CEDAR FALLS — After signing 13 recruits in December’s early signing period, the Northern Iowa football team wrapped up its 2020 class on Wednesday with four more signees.
A pair of FBS flips highlights the Panthers’ class.
Quarterback Da’Vonshai Harden of Topeka, Kan., fills a void at the position left by Jacob Keller’s transfer. Harden, a 3-star recruit who originally committed to Kansas, rewarded UNI’s staff for its consistent recruitment of him for more than a year.
“He’s an exceptional player,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “I think we have a great quarterback room right now. But, we needed to bring another quarterback in with this class. Just the way college football is right now there’s a lot of movement at the quarterback position.”
Run game coordinator Ryan Clanton spearheaded recruiting efforts of offensive lineman Gunnar Kilen of Verona, Wis., and junior college wide receiver Kenden Robinson Jr. from City College of San Francisco.
Like Harden, Kilen was an FBS flip, first choosing Colorado State. The 6-foot-6, 280-pound 3-star recruit’s commitment brings UNI’s offensive line class to four. Farley noted how unique it is for Kilen to be a productive center at his size.
“(Gunnar) was probably the biggest battle,” Farley said. “That one has been going on since last January. A lot of schools were after him. What we like about Gunnar is the fact he was a center in high school. Center is hard to play and be really great at and have that kind of size, so we’re fortunate and happy to have him.”
Robinson, who had nine touchdowns and more than 700 yards receiving last season, comes from the same junior college as Clanton and it’s anticipated he could contribute immediately.
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“That’s why we took him, to be a contributor right away,” Farley said. “We went back, and after reviewing the season and the type of team you got coming back, I think if we fill some key slots — whether it be by starter or depth — it will make a huge difference of outcomes in games.”
Farley mentioned after early signing day in December he was aiming to add to the defensive backfield. UNI accomplished that goal by tapping into a familiar pipeline in Blue Springs, Mo., securing Stefan Black II.
“We’ve had great success with players out of Blue Springs,” Farley said. “They’ve had a great high school coach and he knows the success that his players have had here when they’ve come here.”
Multiple sources tell The Gazette three walk-ons also have joined the Panthers since the early signing period. Among them is Cedar Falls quarterback Cael Loecher, who accepted an offer as a preferred walk-on. Loecher threw for 1,998 yards, 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions as he helped lead the Tigers to the Class 4A state quarterfinals last year.
Also, while signing day moves into the rearview mirror, Farley said he and his staff will continue to scour the transfer portal ahead of spring practices, particularly at running back.
“We’re still on the lookout. We’re not done,” Farley said. “We’ll be selective with what we take from here on out. Running back will be a huge target. That will be the number one thing that we will search and look for.”
UNI begins spring practices March 23. It will conclude with a game or controlled scrimmage, according to Farley, on April 24.