If you need anything down the line, just let me know.'"
Volk then called Iowa recruiting director Tyler Barnes to tell him the news. It turns out Barnes was at a restaurant with now-former defensive line coach Reese Morgan (who was the first Iowa coach to recruit Volk) and offensive line coach Tim Polasek.
"They were just passing around the phone," Volk laughed. "(Morgan) will be missed. The way he communicated with me and my dad, it was special."
Volk's next call was to his future head coach.
"Kirk was ecstatic," he said. "He was like, 'That’s great, Josh.'"
Time for a renewed focus
Volk said these past few days have been his most peaceful in a long, long time. He was honored to go through the recruiting process, but he’s excited to be done with it.
"I felt like the weight went off my shoulders," he said. "Like, 'See ya later.' It’s just done. You can focus on Iowa football. You can get back to that grind in high school football. None of the other schools are reaching out to you anymore. You can focus on one school, one school only."
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He can also focus on his ACL rehab. Doctors cleared him for straight-line running and jogging last week, and he’ll start with that after checking a few more boxes in physical therapy. He was also cleared to squat the bar without any weights on it, and he did that on Monday during Xavier's workout.
Volk will try to help lead the Saints to a third straight Class 3A title next fall. And he won’t have to worry about any more all-night drives to South Bend.
"It’s nice, just getting back into the grind," he said. "I’m getting close."
Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.