116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
PLEASANT HILL — The highest-rated football recruit in the Hawkeye State in more than a decade is going to be a Hawkeye.
Five-star safety prospect Xavier Nwankpa chose Iowa over college football juggernauts Ohio State and Notre Dame, he announced at his high school Wednesday.
The Southeast Polk star is the top safety in Rivals’ national recruiting rankings.
Nwankpa told The Gazette he chose Iowa because of its “DB production, relationships and stability.”
Five of the last 10 players to win Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year worked under the tutelage of Iowa’s Phil Parker, a feat Nwankpa was well aware of.
“Coach Parker has just gone out and done his job getting the guys to where they need to go,” Nwankpa said. “Those guys, they’re super talented.”
He told the Iowa staff the good news on Monday when head coach Kirk Ferentz, defensive coordinator Phil Parker and assistant defensive line coach/defensive recruiting coordinator Jay Niemann.
Nwankpa let it slip before he was planning to in the evening, though.
“They were talking about today — on Monday — what I was going to do for my birthday,” said Nwankpa, who also celebrated his 18th birthday Wednesday. “I thought he was asking like where I was going to eat afterward, and I kind of let it slip that I was going to go there. That’s where I was committing.”
The Iowa staff was “kind of shocked,” Nwankpa said.
“I repeated myself, I got up and we had hugs,” Nwankpa said.
Before Nwankpa’s commitment, Iowa had the 50th-best 2022 recruiting class in the country.
Iowa has landed the top-ranked Iowa recruit, per Rivals’ rankings, in three of the last four recruiting classes.
Nwankpa may help the Hawkeyes make that four out of five next year. His Southeast Polk teammate Kadyn Proctor is the top-rated in-state recruit in the 2023 recruiting class.
“I’ll get him to come, I think,” Nwankpa said. “I’ll be working on him for sure.”
Proctor won’t be the only one, either.
“I’ll be recruiting everybody and anybody,” Nwankpa said.
Nwankpa picked off four passes and recorded 23 solo tackles and a sack for a Southeast Polk team that went 12-1 and claimed the Class 5A state football title this fall.
On offense, he caught 33 passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns, plus threw a TD pass and returned a kick for a touchdown.
The Class 5A all-state captain made multiple game-winning plays in key regular-season games. In Week 1, Nwankpa caught a Hail Mary pass in the end zone on the final play of the game to break a 7-7 tie against West Des Moines Dowling.
In an October game at Cedar Rapids Prairie, he blocked a game-winning field-goal attempt in the final seconds to preserve a 21-20 victory. The next day, he was among the many Iowa recruits attending the Hawkeyes’ win over then-No. 3 Penn State.
“That was crazy,” Nwankpa said. “That was probably the best college football experience I’ve had, so that definitely helped a lot.”
Nwankpa will graduate from high school later in December and enroll early at Iowa, following the same route true freshman contributors Connor Colby, Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV took last year.
“It helps you run a system, get your body right and ultimately help you hopefully play as a freshman,” Nwankpa said.
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