Where will Xavier Nwankpa commit — Iowa, Ohio State or Notre Dame? Breaking down the latest buzz
PLEASANT HILL — Xavier Nwankpa will announce his college commitment Wednesday evening, bringing an end to the lengthy recruitment of Southeast Polk’s five-star safety.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior is the Register's No. 1 in-state 2022 prospect. According to the 247Sports Composite, he is the No. 1 safety and No. 11 overall prospect in the 2022 class. He is a two-time All-Iowa Elite Team selection by the Register, and helped lead the Rams to their first Class 5A state championship in school history this fall.
Nwankpa is one of the nation’s most sought-after recruits and holds more than 30 offers from Division I programs. He shared his shortlist at the beginning of October. Iowa, Notre Dame and Ohio State made the cut for Nwankpa’s top three.
On the heels of this season’s coaching carousel — which includes Marcus Freeman taking over head coaching duties for Notre Dame — Nwankpa will decide which of those schools is the best fit for him.
How did Xavier Nwankpa land on his final three?
Nwankpa’s success story goes back to freshman year at Southeast Polk. Rams head coach Brad Zelenovich made Nwankpa a team manager in seventh grade because he wanted to get the young phenom around the program early. In his varsity debut as a freshman, Nwankpa recorded two tackles and an interception against Fort Dodge.
Nebraska gave him his first offer the summer after his freshman year, on July 1, 2019.
On July 3, Iowa State offered, putting Nwankpa on the Midwest recruiting map.
Iowa became his third offer during a game-day visit that October. Notre Dame offered in November. By April, Missouri, Kansas State, Michigan and Michigan State had offered. He then had a big summer as film from his sophomore season (43 tackles, three interceptions, 215 rushing yards on 35 carries) circulated across the country and coaches made the trip to Pleasant Hill to come see the promising, soft-spoken star.
His 10th offer, from Oklahoma, opened the floodgates in August 2020.
Soon, Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio State, Penn State, Kentucky, Princeton, LSU, Louisville, Arizona State, Clemson and more offered, making Nwankpa one of the country's most sought-after prospects — and, in terms of offers, he could perhaps become the most sought-after prospect in Iowa's history.
Despite still pulling in more offers, Nwankpa released his top 12 schools this past January. This first list included Iowa, Iowa State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State, Texas, Missouri, Clemson, LSU, Wisconsin and Arizona State.
He narrowed his options to seven schools in May, with Iowa, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, LSU, Clemson and Arizona State making the cut. He took official visits to Ohio State and Notre Dame in June 2021.
Iowa has actively pursued Nwankpa since its offer in October 2019, obviously giving major priority to arguably the state's most talented high school prospect ever. Nwankpa took his final official visit to Iowa City on Oct. 9. He took two unofficial visits to South Bend, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio, before the end of October, too.
Nwankpa finished his recruitment with in-home visits from all three schools. Notre Dame and Ohio State visited last week, while his visit with Iowa’s coaching staff was delayed until Monday because of the Hawkeyes’ preparation for the Big Ten title game.
What's the latest buzz?
It sounds like Nwankpa's decision will boil down to Ohio State and Iowa, although the hiring of Freeman as Notre Dame's head coach was the best possible choice to attract Nwankpa, and the Fighting Irish are still in the mix. Insiders have long thought Ohio State would be the program to beat, as the Buckeyes offer a track record of producing NFL talent and a consistent chance for a national title. Some still feel that way.
But Iowa gained so much ground during its 10-3 season, which included time ranked as the No. 2 team in the country. In fact, most would say Iowa is now the favorite. The Hawkeyes' defensive backs were one of the most dominant position groups around the country this year, and Ferentz and defensive coordinator Phil Parker have done an excellent job selling Nwankpa on becoming the face of the future secondary.
Another factor helping Iowa is that the Hawkeyes have redshirt-freshman running back Gavin Williams, who played his first three years at Southeast Polk before transferring to Dowling Catholic as a senior. Nwankpa is close with Williams, who became a mentor of sorts for Nwankpa as he rose the ranks at Southeast Polk.
Also, Iowa can offer Nwankpa the most in terms of name, image and likeness opportunities as a home-state product. All Iowa needs to do is point to the NIL success of women's basketball star Caitlin Clark, who was also a once-in-a-decade type talent to pick her home-state school.
Nwankpa told the Register in July that NIL would play a role, but probably not a major one, in his decision. During his Ohio State official visit, Nwankpa said the Buckeyes talked about how Columbus, Ohio, has 17 Fortune 500 companies in the area and they would be eager to advertise with Ohio State football players.
"I mean, I feel like (NIL opportunities) can help," he said in July. "But a school can’t reach out and help out for you. So it’s basically through yourself anyway."
In May, Nwankpa broke down his top seven schools with the Register. Here's what he said about Ohio State:
How is your relationship with Ohio State?
"Pretty good. I have a good relationship with the coaches there and then recruits in my class. I'm starting to talk to a few players up there."
What appeals to you about the Buckeyes?
"Their tradition of winning and their development of defensive backs."
What are you hoping to learn from your official visit?
"I haven't seen campus before there, so I'm excited to see that and all the facilities and everything like that."
And here's what he said about Iowa:
How is your relationship with Iowa?
"Good. I talk to (head coach Kirk) Ferentz and (defensive recruiting coordinator Jay) Niemann and (defensive coordinator Phil) Parker on a regular basis. They have great development at DB, it's close to home and then some of the people I'm closest with have gone there."
"(Former Southeast Polk running back) Gavin (Williams) and (former Southeast Polk receiver) Isaiah (Wagner)."
What is Ferentz's main recruiting message?
"Just a chance to come in and compete and put on for my home state."
And here's what he said about Notre Dame:
How is your relationship with Notre Dame?
"I have a really good relationship with them. They got the new defensive coordinator around February or something. I've developed a good relationship with him. The primary recruiter, (safeties/defensive backs coach Chris) O'Leary, he's been recruiting me since my sophomore year. He took stops out to the school and everything, so I have a good relationship with him. I talk on a daily basis with him."
What appeals to you about the Fighting Irish?
"The brand. They'll set you up for life there. They're a top team in the nation every year. They compete for a national championship. And just the culture that they have there."
Did the events of the past week impact Nwankpa’s commitment?
Brian Kelly was announced as LSU’s new head coach on Nov. 30, and Freeman was named Notre Dame’s head coach less than a week before Nwankpa planned to make his announcement. Nwankpa told the Register in October that he wanted to see how the Fighting Irish defense performed with Freeman as the defensive coordinator.
Ryan Day remains the head coach position at Ohio State, but the Buckeyes did lose quarterback Quinn Ewers, the best recruit in program history, to the transfer portal.
Kirk Ferentz doesn’t have plans to leave Iowa any time soon. The Hawkeyes had a tough week as well, though, dropping the Big Ten championship to Michigan, 42-3.
Alyssa Hertel is a college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at email@example.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.