Iowa Football

Iowa football recruiting 2020: Hawkeyes went looking for potential offensive tackles

At 6-6, OT is for sure for Mason Richman, a probably for Tyler Elsbury and a maybe for CR Xavier's Josh Volk

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 School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Editor’s note: Croot Loops for the Hawkeyes’ 2020 signees continues with the offensive line. Once again, this is going to come from a “optim-listic” point of view. What’s the high side? What’s realistic? There’s no reason to be pessimistic right now, not in the world and not in these guys’ careers.

Spread offenses have won the war. Most offenses you see in college football run some sort of spread, of course with RPOs (run-pass options).

The era of Baker-Tua-Kyler is in full throttle in the NFL. The pros are starting to move more and more into the spread realm (with maybe 15 teams employing a spread or some variation). That reflects high school football, which has more pull in this than you might realize. You’ll see the majority of high schools using spread because it activates speed and, from a prep perspective, offensive lines can be tough to build.

Iowa is unapologetically prostyle. More gets added every year (see the Holiday Bowl), but the Hawkeyes, specifically on offense, want the line of scrimmage to dictate.

The Hawkeyes have the potential to do some damage in the passing game next season. The wide receivers might be Iowa’s strongest position group. Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Iowa’s favorite routes were the “go” at 18 percent and the “hitch” at 17 percent.

Beyond the naked bootleg rollouts, Iowa doesn’t do a ton to move the QB on passing plays. You did see some moving pockets last year, but those feel more like in-game adjustments due to a tough matchup. You won’t see a traditional RPO. Play-action is Iowa’s thing.

So, offensive tackle is a pretty important job for the Hawkeyes.

It definitely was trial by fire for Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson when they were thrust into the starting lineup in 2017, but as their careers went along, they learned to use their size and natural gifts and Iowa’s sack totals shrank from 30.0 in back-to-back seasons (2015-16) to a conference-leading 16.0 in 2018 and 23.0 in 2019.

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Being able to trot out offensive tackles the size of Wirfs (6-5, 320) and Jackson (6-6, 320) was a good thing. In 2020 recruiting, Iowa found two likely tackle bodies and a third who’s in that 6-4 range and could maybe play tackle.

It’s a race for mature bodies and for Iowa, with Wirfs’ early departure, it’s really a race to mature tackle bodies. The three 2020 signees are now in the field.

Tyler Elsbury

You know you’re in the great midwest when, on the final high school highlights show of the season, the local TV sports staff goes with an offensive lineman for play of the year.

On WTVO/WQRF’s final “Sports Connection” show of the 2018 high school football season, the show awarded Byron (Ill.) offensive tackle Tyler Elsbury (6-5, 290) with the play of the year. The highlight happened three weeks before at Genoa, and it showed everything you needed to see.

The 290-pounder led a sweep, stayed on his feet and showed good enough wheels to land four bona fide blocks. The play went for a TD.

Iowa offensive lineman? Is he a wrestler? Yes. Elsbury went 45-2 in the 285-pound weight class. He’ll have a chip on his shoulder after he went into overtime in his Class 1A state championship bout, but he appeared to not hear a whistle that cost him a takedown with 25 seconds left in OT. He did win the title as a junior.

In the Class 3A state final last fall, the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star credited Elsbury with three knockdowns on a fourth-quarter play that sprung for a 21-yard gain and set up a TD.

“Following Tyler is like following a truck,” said Byron running back Isaac Stickler, who averaged 9.4 yards per carry while racking up 264 yards rushing in that state final. “You just go behind him and let him do his thing. He’s fantastic.”

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All of that attracted Iowa. So did Elsbury’s leadership style. He’s a straightforward, no excuses vocal leader.

“It sucks, obviously. Everyone hates losing,” Elsbury told the Register after the 46-42 state title loss to Williamsville, “but we’re going to try and focus on the journey. The outcome wasn’t our way, but to be able to play with these guys was fantastic. It was all I could ask for.”

 
 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Nominated for player of the year and male athlete of the year as a senior.

Noteworthy offers: Missouri, Purdue, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Syracuse

Depth chart in 2020?: Indiana transfer Coy Cronk’s arrival probably means no playing time for O-line underclassmen. We’ll leave the light on in case Elsbury shows he belongs in camp. He’s a big body, but probably won’t need much “redoing” in the Iowa weight room. I mean, the kid threw four blocks on a sweep, you know he’s fit and can move.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Eric Steinbach

I’m going mostly off dimensions and, yes, someone on this list might end up at guard. We started this post with a Rockford TV station handing Elsbury its play of the year after he led a sweep with four clean blocks. Steinbach made millions in the NFL mostly because he could move and get up to second-level blocks. Part of what really makes Iowa’s zone scheme work is when guards consistently land their reach blocks. Elbsury might have that kind of athleticism.

 

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What Iowa says: For the first time ever, I didn’t get anyone Iowa talking about Elsbury. So, I DM’d Hawkeye safety and Byron assistant coach Sean Considine. He’s having a great time coaching back in his hometown.

“High quality player and even better person,” Considine wrote. “Dominated at the high school level at his position in our area for 3 years. Has everything he needs to be very successful at the college level and beyond. Size, speed, strength, leadership, intelligence, coach ability, etc.

“3-sport athlete that has never focused on one sport or strength training. I will be completely shocked if the stimulus Chris Doyle puts him under the next couple years and the technique focused coaching that he gets doesn’t spark a high level improvement quickly for him. Couldn’t be more happy Tyler is a Hawkeye needless to say!”

ESPN rankings: ESPN has Elsbury ranked No. 41 at his position, No. 32 in the region and No. 7 in the state of Illinois. SPARQ results: 5.44 40 (5.0 was best; 6.30 the worst); 20-yard shuttle: 4.65 seconds (4.51 was best; 6.03 the worst); Vertical jump: 26.6 inches (29.0 was best; 16.6 the worst); Power throw: 43-feet-5 inches (Elsbury won this competition; worst was 30.5); Overall SPARQ: 96.06 (top score for that round of testing).

I’ve included this in Iowa recruiting stories since at least 2011 and maybe longer. You don’t see Hawkeye recruits at the top of the charts very often.

My take: I love the athleticism. Those SPARQ results show Elsbury has worked hard in the weight room. Also, two-time state wrestling finalist (champ and runner-up finishes). Elsbury checks so many of the boxes that add up to great Iowa O-lineman. Now, it’s doing it. In Elsbury’s film, there’s really only one strike. Few if any in his prep league could handle his raw power, so he’d get a hold of the defender and it was game over. Elsbury has more than enough athleticism for O-line. The Rockford station was right. Elsbury can really get outside and is good in space. Doesn’t overcommit. Of course, life is going to change. Elsbury will have to really concentrate on redirects and staying on a defender’s toes, but the raw material is there.

Mason Richman

Everything about Mason Richman’s game was strongside defensive end. The 6-6, 260-pound defensive end from Blue Valley (Kan.) High School was a highly touted defensive end. Richman finished his senior season with 45 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and five blocked kicks in 2019.

He was a defensive end with a nice set of offers, including Kansas, Akron, Air Force, Ball State and Dartmouth.

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Richman also had the Iowa offer. Iowa wasn’t really about defense with Richman. The Hawkeyes always had O-lineman in mind for Richman. Maybe it’s the 6-6. Maybe it’s a nasty finisher’s attitude, good feet and a willingness to throw himself into it. Probably it’s a little bit of all of that.

HawkeyeReport.com interviewed Richman before he enrolled at Iowa in January. If Richman made it through this semester, well, college is going to be a lot more fun eventually.

“I wanted to enroll early because I feel like I can get a head start in life and in the weight room,” Richman told HawkeyeReport.com. “My goals are to listen attentively and get stronger.”

That’s the perfect attitude to have when you’re moving to college and changing positions.

“The biggest part will be everything since I have never played the position before,” Richman said. “I trust this coaching staff to help me get to where I need to be with the size I am right now.”

In an interview with HawkeyeReport.com, Richman’s prep coach Allen Terrell said he believes Richman’s football IQ will click for him when it comes to the move to the O-line. (At Blue Valley, Richman played TE on offense.)

“His skill set translates so well to OT,” Terrell said. “I think he will progress quickly.”

 
 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Finalist for Class 6A Defensive Player of the Year

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Noteworthy offers: Kansas, Air Force, Akron, Ball State, Dartmouth

Depth chart in 2020?: No. This is Richman’s first year as an offensive lineman. It’s also his first year of college football. This will be a learning year in both regards. You can tell Richman listens to his dad and coaches. The plan to “listen attentively” will serve him well. Not a lot of 18-year-olds are even aware of the super power of listening.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Markus Zusevics

Richman is long and lean like Zuzevics when he went through at Iowa (2007-11). Zuzevics came in a terrific athlete. He lettered four years as a volleyball player at Prospect High School in the Chicago area. Early in his career, you thought maybe center, but at 6-5, 300, Zusevics started for a few seasons at right tackle and made the Patriots and Jets as a free agent O-lineman from 2012-14.

 

What Iowa says: Believe it or not, where a player begins his career at Iowa isn’t always a no-brainer. With a player like Richman, he has all of that success on the defensive side of the ball. But, man, 6-6, can move, that’s a future all-Big Ten offensive tackle.

What was it like for Richman?

“That one is set,” recruiting director Tyler Barnes said. “That one is on (offensive line Tim) coach Polasek. (D-line coach Kelvin Bell) KB might have something to say about Yayha Black, but Mason will be an offensive lineman and Yayha will be a defensive lineman.”

Good problem to have?

“I guess it means you’re recruiting the right guys,” Barnes said. “They (coaches) go back and forth a little bit. You just have to worry about coach (Kirk) Ferentz coming in and making an executive decision. I think we’re pretty safe in how we have these guys divvied up right now.”

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ESPN rankings: No SPARQ numbers, but ESPN has Richman 76th at the defensive end position in the nation, 153rd regionally and ninth in the state of Kansas.

My take: Richman’s Hudl video is a lot like Elsbury’s. Richman is so big and such a force against his prep football competition. Will it translate? You can tell Richman is well coached. Plays with a ton of leverage, which made him even more unstoppable on his level. Again, he played defense for Blue Valley and some tight end. These defensive highlights are super impressive. Richman was a tackle for loss waiting to happen.

Will it translate? Here’s a thing about Iowa: It’s only looking at its own watch when it comes to O-line recruiting. This staff is mega confident in how it builds OLs. You heard Tyler Barnes. Richman is an O-lineman. Hands off, defensive coaches.

Josh Volk

Yes, Josh Volk is a Cedar Rapids Xavier grad. He’s also a farmer.

When he signed his letter of intent with Iowa in December, Volk wore a “Farm Strong” Iowa T-shirt and “ANF” cap. His family lives on a farm just outside Cedar Rapids. Volk has helped Xavier assistant coach Jim O’Connell with his farming duties over the years.

“He’s a good football player now, but I think he’s just scratching the surface,” Xavier coach Duane Schulte said. “He’s got great feet. That was proved by in either his freshman or sophomore year when he went to state in the shot put and discus. I used to watch him when he played basketball. He was a hell of a center. He moved his feet well, you’d watch him run up and down the floor, watch his post moves, things he would do in the post. You look at him and you go ‘This kid’s an athlete.’”

Volk tore an ACL in his knee in Xavier’s state playoff semifinal win in 2018 and missed his team’s first five games in 2019 before being medically cleared to play. The injury kept him out of training, but he has been doing workouts at The Anvil gym in Hiawatha since the season ended in hopes of gaining more strength by the time he gets to Iowa City over the summer.

HawkeyeReport.com did its final “there they go to Iowa” post on Volk recently. In case you were wondering, yes, the signees are still working out. Volk is in his garage.

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“All of our weight-lifting stuff is in our garage now, so, sorry mom, about your parking spot. We can bench, squat, clean, and dead lift in there,” Volk told HawkeyeReport.com.

But wait.

“Yeah, except we’re down to one bar now because we broke the other one,” Volk said.

 
 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Prep team won state titles as a sophomore and junior and reached state playoffs as a senior.

Noteworthy offers: Iowa State, Nebraska

Depth chart in 2020?: No. It’s probably safe to say the ACL is behind Volk, but will there be a reshaping by strength coach Chris Doyle? Volk is a bigger recruit. His weight is listed from 320 to 310 with the UI listing Volk at 305. One thing that keeps shining through in any reading you do about Volk talks about weight-room dedication. It’ll be interesting to see where Volk’s weight goes for 2021. I generally don’t think true freshmen are going to play on either line of scrimmage, for what it’s worth. The weight-room maturity matters.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Sean Welsh

Volk might be a bigger version. Welsh also was a weight-room devotee. He maximized his body and just had a great feel for the game, just kind of innately knew where to be and how to sustain a block. I don’t want to pigeonhole Volk. I think he’s probably an inside player, but, at 6-4, he might have tackle potential. No reason to rule out anything.

 

What Iowa says: “Josh is probably the class clown in the group, the funny guy,” Barnes said. “We’ve known about Josh for a long time, that even goes back to coach (now-retired Iowa line coach Reese) Morgan.”

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You know those June camps where Iowa invites players to come and show what they can do (oh, and learn about the game, of course)?

“Josh came to camp two years ago and we did not offer him out of camp,” Barnes said. “He was bound and determined. Then, in our last camp in June, he forced us to offer him. He improved so much and grew as a player. He’s a tough kid, a bit of a mauler. We offered him there and got his commitment. Unfortunately, he was injured at the end of his junior year and missed some of this year. He seems to be back in good health and is good to go. Multisport athlete and we know a lot about that program.”

Coach Schulte’s sons, Bryce and Quinn, are walk-ons for the Hawkeyes.

ESPN rankings: No SPARQ, but ESPN has Volk No. 50 at his position, No. 77 in the region and No. 3 in the state of Iowa.

My take: Coach Schulte is right. Volk is a good athlete. You watch these Hudl tapes and, yeah, they look mostly the same for O-linemen. Volk impressed me with two plays. There’s a highlight of him pulling. Volk really got outside and sealed the play. Showed great feet. Then, also from the UNI-Dome, there’s one play where Volk loses track of a D-end, but he opens his hips and wins the race to the corner and earns himself a pancake.

Probably a guard or center for the Hawkeyes, but let’s see who the development goes. Always the tricky thing at this stage with O-linemen.

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

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