Iowa Football

How Iowa used the early signing period to its advantage

It did keep the brand names at bay, and it also opened the door to a player Iowa needed

Iowa signee Julius Brents (
Iowa signee Julius Brents (

IOWA CITY — Absolutely the new signing period worked in Iowa’s favor. Julius Brents is the case study.

Brents is a 6-2, 179-pound defensive back from Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, Ind. The size, speed and three seasons as a first-team all-conference performers brought its share of suitors, including Michigan State, Louisville, Purdue and North Carolina State.

Click Brents’ offer list on and look at the list of offers. You’ll notice two schools at the bottom that have shown interest but didn’t offer Brents, rated a 4-star prospect by Rivals. Yes, those schools are Alabama and Ohio State.

If Brents didn’t sign in December, the first signing period in this first year of the two signing periods, maybe one of those schools makes a move, especially if they’ve struck out on their own targets. (Yeah, Ohio State and Alabama striking out, it’s a funny thing, but it does happen.)

“There’s no doubt about it,” Iowa recruiting coordinator/defensive line assistant Kelvin Bell said Wednesday when asked if the early date helped with Brents. “You’re not 6-2 and 175 pounds and run like he does and go without notice. Not just Big Ten (would’ve been knocking on his door), but ACC, SEC, those are the types of schools after that kid.”

Kirk Ferentz on recruiting Indianapolis



Bell was the lead contact on Brents’ and fellow Indianapolis defensive back D.J. Johnson, a 3-star whose offer list included LSU, Duke and Minnesota, with Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State and Tennessee kind of hanging around and showing interest.


Brents and Johnson signed in December. That eliminated the “baby-sitting” during the January contact period. “Baby-sitting” is probably a misnomer here. The January contact period was the wild West. You might’ve put in the work, but 9 out of 10 recruits were going to invite Urban Meyer into their house and hear his Ohio State pitch.

Bell talked about one of the things he learned from veteran Iowa defensive coordinator and top-shelf recruiter Phil Parker. Parker passed on the old recruiting adage that “Recruiting doesn’t start until I’m in your house opening your refrigerator,” Bell said.

That was the contact period. Coaches marching in and out of prospects’ houses and opening their refrigerator doors.

“Coaches would line up outside of a kid’s house,” Bell said. “You’d see rental car after rental car pull up. (Early signing) eliminates all of that.

“It muddies the waters. The big schools, the name-brand schools, they all have their boards. As they don’t get who they want across the country, they’re coming to get your players. Kids love it. They’re flattered by it. If Harbaugh or Saban or Urban want to come to your house and talk to you, you’re going to let them in, even if I’m supposed to be there at 7 o’clock, you’re going to let them in. It eliminated all of that.”

This is good for Iowa.

“It’s huge,” Bell said.

Iowa signed 22 players on Wednesday. Fourteen of those players were announced on Dec. 20, when the first signing period began. Three players — Brents, Johnson and wide receiver Calvin Lockett — signed with Iowa in December, but chose to wait on their announcements, so Iowa didn’t release their signings per their wishes.

The five new signees are linebackers Jayden McDonald, Seth Benson and Logan Klemp and defensive back Kaevon Merriweather and wide receiver Nico Ragaini.

Rivals rates Iowa’s class at No. 39 in the country and seventh in the Big Ten. Iowa also announced the signings of 18 walk-ons who’ll begin their football careers at Iowa next fall. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has said consistently throughout his tenure that walk-ons are equals out on the field. Best players play, scholarship or not.

Kirk Ferentz on late additions


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“You put the stories aside when you evaluate players, because it’s not fair to the whole team if you don’t. I don’t know how you’d have good team morale,” Ferentz said. “With that being said, judgments are hardly perfect, we know that. That’s the beautiful thing not only about football and sports, but in real life.”

Another lesson from year 1 with early signing is if your guy doesn’t sign with you in December, move on. It’s probably not happening.

McDonald might end up being a hugely important piece for Iowa’s 2018 signing class. The Hawkeyes graduated three senior starters at linebacker. There is opportunity right now. McDonald, a 6-1, 220-pounder rated 3 stars by Rivals, saw that and picked the Hawkeyes over Ole Miss and Purdue.

McDonald committed to Rutgers last summer. Because of snow in Georgia and a snow-delayed playoff run that saw McDonald’s North Gwinnett team win its first state title, McDonald wasn’t able to visit and ended up reopening his recruitment.

Iowa swung in.

“Now, all the wolves are out,” Bell said. “Here’s a good player who’s committed to Rutgers and you have a bunch of teams with a need at linebacker and here he is. That’s a hit to Rutgers but a benefit for someone else. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

And that is football.

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