IOWA CITY — The early signing period has made college football recruiting rather ... uh ... orderly.
This is the third year for the December signing period in college football. De-commitments didn’t come up this cycle for the Hawkeyes. In fact, Iowa’s last commitment was highly-rated defensive end Deontae Craig (Culver, Ind.) and that was Aug. 16, more than four months ago.
The conclusion on the December signing period? Boring. Kidding, kidding. Iowa locked in with 22 players over the last year or so. Twenty of those players will sign with the Hawkeyes on Wednesday. Defensive lineman Michael Lois (Elkhorn, Wis.,) and, according to HawkeyeReport.com, defensive back Keylen Gulley (Largo, Fla.) will not sign Wednesday, but still could in February.
“There are goods and bads,” said Tyler Barnes, who’s finishing his fourth year as Iowa’s director of recruiting. “A good majority of our class is ready to get the recruiting process over. They just want to sign and get it out of the way.”
The “bad” is not being able to recruit seniors and late bloomers as thoroughly as Iowa would like. Iowa has had a track record for finding late contributors. The Hawkeyes received commitments from four players last December, including tight end Sam LaPorta, who ended up catching nine passes for 144 yards as a true freshman this season.
“There are seniors who are going to develop,” Barnes said. “You might not get a chance to really identify and recruit the way you want to when you’re class is essentially full.”
Let’s do the star check.
Eighteen of the 20 signees are rated as 3-star prospects by Rivals. Craig and quarterback Deuce Hogan are 4 stars. Rivals has Iowa ranked No. 25 (behind Stanford and ahead of Cal) in the country and No. 5 in the Big Ten (between Nebraska and Minnesota).
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So, the ratings for the class are better than your basic “usual” for an Iowa recruiting class, typically ranked in the 40s.
Truthfully, there probably is no template for any recruiting class. So this year, it worked out that Iowa didn’t find any late prospects. LaPorta shows that the late signee (hello, safety Geno Stone and wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette) and the proverbial kid out of nowhere (LaPorta is from Highland, Ill.) still can happen.
So how does it happen? Word of caution: There are a million different variables in recruiting. You won’t be able to keep them all straight. It’s not just the rules. It’s the pursuit, the introductions and relationship building.
A.J. Epenesa’s high school coach, Edwardsville head coach Matt Martin, tipped Iowa off on LaPorta, who is from Highland, about 45 minutes east of St. Louis.
Special teams coordinator LeVar Woods saw LaPorta play basketball and saw an explosive athlete. It’s Iowa, so the Hawkeyes were already into tight ends for the 2019 class by the time they found LaPorta. Iowa already had commitments from Josiah Miamen and Logan Lee, who has since switched to defensive tackle.
“LeVar did a great job,” Barnes said. “He kept beating the drum with Sam.”
Five or six coaches can get wrapped into one recruitment. You have the area coach, the position coach, the coordinator and head coach. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz went and checked out LaPorta and his hoops game.
“I think it was four plays in and he realized this kid is the real deal,” Barnes said. LaPorta checked the living daylights out of Iowa’s other boxes. You know them — multisport athlete, small-town character and humble.
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LaPorta also ranked second in Illinois prep history in receiving TDs (50) and is third in receiving yards (3,793).
“You look at his stats in high school, they’re eerily similar to T.J. Hockenson’s,” Barnes said. “So, everything added up. Big credit to LeVar there for just beating the drum on Sam and making sure we stayed on top of him.
“We’re sure glad we have him. He’s been a pretty good player for us this year as a true freshman.”
If Iowa’s recruiting class changes between the time this is posted and Wednesday afternoon, don’t look for Iowa to rush out and find a body.
“When you panic at the end, when you take guys you don’t know enough about, you can miss and you’ll have a tendency to miss,” Barnes said. “The thing that (head) coach (Kirk) Ferentz is always pushing is be patient, stick to what we do and it’ll work out.
“When you start shopping hungry, you usually have a tendency to miss. That’s what we need to work on not doing, as much as possible.”
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