Hawkeyes sign 19 football players who have been committed to the program for months

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa football coaching staff had its class of 2020 recruits basically in the fold since early August, so Wednesday’s National Signing Day announcement was as uneventful as it could be.

Nineteen players signed letters of intent to join the Hawkeyes next year. Three of them — offensive lineman Mason Richman of Kansas, running back Gavin Williams of Altoona and tight end Elijah Yelverton of Texas — will arrive in January to get to work. The rest will be on campus in June.

Three others are expected to commit later. Defensive lineman Deontae Craig intends to sign Thursday. Cornerback Keylen Gulley and defensive lineman Michael Lois are planning to sign in February.

Tyler Barnes, Iowa’s director of recruiting, told reporters Wednesday the 19 athletes made a combined 125 visits to campus during the past 2½ years. Iowa can pick up the tab for only one visit per player.

That’s a sign of the early commitment the newest Hawkeyes made to the program, and to each other, Barnes said.

“They spent their own money. They spent their own time getting to campus. So that’s pretty impressive when you get guys on campus that many times, around our players, around our staff, around each other,” Barnes said.

Deuce Hogan was the ringleader. The quarterback from Texas committed early and then worked the social-media circuit trying to round up fellow Hawkeyes, or convince those who were considering coming to Iowa City that this was the place for them.

It culminated in a June visit by 22 potential Hawkeyes. Hogan took it upon himself to make a speech. Barnes said he was in the room.

“He’s got a natural aura about him, a natural leadership that you can’t really teach,” Barnes raved.

“Nobody recruits better than peers. Nobody recruits better than our players. When these guys come on campus, they want to be around each other and they want to be around our players, as they should.”

Ethan Hurkett made 53.5 tackles as a middle linebacker this fall for Cedar Rapids Xavier. He's an Iowa Hawkeye now, and expected to move to defensive line when he arrives in June.

Defensive linemen in abundance

Iowa’s 2020 recruits include five defensive linemen as the team has seven players at those positions who are upperclassmen.

The newcomers are not yet classified as ends or tackles, assistant coach Jay Niemann noted.

“There’s a lot of length in that group,” he said.

The Hawkeyes will sort out positions once the recruits have put on a little more muscle.

Yahya (pronounced “WHY-yay”) Black is already 6-foot-5, 260 pounds. Iowa assistant coach Tim Polasek noticed him on film while he was previously scouting Black’s teammate at Marshall (Minnesota) High School, Trey Lance.

Lance is now the starting quarterback at North Dakota State.

Black, who grew by 2½ inches and 40 pounds in a year, is a Hawkeye that Barnes described as “a big, quiet, silent assassin.”

He set a record for his high school with 17.5 career sacks.

Iowa coaches give recruits a questionnaire to fill out. One of the questions is what their biggest thrill in sports has been.

Black’s answer?

“Hitting people,” Barnes said. “If you know Yahya, it adds up. It’s perfect.”

Ethan Hurkett played middle linebacker at Cedar Rapids Xavier, racking up 53.5 tackles as a senior. At 6-3, 245 pounds and growing, though, he projects as a defensive lineman.

Niemann, a former linebacker at Iowa State, was impressed with what he saw.

“Here’s a 245-pound guy running from sideline to sideline playing middle linebacker, showing great range and athletic ability. So when you translate that into 20 pounds more and keep those same movement skills or possibly improve on them, I think that’s a recipe in what we look for in a good defensive lineman,” Niemann said.

Logan Jones comes to Iowa from Council Bluffs Lewis Central at 6-3, 260. He had 14 tackles for loss this fall.

Niemann said he’s “mature beyond his years.”

“He’s a rocked-up-looking dude, and he plays how he looks,” Niemann said. “He’s just a really physical guy.”

The other defensive linemen are Isaiah Bruce (6-2, 265) of Lena, Illinois, and Lukas Van Ness (6-5, 240) of Barrington, Illinois.

Derrick Foster gets another pair of running backs

Iowa running backs coach Derrick Foster is building a mini-pipeline in the Deep South, where he’s from. He landed a defensive back from Mobile, Alabama, in Reggie Bracy. Bracy also played running back in high school.

But Foster will relinquish him to Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker and concentrate on the two running backs the Hawkeyes are adding for 2020.

Gavin Williams finished his high school career at West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, rushing for 1,263 yards and 18 touchdowns for a team that won a state title. Reese Morgan, Iowa’s longtime recruiting coordinator who retired last year, was the first to spot him.

Foster spent the past two years getting better acquainted.

“He had speed. He has power. And he can catch the football,” Foster said of Williams. “So you appreciated that about his style of play.”

Foster also praised Williams for not committing to Iowa over the telephone. When the time came, he insisted on driving over with his mother to sit down in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s office and deliver the news in person.

The other running back is Leshon Williams of Chicago’s Richards High School. He needed only 121 rushing attempts to gain 1,001 yards last season.

Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace was the lead recruiter for Leshon Williams, one of five Illinois players in Iowa’s 2020 class.

“He’s a big back (5-10, 200). He’s got really good feet, light on his feet. He’s a downhill runner,” Foster said. “But you appreciate his willingness to get out of trouble with his feet and see holes.

“Both of these guys bring a toughness and grit and physicality.”

Iowa split carries this season among Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Tyler Goodson, all of whom are eligible to return next year. So breaking into the rotation might be tough for the two Williamses. But Gavin will have an edge by getting to school five months early.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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