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Iowa football signed two running backs in its 2017 recruiting class.
Here's a closer look at Kyshaun Bryan and Ivory Kelly-Martin.
You’re probably going to like Kyshaun Bryan.
Yes, he’s a running back and he’s from Florida, two things that instantly excited Iowa football fans. The 5-10, 185-pounder from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) announced via Twitter that he picked the Hawkeyes over South Carolina and Pitt.
You automatically like all of that if you’re an Iowa fan. You’ll also like what he had to say to various websites after his commitment.
“The strength coach (Chris Doyle) is what really sold me on Iowa when I was on my visit,” Bryan told HawkeyeReport.com. “I’m excited to get up there in June and start working with him.”
OK, you like that. A running back commits and he’s already thinking about workouts. That’s kind of what you’re shooting for with running backs and their attitudes.
Even though he’s listed at 5-10, 185, Bryan, rated a 3-star by Rivals, considers himself a power runner. You already know how Iowa feels about power runners (it pretty much prefers them).
“They love the type of back I am and said I would fit perfectly in their scheme,” Bryan told HawkeyeReport.
Bryan told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.com, “Come in and compete to play on the field. The coaches have been there for years and know how to win. It’s in the Big Ten and they have the greatest offensive line in college football.”
Well, Iowa’s O-line did just win the Joe Moore Award, given annually to the nation’s top offensive line.
And when Bryan tweeted about his commitment, he wrote “Taking South Florida Swag to Iowa.” It also had a palm tree emoji and a GIF that flashed from Bryan’s St. Thomas Aquinas uniform to an Iowa uniform.
All good stuff from Bryan, too.
As a senior, Bryan finished with 107 carries for 737 yards and seven touchdowns this past season at St. Thomas Aquinas. Why only 706 yards?
Bryan played his junior year at Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage School before transferring across town to St. Thomas Aquinas for his senior season. St. Thomas Aquinas had an established running back in Mike Epstein, an Illinois commit who recently received an offer from Utah. The two split carries with Epstein rushing for 1,187 yards and 16 TDs on 162 carries.
Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “Four-year football letterman. Member of back-to-back state championship teams as a freshman and sophomore before reaching second round as a junior. Won state championship as a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas as team was ranked fifth in the nation.”
Noteworthy offer: South Carolina
Depth chart in 2017?: It probably shouldn’t happen, but ... we are talking Iowa running back and we all know things can get weird. What I expect to happen at running back next season is a 1a-1b situation. Senior Akrum Wadley will be 1a, but I don’t think he’ll be 20 carries a game. I think he’ll be 20 touches a game. The 1b guy will start to get decided this spring and, right now, I think it’s Toks Akinribade or Toren Young. One of the incoming freshmen probably has to be game ready.
Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Albert Young
I know I make an Albert Young comparison every year. You know why? He was a great player and, in my opinion, maybe the quintessential Iowa running back. Power, speed, balance. Iowa running backs absolutely need power to work through traffic. Wadley makes his space. Iowa has had very few Wadleys during Kirk Ferentz’s 18-plus seasons. The Iowa backs who’ve thrived have had the power to work through traffic (yes, Fred Russell wasn’t a huge guy, but he was powerfully built).
Bryan runs with great balance and always seems in control.
Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell (this is more the conversation I had with coach Bell on the prospect) — Me: Just going off the tape, he’s the best-looking running back you guys have had in a while. Just straight-up film. I know I’m just talking about highlight reels on Hudl.
KB: We see a complete back — a guy who can catch it out of the backfield. When we watch running backs, we don’t want to see a bunch of 80-yard runs where they’re not getting touched. That’s not what’s going to happen here. We want to see guys who consistently make yards after contact and that’s Kyshaun Bryan. That’s why I call him a complete back. He’s not a scatback, he’s not a thumper, he’s a guy who’s productive and picks up yards every time he carries the ball. He’s a tremendous get for us. We’ve got a connection down there at St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s a really talented high school football team.
I don’t know if you remember James White (former Wisconsin Badger and the guy who scored three TDs for the Patriots in the Super Bowl). He was a backup there and went and ran wild at Wisconsin. If you get a kid out of that program, you know you’re getting a talented football player.
ESPN scouting report excerpt: Size deficient and it shows with his limited yards after contact production. However, he does show the willingness to get downhill and knows when to drop the pads; there is just not a lot behind him right now in terms of power. Bryan has a lot to like as a change-of-pace back and shows he can catch with his hands out of the backfield and also chip in pass pro. Has some natural running talent and his college production may be dictated by his continued physical development.
My take: I really don’t see a reason why Bryan shouldn’t thrive here. Such a smooth runner, and yet powerful. Seems to have a feel for momentum in traffic and uses that to his advantage. His weight is reported from 185 to 210. That’s a huge disparity and it probably will dictate how soon he sees the field (meaning, the closer he is to 210, the sooner he’ll see the field). I love that he doesn’t spaz out when he sees space. He stays within himself and finds the gear he needs.
Iowa’s turnaround in the Illinois/Chicago area recruiting took another step with Ivory Kelly-Martin.
The Oswego (Ill.) East running back made the call and picked the Hawkeyes over offers from Wisconsin, Arizona and Illinois. In 2015, Kelly-Martin finished with 190 carries for 2,036 yards and 33 touchdowns at Nazareth Academy, leading the school to a state championship in Class 5A. As a senior, he attended Oswego East and rushed for 1,360 yards.
On his Twitter feed, Kelly-Martin wrote “I would like to thank all of the coaches whom I have met and spoken with throughout the recruitment process. You have all made positive and lasting impressions that I will remember and appreciate throughout my life.
“I would now like to announce that I have committed to continue my academic and athletic career at The University of Iowa! Go Hawkeye Football!”
Kelly-Martin was the eighth commitment for Iowa’s 2017 class. He is one of four Illinois preps in the class, joining Edwardsville defensive end A.J. Epenesa, Bradley defensive back Camron Harrell and Lincolnshire receiver Henry Marchese.
Illinois recruiting has always been vital to Iowa football. In 2012, Iowa signed five Illinois preps. All five were fifth-year seniors for the Hawkeyes last season, including defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. In 2013, Iowa signed three Illinois preps and all three left the program (with wide receiver Derrick Willies being the most noteworthy). In 2014 and 2015, Iowa signed just three prospects from Illinois.
Last year, Iowa signed five players from Illinois (LB Amani Jones, DE Romeo McKnight, LB Nick Niemann, corner Emmanuel Rugamba and LB Barrington Wade).
Iowa offered Kelly-Martin during its junior day in early March.
“When Coach (Kirk) Ferentz had me in his (office), that’s when he gave me the offer,” Kelly-Martin told HawkeyeReport.com. “One of their assistants brought me to the coaches’ room and Coach Ferentz was saying how much they liked the way I played and how I would be a great fit for how they run stuff there.”
Being from Illinois, Kelly-Martin has had a chance to make several visits to Iowa City. In fact, he began visiting before the Hansen Performance Center was operational (the $55 million indoor facility and operations building opened last summer). And, yes, the Hansen has gotten recruits’ attention.
“I’ve gone down there for a camp a couple years ago,” Kelly-Martin said. “It was a lot different. All their new stuff wasn’t there a couple years ago. Being able to see it all was awesome. Their new weight room was ridiculous and everything football there was just fantastic.”
Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: “At East, set record for longest rushing touchdown (96 yards) in state championship game. Team captain as a senior. Also lettered in track (1) as sprinter and hurdler, wrestling (1), and volleyball (1)”
Noteworthy offer: Wisconsin
Depth chart in 2017?: Maybe. Kelly-Martin probably slots with Bryan in the group after Wadley (who I consider the top tier) and Akinribade and Young (second-tier). Listed at 195, size will be a driver for playing time. Even after Wadley produced nearly 60 percent of Iowa’s offense in its massive upset over Michigan last season, Kirk Ferentz couldn’t let go of the 190-pounds ideal. (But Ferentz did blow past the fumble thing. Wadley had a few last year, but Iowa’s offense needed Wadley so badly at that point, it didn’t factor in his playing time. Ferentz acknowledged that, quickly and definitively, which, I think was a good thing. Wadley is conscious of the ball security issues and it remains a work in progress, as it does for most running backs.)
Has Iowa kind of started a pattern with RBs in recruiting? Bring in two, redshirt one. If that’s the strategy, it’ll be interesting who’s in between Bryan and Kelly-Martin.
Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Ladell Betts
Kelly-Martin is starting out much smaller than Betts, who after redshirting as a freshman in 1997, played in 11 games and set school records for rushing yards in a game and a season by a freshman.
This is a lofty comparison, I know. I make it because of style. On the Hudl highlight tape, Kelly-Martin ran a ton of plays out of the deep I, some 8 yards off the line of scrimmage. Betts was used in much the same way at Iowa. Very downhill.
Can Kelly-Martin get to 210? That remains to be seen, but being a back with experience from the I should be a huge boost for him at Iowa.
Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell (this is more the conversation I had with coach Bell on the prospect) — Me: I think Iowa fans are sort of spoiled in running back recruiting. I think in most years, if Iowa gets a commitment from Kelly-Martin, fans would’ve been happy and it would’ve been a big deal. But Eno (Benjamin) kind of sucked the air out of the room. What makes Ivory your guy?
KB: We identified and offered Ivory a heckuva lot sooner than we did Akrum Wadley. Akrum was a January guy we got from Bernie Wyatt and Verducci out east.
Me: What makes him an Iowa running back?
KB: Production and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. I think he rushed for 1,800 yards as a junior and followed it up with a 1,300-yard season, 20-plus touchdowns both years. When we’re evaluating, I don’t want to see a highlight film of a guy breaking off 80-yard runs. That’s not realistic. That’s not what’s going to happen here. I want to see yards after contact and he’s a yards-after-contact machine. He will get bigger once he starts to fill out, but what I saw is a back who can make guys miss and who can run through tackles. He’s also able to fall forward after contact. Those are all good things.
Me: That’s uncoachable stuff, the ability to want the contact and not back down from it and then to keep your feet moving through it.
KB: Another thing with Ivory is really good vision. He’s a smart kid who understands where the unblocked people are. He can anticipate what he has to do at the next level, where this guy is coming from. He doesn’t run blindly. I say a “blind dog in a meat house.” That’s not him. He understands where people are coming from, you can see that on the film.
ESPN scouting report excerpt: Explosive in-line runner with great feet and a feel for sticking his foot in the ground and getting upfield. Makes defenders miss with little hesitation. Very effective jump cut ability in and out of traffic. Can stop/start and change direction without losing momentum. Good speed but sometimes struggles to separate out of his cuts. Not fast enough to consistently outrun defenders with good angular pursuit. Not a power back but possesses very good balance with the ability to take a hit and retain his feet. Bounces off a lot of first contact. Kelly-Martin is a quality back with some natural running instincts. Good at a lot of things but not a difference maker in one area.
My take: Bell’s read on Kelly-Martin’s vision is correct. His eyes are two moves down on the chessboard. Of course, you need to deal with what’s in front of you first and Kelly-Martin shows quick feet and enough power to get to the finishing move. Kelly-Martin really keeps his feet moving at contact, something that sounds elementary but isn’t a given for all backs. Watch the screen pass Kelly-Martin takes at about 2:25 in his Hudl video and get excited. That is a fun, fun play.
• Interactive Map: Meet Iowa's Class of 2017
• Class of 2018: LB Dillon Doyle picks the Hawkeyes
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