116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
PLEASANT HILL — Frank Nwankpa heard the Iowa football staff tell his son, five-star recruit Xavier Nwankpa, about how “they’re not going anywhere.“
Other schools tried to make that pitch, too.
“Notre Dame was telling him also that they’re not going anywhere,” Frank Nwankpa said.
After some help from Baton Rouge, La., only one of those claims turned out to be true. LSU lured Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly to the bayou with a 10-year, $95 million contract.
Notre Dame went from “not going anywhere” to gone in a couple-month span and gave the Hawkeyes another edge in the recruitment of the top safety in the 2022 recruiting class.
“It definitely made a focus on stability,” Xavier Nwankpa said. “Which ultimately helped make that decision.”
Two of the three Iowa coaches to visit Nwankpa when he told them he was committing to Iowa — head coach Kirk Ferentz and defensive coordinator Phil Parker — have each spent the last 23 years in Iowa City.
“They've been a steady presence in the state for a long time,” Southeast Polk football coach Brad Zelenovich said.
In that same span, including interim coaches, Notre Dame has its sixth head coach and Ohio State has its fifth head coach.
Iowa’s director of recruiting Tyler Barnes has made this point clear to recruits.
“BREAKING NEWS: Coach Ferentz isn’t going anywhere!” Barnes tweeted on Nov. 29, 12 minutes after Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel broke the Kelly-to-LSU news. “In this day and age, stability and continuity are hard to find. For all you dudes out there about to make your decision, keep that in mind!”
The Nwankpa family definitely kept that in mind.
“One of the key things that he made vivid about his choice was he’s going to where it is stable,” Frank Nwankpa said.
Even with the change in head coach, Xavier Nwankpa still had plenty of respect for new Irish coach Marcus Freeman, who was formerly the defensive coordinator.
“He’s a really good coach, he’s moved the program in the right direction and all the players love him,” Xavier Nwankpa said. “It was kind of hard to tell them.”
Stability certainly wasn’t the only factor in the Southeast Polk star’s decision.
His father asked him 10 questions to help make a decision, ranging from mental health and proximity to home to the best coach to elevate him to the “next level.”
Frank Nwankpa pointed to the better opportunity to play right away at Iowa than at Ohio State.
“Are they going to bring you up? Yes,” Frank Nwankpa said. “But how soon do you want to play? How soon are they going to play you? And then the next year, there are all the hungry guys coming. … He said that, If I go to Iowa, I think I have the chance to start right away based on my work ethic.”
Zelenovich praised the Iowa staff’s early start in Nwankpa’s recruitment. Iowa offered Nwankpa a scholarship in October 2019, a month before Notre Dame and almost a year before Ohio State.
“They just did a tremendous job starting the process,” Zelenovich said. “They were in on it early and stayed pretty consistent, strong throughout the whole thing.”
The Southeast Polk standout took official visits to Ohio State, Texas A&M and Notre Dame in June 2021, but only took an unofficial visit to Iowa at that time. He saved his official visit to Iowa for the Penn State game.
The day after blocking a potential game-winning field goal attempt against Cedar Rapids Prairie in October, he took his official visit down the interstate at Iowa.
That was quite the timing for an official visit. Surrounded by a raucous Kinnick crowd, then-No. 3 Iowa defeated then-No. 4 Penn State.
“To be honest, I was super surprised,” Nwankpa said. “They were getting super excited. The defense was making a bunch of plays. It was really cool to see.”
The game result was just part of what impressed Xavier Nwankpa on his official visit. His father Frank said “Iowa did a lot of good marketing” during the visit.
“Even the student section, they knew who he was. The chanting was there,” Frank Nwankpa said. “I felt like, ‘Who is this guy? He’s not even already on campus, and everybody kind of knows who you are.’”
That attention gave Xavier “a little bit of steam,” Frank said.
“They called his name out all the time,” Frank Nwankpa said. “‘Xavier, we want you. We want you.’”
Xavier Nwankpa called it “probably the best college football experience I've had.”
He won’t exactly mind the lack of constant recruiting attention now, though.
“I probably got asked like 20 times a day,” Nwankpa said.
Xavier wasn’t the only one to experience that.
“Everyone was nagging on (my parents), trying to figure out where I was going,” Xavier said.
His father estimated he’d hear about it 20-30 times a day himself.
“If I go out to the gym to go work out, you have people coming, ‘Oh, Xavier had a good game last Friday. So where’s he going?’” Frank Nwankpa said. “’What do you think? Where do you want him to go?’”
Now the question may be about what to pack. Xavier Nwankpa graduates high school in a few weeks and will enroll early at Iowa.
“It's kind of crazy, but blessed to be in this position,“ Nwankpa said.
Comments: (319) 398-8394; email@example.com