Iowa Football

Iowa football recruiting 2018: Linebackers

Croot Loops: Hawkeyes fill a big need and didn't wait around to hear 'no'

Iowa City West's Dillon Doyle tackles Bettendorf's Carter Bell during a Class 4A state semifinal game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa City West's Dillon Doyle tackles Bettendorf's Carter Bell during a Class 4A state semifinal game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

In January, Iowa waved goodbye to 118 career starts, 158 career games and 866 career tackles at linebacker. Hasta la vista, Josey Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann.

That’s going to leave a mark.

Iowa isn’t starting over at the position. It just doesn’t have anyone who’s played the position beyond garbage time. That’s all. In the one game where Jewell couldn’t make the start (at Northwestern, a week after injuring his shoulder vs. Illinois), the linebacker who entered the lineup was Kevin Ward. Guess what? Also a senior.

Obviously, linebacker was a need for Iowa’s 2018 class. As the clock ticked down, Iowa had offers out to the “starred” linebackers. When there wasn’t much pull from the other end, Iowa went down its board and found takers.

Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker has talked about going more 4-2-5 in defensive alignment. The outside linebacker spot (where Niemann had 39 career starts) has become a “hybrid” position for Iowa. Now, can Iowa find the right player for the spot?

That could take some pressure off finding three new linebackers. It could open up the pool, maybe lead to a quick-change personnel group.

By the way, this is the recruiting series. It’s for the hardcores, but I think everyone might find something interesting.

I’d like to thank Iowa assistant defensive line coach (ends)/recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell for his insights. You’ll read them and you’ll be thankful.


Seth Benson

The 6-1, 205-pounder signed with the Hawkeyes in December after a recruiting dance that was so quick Benson committed to Iowa before his official visit. The Hawkeyes had Michigan prep Ben VanSumeren in the fold. Then, the Michigan Wolverines offered and off went VanSumeren. Iowa still needed linebackers and Benson, a four-year football letterwinner at linebacerk, quarterback and running back at Washington (Sioux Falls, S.D.) High School and owner of a 4.0 GPA, was out there.

Actually, he was committed to South Dakota State. Bell and SDSU defensive coordinator Clint Brown worked together at Wayne State.

“He knows how it goes,” Bell said with a laugh.

Through offensive line coach Tim Polasek, who was offensive coordinator at North Dakota State before joining Iowa last year, Iowa learned that NDSU wanted nothing to do with Benson at SDSU.

“I call Clint. I was like, ‘Clint, what’s up with Seth Benson?’” Bell said. “And he was like, ‘Don’t touch him.’ I said, ‘OK.’”

Benson then started visiting Iowa. He was in Kinnick for the Ohio State game. Yes, Iowa lost an LB and then went to Benson. Here’s a little on how these recruiting relationships work.

“We’re on these kids, and it doesn’t happen. Where do you go next?” Bell said. “We evaluate everybody and everybody has a spot. Are we going to get to that kid? Maybe, maybe not. But you need to have them evaluated and you need to be comfortable with taking them if it gets to that point. That’s the way it was with Seth Benson.”


Most interesting thing from bio: Named South Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior. ... Earned academic all-state recognition with a 4.0 prep GPA. ... Named Student of the Year as a freshman and junior.

Noteworthy offer: North Dakota State

Depth chart in 2016?: Probably not. He’s listed at 205 pounds. It’s going to take 20 more, at least, to play inside linebacker in the Big Ten.


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Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Cole Fisher

They’re from the same area, but similar bodies and resumes. Both played more than just football, and what was it Cole Fisher majored in again? Oh yeah, civil engineering. Maybe similar football IQs.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “Seth is an above-the-line football player. South Dakota State was getting an absolute steal. That’s how kids get unearthed. That’s how you find out about them. Fortunately for us, there were kids we were waiting around on who weren’t coming to Iowa. Here’s a kid in our backyard — I call it our backyard, Sioux Falls, S.D. — who was willing to make the drive down here, loved what we were doing and we gave him the opportunity.”

My take: Benson finds the ball and knows what to do. In his 1:10 of highlights, he was shown lined up on the edge maybe a half dozen times as a pass rusher. Got home, dipping his shoulder and going. Reminded me of Pat Angerer highlights during his Bettendorf prep days. Angerer would line up wherever he wanted, saw ball and tackled ball. Quick first step, won a lot of these with that step.

Dillon Doyle

Of course, you know that Dillon Doyle is the son of Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who’s entering his 20th season on Kirk Ferentz’s staff. So the son of the man who’s had a huge say in shaping Iowa football culture for the last 20 years more than knows what he’s getting himself into.

OK, Dillon Doyle more than understands that culture. He’s lived it. Proof?

He hasn’t had fast food in nine years. Check this post from The Gazette’s Jeff Johnson.

How ingrained is Dillon Doyle in Iowa’s culture? He got the “no fast food” thing from former Hawkeye James Morris.


“James Morris was a big part of that, too,” Doyle said. “I remember when we were recruiting him, my dad said something to me like ‘You know this kid hasn’t eaten fast food in, like, however many years.’ I thought ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool. I wish someone could say that about me.’ So I guess I just decided I wasn’t going to do that anymore.”

How ingrained is he in Iowa’s culture?

“The people of Iowa are just really something special," Doyle said. "You can see that in anything that we do. Like dance marathon, the wave that we do now at the end of the first quarter. Kirk Ferentz has been at Iowa now 20 years, and that’s something you won’t find anywhere else.

“I think my dad and I are both excited about the opportunity to try and maximize my potential. It’s a great opportunity that I’ve been gifted, and I want to take advantage of it.”


Most interesting thing from bio: Member of National Honor Society with a 4.0 GPA throughout prep career. ... Preseason Butkus High School Watch List as a senior.

Noteworthy offer: National champion Central Florida

Depth chart in 2016?: I can see it. Doyle has the size and might be tough to keep off the field as a special teamer. We’ve been over the fact that Iowa has job openings at all the linebacker spots. So maybe.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Mike Elgin

Elgin began his Iowa career as a potential linebacker/tight end type and ended up making 35 starts (15 at center, 25 at guard) starts in 50 games. Doyle could be a linebacker, but the premium Iowa puts on center and Doyle measuring at 6-3, center could happen. (Probably a linebacker, but I do wonder about a potential target weight.)


Reason for my compare here is more than body type. Doyle clearly is a smart kid. Elgin spent a few years post Iowa scraping around the fringe of the NFL ... while already having secured an engineering job at John Deere.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “He’s been around the program since he was born. Obviously, a good fit for the program. Kids who are in the state of Iowa, all want to play here, so there’s that added level of motivation for him. But physically, yes, he’s an impressive kid. He’s a big kid who’s going to get bigger. It’ll be interesting to see where his body goes.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz: On how the recruiting went with Doyle — “Basically the approach was, kind of like James Morris with Greg, and his wife (Lynn), it’s like you tell us when you want to. We knew this for a while. I’m still not of the opinion it’s always healthy for ninth-graders or 10th-graders to know they have a scholarship. It’s good to work for things sometimes, too. Let the things go to them.”

My take: Can really flow to the ball. Second play of his highlights show the opponent lining up its big tackle split out with a wide receiver and another blocker. Doyle took on the big tackle, stepped in front of the receiver and picked off the pass. Relentless, strong and sure tackler. Didn’t run through contact on a few plays, but was too strong for ballcarriers to get away from.

Doyle has been assigned No. 43, which takes some chutzpah with recent Iowa LBs Jewell and Angerer having worn that number. So, that center thing might be a wild theory that everyone can kind of ignore now.

Logan Klemp

Klemp’s recruiting mirrors Seth Benson’s. Iowa had a need at linebacker. It wasn’t getting feedback it liked from the recruits it was wooing (in this case probably juco Will Honas, who eventually picked Nebraska).

Iowa had a hook in with Klemp. He wanted to be in Iowa City. The Iowa staff made the move late, offering in late January. Klemp, 6-3, 210 pounds, committed on Feb. 2.


Here’s some insight into how (and why) Iowa keeps relationships with the 2-star prospects going. You can be a 2-star one minute with seven offers from Dakota schools to an Iowa scholarship player just like that because of this relationship staying viable.

“You have to be honest with the kid without insulting the kid,” Bell said. “All of the great football players in Iowa, we want them to be on our team one way or the other. You have to express that to the kid. But the situation is the scholarship is what every kid wants. That’s not always a guarantee. So, when we recruit a kid, a scholarship kid or a kid we want to walk on, we recruit them the same. It’s the same type of love.

“We want you here, we really want you here. This is where we see you fit. Before we start talking about financials and things of that nature.”

Iowa made the decision to cut bait with targets it had offers out to and visited Klemp right after the December contact period opened. Iowa didn’t move to the offer stage at that point, but it wanted to be clear with the Klemp family where Logan stood.

“Even though he wasn’t there yet and his number hadn’t been called, we still wanted to keep the relationship open because this is a kid, if we had a way, if something fell through, we were going to get him on our team,” Bell said. “That’s exactly what happened.

“But the correspondence throughout the year, we’ve been very upfront and honest. He took an unofficial visit with his mom and dad. We told him, we want you here right now. In terms of scholarships, he had North Dakota State, South Dakota, some other schools. But then, we said in terms of scholarships, ‘We’re not there yet, just know that we want you. If anything happens, we’ll let you know.’ We had a couple of kids here on campus. We felt good about one in (Jayden) McDonald. The other one, we weren’t really sure about. Instead of waiting around to find out the bad news, let’s go get this guy. I’ve said this before, there’s something about Iowa kids who want to be here. They want to be here, it’s important to them. I don’t want to compare him to Josey Jewell, but that chip on your shoulder can make up for a lot.”


Most interesting thing from bio: Team captain for final three prep seasons.

Noteworthy offer: North Dakota State

Depth chart in 2016?: No. Klemp probably projects as an inside linebacker. He’ll need 20 more pounds. Love the 6-3, though. Long-levered guy.


Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Mike Klinkenborg

In 2007, Iowa fell off the table for a while. It started the season 2-0 and then dropped the next four. It came out of Purdue on Oct. 20 with a lifeless loss at West Lafayette. The Hawkeyes were 3-5 and with Michigan State, at Northwestern and Minnesota ahead. A bowl looked like a long shot.

I remember interviewing Mike Klinkenborg after that game. Mike’s story as a Hawkeye is amazing. Earlier in the 2007 season, his father, Myron, passed away shortly after Iowa’s thrilling goal-line stand for victory at Syracuse. And then Klinkenborg suffered a concussion at Wisconsin and missed the next few games, with Purdue being his first game back.

I remember Klinkenborg wearing red-ish contacts to help with the light because of the concussion.

“We’ve got four weeks left. We can still be a bowl-eligible team,” Klinkenborg said. “We can still make this a miraculous season.”

I feel like you’re going to get this with Klemp.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “Like most of these kids, multisport athlete who played both ways. Sometimes, when a kid is in-state, you can find out too much about them. You have a chance to see them, see them in camp, and you wonder. Does he do this well enough? Does he do that well enough? Watch the tape. The tape is productive. Does he want to be here? Yes? Gotta take him.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz: On how the recruiting went with Klemp — “You couldn’t walk down the hall 10 feet without somebody grabbing you and saying what a great young man he is in a lot of areas. Those kind of things influence you in recruiting a little bit. They make you think long and hard.

“We’ll see how it all turns out. But he’s got a background that’s very similar to a lot of guys we’ve had success with. Quite frankly in recruiting, we’re not looking at 5-star, 4-star, we look at guys who have reminded us of guys who’ve done well in our program, that’s usually our approach to things, not usually quite so much what’s been published.”


My take: Likes to rumble. Played in a stack defense at South Hamilton, mostly on the edge. Very good at picking his spots and closing. Showed great hands, vision on offense. You know what Ferentz said about Jewell, “If nothing else, I figured we had a fullback.” Let’s not stop there with Klemp, but he does look smooth and isn’t a player who freaks when he carries the ball. The big question will be how he holds up in space. That’s not as big of a deal for mike or will LB, but the lateral quickness will need to be there.

Jayden McDonald

McDonald was a linebacker Iowa targeted late and they made it happen, beating out Ole Miss and Kansas State.

It took some luck. McDonald was a Rutgers commit. Because of unexpected snowstorms in Georgia and McDonald’s North Gwinnett team’s state title run and rescheduled games, McDonald was never able to visit Rutgers and decided to reopen his recruiting.

And Iowa decided to make a move, getting its second Georgia prospect in the last two seasons.

“He never got a chance to take an official visit to Rutgers,” Bell said. “So now, all the wolves are out. He’s a good player and committed to Rutgers. There are teams with needs at linebacker and here he is. So, he opened it back up to the demise of Rutgers but to the benefit of everyone else. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Cue the crocodile tears. It has to suck to be Rutgers sometimes. I love AJ Blazek and think Chris Ash is the right guy, but snowstorms in Georgia keep happening.


Most interesting thing from bio: Recorded four interceptions and scored four touchdowns, while causing three fumbles and recovering two fumbles.

Noteworthy offer: Purdue

Depth chart in 2016?: Maybe. McDonald is in the 6-0, 220-range. That might be big enough to get into the inside LB competition. If his speed is there, he could see time on special teams. With at least a few linebackers moving into starting roles, there will be some special teams opportunities for incoming freshmen LBs.


Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Fred Barr

Watching Fred Barr play at Iowa was the first time I heard “sideline to sideline” linebacker. Barr was a tackling machine, a trash talker and a player who was a leader and mover in Iowa’s locker room. Last fall, he was an honorary captain for a game.

Barr also was from the same part of the country (Florida).

“Freddy Barr!” Bell said. “That’s a good comparison. Outside of the hair, they do have a lot of similarities.”

Bell can make that joke. He and Barr played at Iowa together.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “The physicality and versatility. He’s not your big Chad Greenway 6-4 backer, he’s more of a 6-0, 6-1 guy with some more weight who can punish people in the run game, but also, if you look at the film, he’s got decent coverage skills, too. He’s a guy with a great ability to find the ball. All great backers have to find the ball, he can find the ball.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz: On how the recruiting went with McDonald — “Jayden is a guy we looked at and he committed to another school back in the fall. So really kind of fell off our group, if you will. And the timing was good for us, because with the early signing date we noticed that he wasn’t signed. So that to me indicated that he wasn’t committed. So that thing opened up again, for whatever reason, and we were able to get involved and I think everything just worked out really positively, and he and his mom were up here a couple of weekends ago, and had a great visit, and felt comfortable with everything they were exposed to.

“I’m so appreciative of the NCAA now, a lot of parents can travel, probably should have done it a long time ago. That really helps in recruiting when parents and prospects are together. So it worked out well for us, and we’re really happy about that.”

My take: Electric feet. Loved his body control in coverage. He’s not a big guy kind of lumbering around out there. Keeps his eyes on the QB and the ball. Seems to understand what flat coverage is all about. Loved the tackle/stealing the ball play. Shows he plays to the whistle. Iowa needs to do that. Smooth, fluid athlete. Absolute great get.

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