College Football

Iowa navigates its first early signing period

From California QB to Solon DT, a representative class for the Hawkeyes

Marin Catholic (Calif.) quarterback Spencer Petras.
Marin Catholic (Calif.) quarterback Spencer Petras.

IOWA CITY — If you’re into college football recruiting, you’ve probably seen a few recent stories about how long players have been committed to their schools and how they stuck together.

Iowa did get clipped by Michigan and Jim Harbaugh on a linebacker from the state, but other than that, the first mid-December signing date seemed like a standard signing day in Iowa City.

Iowa officially signed 15 prospects on Wednesday, the first national signing period for prep football players. Iowa did get signatures from three other players, but head coach Kirk Ferentz said the school will wait on releasing their info upon request from the players.

Defensive backs Julius Brents and D.J. Johnson, both from Indianapolis, Ind., and wide receiver Calvin Lockett, Largo, Fla., will be official at some point.

This signing period goes through Friday. The next one begins Feb. 7.

“When it’s all said and done, we’re looking at the neighborhood of 16 to 18 players signed today, and I think looking down the road, it’s fair to say we’ll probably end up about 20 or 22 in the class,” Ferentz said. “That’s what we kind of project at this point.”

Let’s do the star and rankings thing: Rivals has Iowa with 17 commitments and rates it the No. 39 class in the country and ninth in the Big Ten. Rivals has the Hawkeyes with four 4-star recruits (Brents, West Des Moines defensive lineman John Waggoner, defensive back Dallas Craddieth and quarterback Spencer Petras). That’s a solid number for Iowa (Wisconsin signed one 4-star).

Ferentz credited the emphasis campus visits for keeping the class together. This is a contrast to the last signing class, which surged on Texas skill players in the summer and then broke apart over Iowa’s “no visits after committing” policy.

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“I think our recruiting department has done a really nice job of setting up visits in the June, July period, more so June, and even in-season, where we are getting prospects here, getting to know them, they’re getting to know us a little bit better, it’s not just the computer dating world, or catalog shopping, all that,” Ferentz said.

Even if you don’t have the commitment, you can still do old fashioned recruiting. Iowa started recruiting Craddieth, a St. Louis, Mo., native, in March 2016 on a junior day. It took almost two years to get the deal done, but Iowa assistant LeVar Woods worked it and Craddieth called Iowa on Tuesday night and let it know he would be signing Wednesday morning.

“He’s a guy who can run, he can tackle, he can cover in space, those are all good things,” Iowa assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said. “With the way offenses are going now, the more of those guys you can have, the better.”

Iowa hit with the defensive backs it wanted in this class. Brents, Johnson and Craddieth collected 49 scholarship offers between them (Notre Dame, LSU, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State were all on their offer lists). Iowa also signed two other defensive backs in Ankeny’s Riley Moss and Terry Roberts (from Erie, Pa.). Roberts comes with recommendations from a pair of former Hawkeyes from Erie, Bob Sanders and Jovon Johnson. That will get you in the door at Iowa.

This is what happens when you produce a Thorpe Award winner (Desmond King) and a unanimous all-American (Josh Jackson). At this rate, Iowa’s secondary might work its way up to clever nickname territory.

“I think the neat thing is they all come from different backgrounds, different pedigree,” Ferentz said. “The common denominator is they’re all guys who like playing football, they’re all good teammates. We feel good about the group coming in. They’re going to complement the group we have right now.”

Iowa has largely avoided California in recruiting. Earlier this month, the Hawkeyes picked up a commitment from quarterback Spencer Petras. He goes to Marin Catholic High School (San Rafael, Calif.), which is the same high school Rams quarterback Jared Goff attended. Petras broke two of Goff’s records (season yards at 4,157 and season TDs with 50, both of which were set this season).

“Quite frankly, I was getting a little worried about that,” Ferentz said. “Every quarterback (quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe) Ken has seen since May or late April, he always find something wrong with them. I was starting to wonder if there was anybody out there that maybe would fit with us. I say that half in jest. Some of the guys we’ve really liked have committed to other places. It’s been a long, winding road.”

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California fires pushed Petras’ playoff game to a Saturday. Marin Catholic lost and Petras and his mom, Sarah, then flew to Iowa City.

“They came here, were sleep deprived Sunday afternoon,” Ferentz said. “Had a very brief visit, he and his mom did. We just really felt good about the way he projected with us. Fortunately, for us, mom and dad and Spencer were comfortable with what they saw here, what they learned.”

Defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon probably wins “most likely to play in 2018.” The 6-5, 295-pound defensive tackle from Kenosha, Wis., originally signed with Iowa last year. He lacked an academic element and ended up at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. Nixon was eventually ruled a full qualifier, so the national letter of intent he signed last year remained in place.

And that stopped Alabama from offering. Well, officially offering. Nixon told HawkeyeReport.com that Alabama called and offered, but the letter of intent and the fact that he was a full qualifier kept him with the Hawkeyes.

“To have him have that (junior college) experience, he’s been away from home, that won’t be new to him, and he’s actually moving closer. I think those things are all positive,” Ferentz said. “We want to rotate players up front. For him to get in the rotation, I think that’s realistic. We’re hoping that does happen.”

As far as recruiting areas go, it sounds like Iowa is pulling up stakes in Georgia. That hit home with Ferentz during the awards season. North Carolina State defensive lineman Bradley Chubb won the Nagurski Award for the nation’s top defensive player. Iowa offered and recruited Chubb, thought it was going OK and then it was time to drive to a college.

“Instead of driving 12 hours here, they drove whatever, three or four hours, to Raleigh,” Ferentz said. “Kind of dawned on me at that point we might be spinning our wheels in Atlanta recruiting. It makes sense, mom and dad go to a four-hour place instead of a 12-hour place.”

“. . . It’s hard, unless you get a young man who maybe his parents are Big Ten’ers, to get your message resonate. What’s going to make you different from NC State in the case of Chubb? Our minds were different, but he didn’t care. He understood the mileage.”

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Position flexibility is a factor in recruiting, and that’s Samson Evans, a 6-1, 205-pounder from Crystal Lake, Ill. On its signing day rundown, Iowa listed Evans as a receiver. The two-time state champion at Prairie Ridge High School also might end up at running back.

“His profile reminded me of Ed Hinkel (former Iowa wide receiver), a quarterback who had a funny number on,” Ferentz said. “Probably not a quarterback, but he’s a good football player. His team seems to always win.”

Ferentz said the next half of recruiting will be somewhat position specific, but whether or not Iowa can stick to that depends on who’s left.

“What is the pool going to look like?” Ferentz said. “We’ve done pretty well, Micah (Hyde), Desmond King, a couple names that have already come up, (James) Daniels, Josey Jewell. Are those guys still going to be in that pool? That’s a big question right now.

“That’s why some of my peers are squawking, because they want to snag guys out of our pool. That happened last week, we had a guy jump to another school.

“I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I’m really curious. I do know this: guys are out there. There is no doubt in my mind that guys are out there, will be guys out there. We have to be really methodical.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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