Iowa Football

Iowa football recruiting: Hawkeyes sign 19 with another coming, and now the real work begins

Iowa hit the D-line hard in the 2020 class, and if you put 'hitting people' on the questionnaire, you're automatically in

Josh Volk (right) and Ethan Hurkett sign their letters of intent for the Iowa Hawkeye football team during a signing day
Josh Volk (right) and Ethan Hurkett sign their letters of intent for the Iowa Hawkeye football team during a signing day event at Xavier High Schoo in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Yes, college football recruiting staffs do give questionnaires to recruits. Colleges want to know the simple, easy stuff, too. Fill out the blanks with your height and weight and your football dreams. That kind of stuff.

Coaches want to know high school stats and the general particulars. One of the questions the Iowa staff asked recruits to answer this year was “What’s your biggest sports thrill?”

Marshall, Minn., defensive lineman Yahya (WHY-yay) Black had a simple answer and maybe the perfect answer for how Iowa likes to play the game.

“Most kids put, ‘Played in the state title game,’ ‘Winning a shot put or discus title,’ usually anything ‘state championship,’” said Tyler Barnes, Iowa’s director of recruiting. “Yahya’s is really simple and it matches his personality 100 percent. All it said was, ‘Hitting people.’ His biggest sports thrill. If you know Yahya, it’s perfect.”

The Hawkeyes signed 19 players Wednesday, the opening of the national signing period. The number should jump to 20 Thursday when Indiana defensive end Deontae Craig signs at a ceremony at his school.

Here is the cursory recruiting rankings paragraph. Stars matter — they absolutely do — but we’re talking about five years to see if it works, so recruiting rankings equal snap judgments for entertainment purposes only. Rivals has the Hawkeyes at No. 29 nationally and No. 7 in the Big Ten.

Barnes threw some numbers out about Iowa's class

— The 19 players who signed Wednesday took 125 visits to Iowa City. They all also took their official visit, the one that the schools pay for. That’s 106 visits these 19 prospects took to Iowa City on their own dime. Barnes gave Mobile, Ala., safety Reggie Bracy the medal for the longest drive. Wide receiver Quavon Matthews flew, but took an unofficial visit to Iowa all the way from Largo, Fla.

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“They spent their own time, spent their own money to get to campus, that’s pretty impressive,” Barnes said. “When you get guys on campus that many times around and our players and around our staff and around each other to see a little bit everything, that really pays off.”

— Barnes talked about the “tier” system Iowa uses in recruiting. Tier I is the state of Iowa and surrounding states. Tier II is within a seven-hour drive, and Tier III includes prospects who have to fly into Iowa City. Iowa signed 10 from the Tier I, four from Tier II and five from Tier III.

Retired defensive line coach Reese Morgan used to handle the state of Iowa by himself. After his retirement last winter, head coach Kirk Ferentz divided the state between four coaches.

“There’s a reason for that,” defensive line assistant Jay Niemann said. “He said no one could duplicate what Reese Morgan did. It would take two or three people to accomplish that.”

So, Niemann, who is from Avoca and played at Iowa State, has the middle third of Iowa. Other coaches recruit the east and west borders.

— Seventeen of Iowa’s signees were multisport athletes. Eleven played at least three sports. Eighteen were captains for their prep team. Iowa also wants winners. Eighteen signees played in their state prep playoffs. The class includes 11 state champions.

— When Craig signs, it’ll be an even split of 10 on offense and defense.

Iowa signed five defensive linemen, including Isaiah Bruce, a 6-2, 265-pounder who played running back for Lena-Winslow (Ill.) as a senior last season and rushed for 1,052 yards and 16 TDs. He camped as a tight end at Iowa. Before the end of that camp, coaches convinced him the defensive line was the position he was going to grow into.

Niemann said the group, which includes Black, Bruce, Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Ethan Hurkett, Logan Jones (who Niemann described as “rocked up,”) and Lukas Van Ness, hasn’t been hammered into specific positions on the D-line.

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“We recruited them with the idea that they weren’t necessarily ends or tackles because there’s a lot of length in that group,” Niemann said. “Some of those young guys will get bigger and it’s really hard to tell what their bodies will do.”

The defense will get to keep Black even though offensive line coach Tim Polasek was the lead recruiter. There’s also some tug o’ war on the staff over Kansas O-lineman Mason Richman, a 6-6, 260-pounder.

“That one is set, that one will be on coach Polasek now,” Barnes said about Richman. “(Defensive line coach Kelvin Bell) might tell you something different about Yahya, but Mason will be an offensive lineman and Yahya will be a defensive lineman for sure.”

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

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