Inside Iowa football's late recruiting spree on early Signing Day
IOWA CITY — National Signing Day in college football provides teams across the country with optimism about the future of the program. This is especially true if programs have strong finishes at the end, with priority recruits choosing them at the 11th hour.
Iowa football had one of the strongest finishes in the Big Ten Conference on Wednesday's early Signing Day.
Entering Wednesday, Iowa only had 12 commitments in the 2022 class and ranked 40th nationally, per the 247Sports Composite. By the end of the day, they had 17 signees and jumped to 25th nationally and fourth in the Big Ten.
The commitments include defensive end Brian Allen Jr., linebacker Landyn Van Kekerix and defensive backs Koen Entringer, T.J. Hall and Olando Trader. And one week ago, five-star recruit Xavier Nwankpa committed to Iowa.
In a seven-day span, the Hawkeyes gained six commitments that catapulted them over 25 spots in the national recruiting rankings.
What happened down the stretch?
Head coach Kirk Ferentz describes it as "running the whole race." What that means is staying patient and diligent after the recruits you want until they sign.
And the result is a potential back-to-back top-25 class, depending on how classes around the country shape up by the February signing period.
"Koen Entringer is a good example," Ferentz said. "He's more of a soccer player and is new to football in the last few years. We kind of ran the entire race with him and really liked his senior tape."
Ferentz's emphasis on senior year film evaluation paid off in securing Entringer, who will play defensive back at Iowa. It wasn't easy. The Hawkeyes fended off Central Michigan (his prior commitment) and Michigan and Wisconsin late for his services. That was another theme of Iowa's Signing Day: beating out other programs down the stretch.
Four of the five Signing Day recruits were committed to other programs at one point: Allen (Illinois), Entringer (Central Michigan), Hall (Washington) and Trader (Central Michigan). In total, Iowa flipped six 2022 recruits, including tight end Cael Vandenbush (Western Michigan) and running back Kaleb Johnson (California).
Sometimes, prospects don't commit right away but their circumstances change and when recruitment re-opens, diligent programs like Iowa can capitalize.
"T.J. Hall committed to another school but there was some turbulence in that program," Ferentz said. "Olando Trader was a MAC commit and we watched him hard during his senior year knowing cornerback was a position of need and that worked out.
"For us, we just try to be as thorough as we can with evaluations and try to take our time. If we're not sure, we try not to make a decision that's a four-year commitment. So we try to be smart and prudent and run the entire race with the prospects."
Aside from patience, a major key in recruiting success at Iowa is getting recruits on campus. Last year's COVID-affected season prevented Iowa from hosting recruits much on campus and that challenge was compounded this year by competing with other schools to get recruits to their summer camps. Only three recruits — in-state defensive end Aaron Graves, Wisconsin linebacker Jayden Montgomery and Nwankpa — had visited Iowa before 2021.
On-campus recruiting played huge parts in two of their biggest commitments: Nwankpa and Johnson. Iowa got Nwankpa on campus in June, which turned into another visit in August and then another on the first game of the season against Indiana. Johnson was a different case. He didn't make a summer trip to Iowa and subsequently committed to California. Iowa's early season success re-ignited some interest and it got an unofficial visit for the Penn State game. Nwankpa and Hall were there on an official visit.
Nwankpa's since highlighted the Penn State game as one of the best atmospheres he's been in. That also had an effect on Johnson, who de-committed from California and committed to Iowa three days later.
"There's no substitute for that," Ferentz said. "I don't care what business you're in. I certainly know in education, in coaching, you've got to be with the people you're working with. It's the same way in recruiting. Ultimately, again, that's our best chance is when a prospect comes to campus several times and really gets to know the feel of things."
Iowa's place in the recruiting landscape at the moment is a stark contrast from six months ago. Then, the Hawkeyes only had a handful of recruits and not much recruiting momentum. Their late charge is strikingly similar to patented Ferentz teams, ones that get stronger down the stretch.
And with only 17 commitments, don't rule out the possibility for more additions in February.
"We're not done yet. We've got a few spots," director of recruiting Tyler Barnes said. "We'll get into January and February. We'll see what's out there, both high school-wise and (transfer) portal-wise. And we'll keep adding to this class.
"I can't give you the definitive number (of how big this class will be). It's pretty fluid. We still have some guys here on the roster making some decisions. We'll have a better picture, I think, once we get through the bowl game and have an idea what the remaining needs are for this ‘22 class."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.