IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa can read the room. Teenagers aren’t waiting to commit as seniors. Junior year may be too late for some prospects.
Yes, the recruiting process is moving faster than ever, seemingly at a Usain Bolt-esque pace, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.
How does that mesh with a self-admitted, old-school football program, one that doesn’t seem to mind if it’s the tortoise instead of the hare? By finding a way to embrace both the fast-changing world and who it is.
“We need quality, not so much quantity,” Iowa director of scouting Tyler Barnes said. “(Our early commitments) may end up being a higher number and it’s certainly moving that way, the national trend is. That doesn’t mean we are going to move with the trend. We have to stick with what we are at Iowa.”
Adjusting to the times
They are, though, adjusting to the times. The Hawkeyes typically offered about 40 juniors a year ahead of their signing day, Rivals’ Blair Sanderson said. The number jumped to 75 for the class of 2015 in February 2014 and remained in that area for the last few years, he added.
The Hawkeyes had offered 61 2018 prospects as of National Signing Day on Feb. 1 and are up to 68 as of Monday.
“They have definitely changed over the years,” Sanderson said.
Iowa is being more aggressive, but aggressive means different things for different programs. The Hawkeyes are doing more, but aren’t jumping into early offers the way other programs in the Big Ten or in-state are doing. Northwestern is the only Big Ten program without a new coach with fewer offers than Iowa.
2018 offers for select Big Ten and in-state programs
Note: Figures according to Rivals
Speeding up the evaluation process
The Hawkeyes are increasing their early offers by trying to streamline their process. Film evaluation is only part of the picture. The foundation of Kirk Ferentz’s program is built on development and a blue-collar mentality. A player without a specific mindset won’t succeed in the black and gold, they feel.
“The whole key in anything is reminding ourselves of what we are, who we are and what we want to be about,” Ferentz said. “That hasn’t changed dramatically.”
So defensive line coach Reese Morgan now does research on recruits earlier than ever. Meeting with the family and high school coach is just the start. He’ll talk to anyone he can at a school, be it a secretary or a custodian, and opposing coaches to get an idea of the recruit’s makeup as much as his football ability.
“You put a profile together and go from there,” Morgan said in December.
Iowa tends to target early the kind of no-brainer prospect any team would covet, Sanderson said. Twenty-eight of Iowa’s 68 offers are of 4-star or 5-star Rivals prospects. Thirty-four of the prospects are ranked by Rivals in the top 20 at their position.
“They just kind of know what they are looking for, and when they find it, they are not afraid to be the first offer,” Sanderson said. “But also because they do that due diligence, they might end up being the third, fourth or fifth, because other teams might jump in there earlier.”
Thirteen Iowa offers aren’t yet ranked by Rivals, and the Hawkeyes were the second team to extend a scholarship to 2018 Wisconsin running back Henry Geil this past weekend.
The early offers are paying dividends. Iowa secured 23 2016 commits by August 2015 and 16 2017 commitments by the end of June 2016, including its two U.S Army All-Americans, 5-star defensive end A.J. Epenesa and 4-star offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs.
Both committed by mid-January 2016, and Epenesa is the team’s first 5-star recruit since 2005.
“The thing I’m impressed more with is the way he thinks and the way he’s made up mentally,” Ferentz said. “He approaches things the right way. He’s hungry.”
Barnes believes Iowa can operate in this space, moving at a recruiting speed it’s comfortable with, because of the stability and mindset of the program, forged over the last 18 seasons with Ferentz as coach.
“We have a brand,” Barnes said. “We have an identity.”
It allows the Hawkeyes to be a little more patient. Additional time is always valued by a program that doesn’t mind taking it slow.
“There are some times you have to move fast, the end of the cycle, we had to move with some urgency,” Barnes said. “But in the spring and summer, I don’t think we have to move with some urgency. We can move at our pace, and I think we’ll end up having a pretty decent number (of early commits) similar to last year and the year before, (even) with everything being sped up.”