Iowa Football

Trying to bring Iowa to prospects via FaceTime is the challenge for Hawkeye recruiting

Kirk Ferentz has long touted the visit for Iowa recruiting, but a strong start to the 2021 class and a coveted group of preps from the state of Iowa should help

Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Connor Colby (77), a University of Iowa recruit, is ranked 4 stars by Rivals. (Rebecca F. Miller/
Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Connor Colby (77), a University of Iowa recruit, is ranked 4 stars by Rivals. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Shortly after Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’s news conference on Wednesday, the NCAA announced that it will extend the recruiting dead period for major-college football through May 31 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The dead period was scheduled to end April 15. The longer dead period means no on-campus recruiting visits for student-athletes — including Junior Days — or off-campus recruiting by coaches.

One of the most consistent messages on recruiting throughout Ferentz’s 22 years has been scoring the visit with a prospect. Iowa is a program that most everyone knows about, but prospects from different states/regions don’t have the local knowledge. You still occasionally hear the “cornfields” quote from prospects. You still hear “cornfields” 20 years into high-level recruiting coverage and with Iowa football being televised for every game since the end of the 2001 season.

There’s a perception gap that the Iowa staff tries to erase during visits.

When the Hawkeyes signed their 2020 class in December, Tyler Barnes, Iowa’s director of recruiting, talked about the importance of visits for the Iowa program.

“When you get kids on campus and they can be around our coaches and players for 48 hours, that’s a huge deal,” Barnes said. “And then this past June, when you already have half of the class committed, you get those kids and families who have already committed and understand what they’re walking into, they help you recruit the rest of the class and that really becomes a powerful tool to have and it happens organically.

“I think our staff would tell you the same thing. A lot of these guys start to build those bonds and the really strong relationships with each other during those weekends. And it helps in the fall, when things might get a little hairy in recruiting and other schools come knocking.”

The 19 players Iowa signed in December visited Iowa City 125 times during the 2 1/2 years of their recruitments, Barnes said. Remember the difference between “official” and “unofficial” visits. Official visits are paid for by the schools. Iowa relies on unofficials, where the prospects and families pay their way to visit. Talk about a fantastic way to gauge interest.

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“That’s pretty impressive when you get guys on campus that many times, around our players, around our staff, around each other, that really pays off,” Barnes said. “Those are good things.”

So, the dead period will stunt visits. Ferentz also talked about how important spring practice is for recruiting. It’s an active football period without a game and all the driving deadline headaches that come with it.

The next recruiting train car that will be upset is on-campus camps. Iowa finds and vets a handful of camp prospects every year. Defensive end Parker Hesse and linebacker Kristian Welch are two recent camp finds.

“I don’t envision camps popping up,” he said. “Those have been predominantly in June. I’m not sure those are going to take place. There are a lot of ramifications on the recruiting front.”

Ferentz said Iowa has ID’d a list of players it’s interested in coming out of winter. Iowa has offered less than 100 scholarships, so it can be a little more directed than a spray-and-pray operation.

“We’ve got a list of people that we’re staying in touch with and we’ve been corresponding with mail, email, phone calls, FaceTime, those types of things on that front.” Ferentz said, “but the biggest thing is people aren’t coming to campus. I can’t look down the road that far, but, technically, we have visits schedule for June. Those are certainly in jeopardy.”

The assignment now is bringing Iowa to prospects. That’s happening with the coaching staff and video conferencing. Barnes has been chain tweeting UI-produced graphics that have ranged from Iowa’s major award winners to Ferentz’s longevity. You can check them out by searching the hashtag #Swarm21.

Iowa recruiting is off to an objectively strong start for 2021. With Rivals 4-star commits Cedar Rapids Kennedy offensive tackle Connor Colby and Eden Prairie, Minn., linebacker Justice Sullivan, Rivals has the Hawkeyes ranked No. 11 in the nation and No. 5 in the Big Ten.

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The Hawkeyes have eight commitments for the 2021 class, with Ida Grove OABCIG's Cooper DeJean, a 6-2, 198-pound safety, committing to the Hawkeyes on March 17.

One thing that should work for Iowa and Iowa State during COVID-19 recruiting is the fact that the state of Iowa boasts as many as 25 prospects this year who could earn Power 5 offers. On the Rivals list of the state’s top-ranked prospects, Iowa has commitments from five of the top 10, with No. 1 Thomas Fidone (tight end, Council Bluffs Lewis Central) and No. 2 T.J. Bollers (defensive lineman, Clear Creek-Amana) still undecided.

Ankeny wide receiver Brody Brecht (6-4, 193, Rivals 3 star) has narrowed his choices to Iowa and Iowa State. Urbandale tight end Max Llewellyn is a name that has blown up on the recruiting radar. Iowa has offered along with Iowa State, Nebraska and Missouri.

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

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