IOWA CITY, Iowa — On the surface, evaluating a high school freshman or sophomore seems difficult.
Some kids are yet to hit puberty. Others are just starting to use weights or are just beginning to develop as players.
On the inside, it’s far from the case. Evaluating an underclassmen isn’t that different than a senior.
“The talent part of it isn’t tough,” Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said. “You can turn on the film and see that this kid is a really good football player.”
What makes recruiting a 14-year-old difficult is what makes recruiting an 18-year-old difficult. Iowa is about finding a player with the right makeup to thrive in coach Kirk Ferentz’s blue-collar, no-nonsense culture.
It requires as much evaluation of prospect’s mental makeup, what drives him and who he is as it does his game highlights.
“The grit, how the kid responds to adversity, those things you can’t tell and that’s what really sets kids apart when they get to our level,” Bell said. “The amount of grit that they have. Their ability to respond to adversity and go through the tough times because there will be tough times.”
Prospects grow and develop over time, but Bell views grit as a it’s there or it isn’t trait. A player he evaluates as a sophomore won’t magically show up with it as a senior.
The Hawkeyes focus so much on intangibles because they know who they are. A few 4- or 5-star prospects will join every recruiting class, but the bulk of the group is 2- and 3-star diamonds in the rough, playes in need of some polishing before they can take on the Big Ten.
If a player doesn’t embrace, or even excel, in a growth and developmental environment he won’t make it at Iowa — regardless of his age.
“Part of our job when out recruiting is we want to make sure that we have all the information we have to make sure we are bringing the right kid in here that will fit what we are asking to do,” Bell said. “We won’t compromise anything because you have a responsibility, not just to the other coaches, but a responsibility to the players in the locker room as well.”
When Iowa finds a player who meets all of its criteria, like 2021 in-state defensive tackle Griffin Liddle, an offer is made.
The Hawkeyes have offered 27 Class of 2020 prospects and four Class of 2021 prospects.
It’s a must in the current recruiting world. An increasing number of players are placing a high value on programs that recruit them early. Other programs are extending offers to more players than ever before, including underclassmen, so they can play the “we believed in you before anyone else” card.
If Iowa had its way, very few underclassmen would likely receive offers. The Hawkeyes prefer to be patient on the recruiting trail. They were for years and it’s why Liddle’s coach didn’t expect them to offer his player so soon.
“I’ve never seen them do this,” Bettendorf (Iowa) High School football coach Aaron Wiley told Land on 10 in March.
Bell doesn’t have an age limit when it comes to extending an offer. He considers if he watched a player in person and if the prospect shows legitimate interest in Iowa through their conversations and by visiting campus.
Iowa encounters problems when evaluating prospects. Academic and mental makeup questions are common. It’s part of the reason the Hawkeyes offer fewer than other Big Ten programs.
Yet when Iowa knows when it finds the right prospect, even if he isn’t old enough to drive.
“I firmly believe this, that all Division I athletes are made when the sperm hits the egg,” Bell said. “There is nothing else that goes on after that that is going to go on from high school to be a college level player. It’s about size. It’s about speed. It’s about just the mental attitude.”