From his home in Mount Vernon, Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs speaks to Buccaneers reporters after he was taken No. 13 overall in the draft. Hawk Central
Urbandale head coach Sam Anderson remembers talking with coaches from Iowa and Iowa State as Max Llewellyn's junior season film started making its rounds in the winter and early spring.
In short: They were concerned about their competition.
"They’re like, 'Coach, he’s going to blow up,'" Anderson told the Register. "'Pretty soon, he’s going to have everybody looking at him.'"
And they were right.
Iowa wound up holding on, though. Llewellyn, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound athlete, committed to the Hawkeyes last week as a defensive end. He told the Register his other finalist was Iowa State, and he held offers from a host of other Power Five programs.
He first popped up on the regional map with offers from Western Michigan, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois and Illinois State in January, after he posted 11 solo tackles for loss and five catches for 78 yards as a junior.
Not eye-popping numbers. But definitely some eye-popping film. And as Llewellyn's highlight tape made its way around social media, paired with a frame that would intrigue any college strength coach, the bigger fish came calling.
Iowa State offered Jan. 31. Kansas offered in February. Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern and Missouri all joined the race in March. Michigan State and Penn State extended offers in April. Notre Dame, Tennessee, Stanford and Wisconsin were interested, too.
In just about two short months, Llewellyn exploded from a relatively unknown Group of Five prospect to a must-have Power Five target.
"He was getting bombarded," Anderson said. "He was becoming a fully, nationally recruited kid."
So ... how did it all happen so fast?
This certainly isn't the only factor, but the spread of COVID-19, and the resulting dead recruiting periods where prospects can't visit schools, helped Llewellyn.
College coaches often like to see prospects work out in person before offering. That's why summers are loaded with college camps, where prospects can come compete in front of coaches to give them first-hand evaluations.
With the coronavirus pandemic likely eliminating those camps, coaches could no longer rely on those evaluations.
Thus, prospects' junior season film became all the more important. And you'd be hard-pressed to find many better than Llewellyn's.
"He was a guy we thought, 'Man, if we had had a chance to see him in some spring camps, maybe he would have cracked the four-star range,'" said 247Sports Midwest recruiting analyst Allen Trieu, whose service currently has Llewellyn at three stars. "How hard he plays is the first thing that’s noticeable. He is going his fastest at all times. He does look like he’s moving at a different speed and effort than everyone else."
Llewellyn called his two-month explosion "crazy." It all happened so fast.
In essence, a Power Five coach would follow him on Twitter. He would send them transcripts. Then, he'd get an offer. He knew he wasn't going to be able to take any visits this summer. So, he decided to take a week to sift through all his options and arrive at a decision.
To do that, Llewellyn said, he needed to answer some questions.
First: What position did he want to play? At Urbandale, he plays anywhere from tight end to defensive end to defensive tackle to full back.
Penn State and Iowa offered him as a defensive end. Nebraska offered him as a rushing linebacker in its 3-4 defense. Michigan State and Kansas State said he could play tight end or defensive end. Kansas, Iowa State and Missouri offered him at tight end.
Llewellyn picked defense.
"Everything about defensive end — I like tackling, I like the one-on-ones with the tackle," he said. "I’m just all about defense."
Second question: Did he want to stay in Iowa or go out-of-state?
He chose in-state. That may have been what he decided to do in a normal recruitment anyway, but the inability to go visit some of the out-of-state schools certainly helped Llewellyn arrive to an earlier decision, he said.
In the end, Llewellyn narrowed his choices to Iowa and Iowa State. The Hawkeyes simply were a better fit for what he wanted.
"For some people, it’s tough. But, in my case, picking Iowa wasn't tough at all," Llewellyn said. "(Assistant defensive line coach Jay) Niemann and their whole recruiting staff, they’ve done a tremendous job of making this whole thing extremely easy on me. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Iowa isn’t the place I wanted to be.
"When Iowa State offered, I was stoked. I would happily play at Iowa State. I never had the mindset of, 'If Iowa offers, it’s a done deal.' I’ve never done it like that. … I had a gameday visit (to Iowa) against Minnesota and that gave me a feel of what the atmosphere is like, which was awesome. I had the junior day (visit to Iowa), which was the more private tour of what they’ve got, and it was awesome. Those two things, combined with the coaching staff and getting to know them, gave Iowa that nudge."
If football does get played this coming academic year, Llewellyn is poised for a bump in national rankings. He'll certainly see a bump in the Register's rankings, where he debuted at No. 15 among in-state 2021 prospects this winter.
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_.
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