What are Iowa wrestling's top recruiting priorities for 2016 class?

Andy Hamilton
Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands.

With one big weekend swoop in the days leading up to the 2009 fall signing period, Iowa assembled the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, and the Hawkeyes followed a similar blueprint two years later when they collected another No. 1 haul.

But college wrestling's recruiting landscape has changed and last-minute shopping is a thing of the past. Twenty of InterMat's top 50 prospects in the 2016 class settled on a school before the off-campus contact period began on Wednesday.

"I don't like it," Iowa coach Tom Brands said of the pervasive shift toward earlier decisions, a movement spurred by relaxed rules that increase the competition and recruiting workload for coaches but also provide them with more intel on prospects. "But it allows us to get to know these guys."

And that's important at a time when Brands said his program is emphasizing culture now more than ever.

For the first time, the NCAA allowed college coaches to pick up the phone last year and begin calling high school juniors on Sept. 1. In the past, they had to wait until July 1 to contact rising seniors.

Iowa capitalized on the rule change last fall by landing commitments from two of the top wrestlers in the 2016 class — three-time Ohio state champion Alex Marinelli and two-time Pennsylvania state medalist Kaleb Young.

Marinelli, who projects as a 165-pounder in college, is ranked the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2016 class by InterMat. Young, likely a 157-pounder, is ranked 40th. The Hawkeyes also snagged commitments from two of the top lightweights in the 2017 class — two-time California state champion Justin Mejia and two-time Illinois finalist Jason Renteria.

Brands said Iowa's early success with the 2016 class is a reflection of work done by assistant Ryan Morningstar.

"He's exceptional and organized with who we're trying to get and he's exceptional at developing relationships because he's extremely likeable," Brands said. "And he does his job without being told daily."

Here are three priorities for the Hawkeyes with their 2016 class:

Sign Mark Hall:The undisputed No. 1 prospect in the 2016 class is at the center of what might be the most compelling recruiting derby of the past decade. USA Wrestling developmental coach Bill Zadick said perhaps the only schools that aren't recruiting the Cadet World champion are "the ones who don't think they have a chance."

Iowa has a chance, at least based on what Hall said last month. The five-time Minnesota state champion said he wants to wrestle for a Big Ten school in the Midwest. He said Iowa is one of seven schools he's still considering.

Hall's freestyle performance this spring indicates he's capable of making an immediate impact in the middle of a college order, which addresses one of Iowa's needs.

Identify long-term replacements at 125 and 133: Iowa's modus operandi is to search for successors when lineup cornerstones are soon-to-be juniors.

"We want to stay ahead of the game," Morningstar said. "That gives us some time to evaluate, build and progress and make guys better in the room (during their redshirt season). You don't want to start guys right out of the gate unless they're really ready."

All-Americans Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark will be juniors this fall, which puts the Hawkeyes on schedule to sign a lightweight or two in this class.

Although Mejia and Renteria have already pledged to Iowa and the Hawkeyes have been connected to Cadet World champion Spencer Lee, one of the prizes of the 2017 class, don't expect Brands and company to sit on the sidelines for lightweights this summer.

Brands and Morningstar had an in-home visit this week with undefeated three-time New Jersey state champion Nick Suriano, a projected 125-pounder who's ranked the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2016 class by InterMat and Flowrestling.

"They're one of my top choices," said Suriano, whose list of suitors also includes Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers and others. "It's going to be a tough decision for me. There's a lot of things I have to take into consideration. I like the coaches there — Ryan Morningstar and the Brands brothers, and I'm confident they can help me achieve my goals. But there's a lot of things to consider."

The Hawkeyes have options closer to home, too, including two-time state champion Jack Wagner of Bettendorf.

Restock at 141 pounds: In terms of Iowa's needs, this weight went from the bottom of the list toward the top after redshirts Logan Ryan and Seth Gross were dismissed from the program in May.

But the Hawkeyes have potential targets near and far. Three-time state champion Carter Happel of Lisbon, ranked by InterMat as the No. 30 overall prospect in the 2016 class, has generated national interest. So has Pennsylvania state champion Micky Phillippi, who trains with Lee, Young and incoming Iowa recruit Michael Kemerer in the Young Guns Wrestling Club.

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