IOWA CITY, Iowa — Well before the calendar turned to January, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz laid out his plan for the Class of 2018.
The Hawkeyes would identify and attack their positions of need, locking up those areas of concern in December.
Meanwhile, they would bank a few scholarships for after the initial signing period. Iowa is adept at finding late blooming prospects in January and turning them into key pieces of the program. Ferentz didn’t want that to change with the new recruiting schedule.
“Over the course of Coach Ferentz’s career we’ve shown we’ve been pretty good with those guys,” Iowa director of scouting Tyler Barnes said. “Two that come to light are [linebacker] Josey Jewell and [running back] Akrum Wadley.”
The early signing period, with the majority of players signing Dec. 20-22, throws a wrench in Iowa’s January options. It’s common for the Hawkeyes to raid the Mid-American Conference for commits late in the process, but MAC programs have already signed 186 players.
The first-year of multiple signing periods will impact Iowa. Barnes is sure of it. He just doesn’t know how. It’s why Iowa is relying on tried and true principles to add up to three more players in 2018.
Here are five keys for Iowa when evaluating a prospect this late in the process.
1. Love of the game
The Hawkeyes biggest late-in-the-process recruiting hits include defensive end Mike Daniels, defensive back Micah Hyde, cornerback Desmond King, Jewell and Wadley. Each shared one common attribute.
“One trait right off the bat is they have to love football,” Barnes said.
It’s a requirement, not just for late-blooming prospects, but anyone Iowa will offer. The Hawkeyes fashion themselves as a blue-collar program, one built upon the work and development of 2- and 3-star players. It’s hard to put in the necessary time and effort without a love for the sport.
It matters for everyone, but especially for those committing late. These players are works in progress and likely need time to develop.
2. Planning matters
When it comes to recruiting, the Hawkeyes are a lot like the Boy Scouts. They prepare for anything.
Iowa has a backup option — it’s part of a second-tier or Plan B recruiting list — at every position. The Hawkeyes don’t want to be caught off-guard with signing day approaching.
“The biggest thing is making sure you have depth,” Barnes said, “the same way you are trying to build depth on a football team. You are trying to build depth in recruiting too.
“Otherwise you will be scrambling and when you scramble it’s typically a miss and that’s what we try to avoid and really hope to avoid that.”
Depth is what allowed Iowa to seamlessly go from junior college linebacker Wil Honas, a top target, when he picked Nebraska to South Dakota prep linebacker Seth Benson on Dec. 21. Ten days later, Iowa locked up Benson.
3. The process doesn’t change
Iowa recruits players late in the process the same way it does anyone else. The Hawkeyes put in plenty of leg work, talking to anyone from assistant coaches to school secretaries to opposing head coaches to learn if a prospect is an ideal fit for Iowa’s system and culture.
“You get all that information and you put together a profile and you go from there,” defensive line coach Reese Morgan said in December 2016, “but it all kinds of starts with coach Ferentz — everything we do. You have to know what kind of young man is going to be successful here.”
4. Be patient
It’s a phrase Ferentz loves to repeat. Players are out there, programs need to find them.
Iowa’s 2018 quarterback recruiting highlighted the importance of poise. The Hawkeyes didn’t secure an early commitment at the position and their options were dwindling as the regular season winded down before offering 3-star California quarterback Spencer Petras in December. He committed, and signed before the month was out.
“Our quarterback situation, I wasn’t patient this year,” Barnes said. “[Quarterbacks] coach [Ken O’Keefe] and Coach Ferentz were. I was a guy banging down their door every day with a little bit of coach we have to find something, but it shows true every single year. Be patient and don’t rush to do something.”
5. Don’t reach
When a team rushes to do something it usually ends up in a team missing on a prospect. When a team does reach, it results usually aren’t good. At least, that is the experience for Barnes, who spent three years at Vanderbilt.
“I’ve been places where you reach late and it comes back to bite you and you may lose that guy the next year or you may have him for three years,” Barnes said, “but you have to do your homework and make sure you know what you are getting.”
Iowa isn’t afraid of holding back a scholarship and giving it to a worthy walk-on if they don’t find the recruit they want.
But when they do, the Hawkeyes go after him with the hopes that the recruit becomes the next Jewell, or Wadley.
“We knew plenty about both guys,” Barnes said. “Obviously, they were taken the week before, but we knew enough to know we had all of our ducks in a row and we knew enough about the kid from the high school coach, everyone around them, we had a pretty good feeling what we were going to get.”