116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa football director of recruiting Tyler Barnes has taken athletes and their families on virtual tours of Iowa from home.
He tries to split up the visits into one-hour segments. First, he lays the groundwork by introducing the athlete and his family to the university. Next, the family meets with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, then the academic staff, strength coach and position coach. The whole virtual visit takes up to two weeks because Barnes doesn’t think he can keep their attention over Zoom for a full day.
Since recruits haven’t been allowed on campus, Barnes finds himself evaluating prospects by day, then speaking with athletes after their parents get off work in the evenings. Some days, those calls add up.
“I go home at night, and I've got one or two virtual visits for two to 3 1/2 hours every night to try to showcase our university,” Barnes said. "The workload is probably not a whole lot different other than the time frame, things are shifted a little bit. But at some point, there's only so much you can do from a distance.“
June 1 will mark the end of the NCAA “dead period,” a time coaches cannot have face-to-face contact with a recruit on college or high school campuses, camps or any miscellaneous setting. It’s meant to give athletes time to think, and normally takes place in July.
But in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA initiated its dead period on March 13, 2020, and has kept it there for 15 months. Players still can communicate with coaches through virtual platforms, but schools are not able to host official campus visits.
With the lifting of the dead period, schools like Iowa are able to host normal football camps in June, where prospective athletes cannot only showcase their talents, but also interact with coaches to see if it’s a good fit.
It’s especially important for young, local prospects. Barnes said the 2021 class was mostly set when the pandemic hit, as it usually is, but it also happened that the class had mostly in-state athletes.
“I think we were pretty fortunate that it was a really deep class last year,” Barnes said. “We had a lot of those guys on campus, multiple times before the dead period hit, so we're able to form and develop pretty good relationships.”
According to Rivals, the state of Iowa produced 24 Power-5 caliber athletes in the Class of 2021. The Class of 2022 won’t be nearly as stacked, so far with 13 D-I prospects, but the 2023 group could be.
In recent years, camps have become more important for local incoming juniors and sophomores to get noticed, since commitments pile up early.
“Losing these camps last year certainly affected our 2022 class because there's a lot of kids that we may not know as much about,” Barnes said. “We're excited to get a lot of these ’22 regional and Iowa kids to camp this year, but really, we’re more focused as the ’23 or current sophomores to build that list. There's going to be kids that come here and we may or may not know their names. They could be really good prospects.”
One of those prospects is Waukon linebacker and fullback Lincoln Snitker. Iowa will be his first camp stop on June 4, then he’ll follow up with camps at Minnesota-Duluth on June 11, Winona State on June 17 and finish with Northern Iowa on June 20.
“The biggest thing I lost was not being able to gain recognition from multiple schools and having to put my name out there manually,” said Snitker, a junior. “It’s putting together a good highlight reel and sending out to coaches on Twitter.”
But highlights can only say so much, and it also doesn’t give the players the idea of what being coached by these coaches is like.
High school highlight reels for skill position players are a little more useful than for blocking positions like offensive lineman, according to Strength U director and coach JC Moreau.
“If you’re watching high school football, first, the press box is kind of far back, they don’t always have end-zone film, so it’s just hard to see bodies, especially interior linemen,” Moreau said.
In addition, he said some players during this time have exaggerated their heights and weights, so he’s taken videos of them walking up to a measuring stick or scale to ensure accuracy. But physical proportions are more easily assessed at camps.
To help with more close-up assessments on athletic ability, Moreau arranged one-on-one matchups for positions and films from different angles to help offensive linemen. He did the same with other position groups, fielding top talent from across the state to compete against players they normally wouldn’t face.
“My place isn't that big a room, maybe 22 yards long and 13 yards wide, and I'm standing on a box, two thirds of the way back, maybe a yard,” Moreau said. “I'm filming them in the far less than maybe 10 yards away. You see their bodies very well. You see a lot of nuances that you would miss on game film.”
Cedar Rapids Washington sophomore safety Watts McBride said he’s added rugby highlights to his highlight reel to help coaches see him not only play a different sport, but one similar to football.
He plans on attending camps at Iowa State, Iowa and Wisconsin this June and looks forward to the coaching and competition that awaits at camps.
“I’ve never been to camp before and last year I would’ve definitely gone,” McBride said. “There's definitely a lot of talent in Iowa in my class. I mean, you're seeing kids in classes above me getting offers from Alabama or Ohio State, which is really fun.”
Unlike Snitker and McBride, Cedar Rapids Prairie junior tight end Gabe Burkle will not be attending camps. He’s rehabbing a torn ACL, but has instead packed his schedule with visits to campuses.
He’ll be taking official visits to Iowa State on June 11, Indiana on June 18, Nebraska June 22-24 and Kansas State on June 25. In the past, he’s also been to camps at Iowa, UNI and Wisconsin.
“It was a while ago, but I’ve been able to build a lot of relationships with schools,” Burkle said. “I try to stay active on social media, but losing camp, coaches lose being able to tell what you’re all really about.”
Barnes said the return of both unofficial and official visits in addition to camps will make for a packed June. Normally, more players are on visits or attending events like junior day in the spring and fall.
But even with masks and socially-distanced protocols, it’s a step closer to normal.
“It's just going to be a lot of everything in the whole month,” Barnes said. “We’re trying to get younger kids we haven't gotten to campus yet on campus and catch up. It's a good type of busy.”
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