IOWA CITY, Iowa — The call from Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan about Griffin Liddle last Sunday didn’t surprise Aaron Wiley. After all, Liddle attended junior day that afternoon.
No, the surprise came when Morgan said the Hawkeyes offered the 14-year-old defensive tackle.
“I’ve never seen them do this,” the Bettendorf (Iowa) High School coach said.
It’s rare for Iowa to offer a high school freshman; Liddle is only the third Class of 2021 player offered by the Hawkeyes.
Truthfully, however, the news shouldn’t feel too shocking. If the Hawkeyes are going to throw a scholarship at anyone it’s going to be someone such as Liddle — and not because of his 6-foot-3, 265-pound frame.
He can’t drive yet, but he is already Iowa’s ideal kind of recruit.
— Griffin Liddle (@griffliddle) March 4, 2018
The Hawkeyes spend as much time assessing intangibles and off-field character traits as they do with on-field evaluation.
Selflessness, physicality and a desire to improve — traits which conjure images of hard hats and lunch pails — are what the coaching staff looks for.
Coach Kirk Ferentz craves this kind of player.
Liddle showed himself to be one as a freshman. Technically, he started doing it in eighth grade.
That is when he began lifting with the Bettendorf football program in advance of his freshman season. The way Liddle attacked his workouts, like an upperclassman, quickly grabbed Wiley’s attention.
“It’s how he goes about his business, work ethic,” Wiley said. “He absolutely just kills it in the weight room and the way he approaches that part of it. He is mature beyond his years that way.”
Wiley didn’t want to bring Liddle up to varsity, but a need on the line combined with the freshman’s play forced his hand. Liddle fit in physically with the varsity team during preseason camp.
Any maturity concerns about a freshman handling the rigors of playing with 18-year-olds disappeared when Liddle quickly showed the ability to adapt to his surroundings.
“He’ll do everything right,” Wiley said. “The workout part of it and the offseason part of it. Those things are through the roof with him.”
Liddle more than held his own. He improved as the season went on, finishing with 20.5 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
“I thought I handled it well,” Liddle said “I wasn’t very nervous. I was calm and ready to go. I wanted to play some football.”
It’s the kind of quote Ferentz wants to hear from a prospect, especially the football part.
Iowa invited Liddle to its junior day about a week ago. The move surprised him, but not nearly as much as when Ferentz offered the scholarship Sunday.
After the shock wore off, one though entered his mind.
“That just told me I need to keep working harder and harder to get to the next level of football,” Liddle said.
Again, it’s the kind of response Ferentz salivates over. But intangibles don’t mean much if a player doesn’t show a Big Ten-caliber ability on the field.
Liddle is already big, strong and physical, and holds his own on the defensive line as a freshman. He also took fifth place as a Class 3A heavyweight at state. He’s still growing, packing on 30 pounds since football season.
His potential is intriguing and Wiley won’t even guess as to what Liddle’s ceiling is.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I am pretty excited to watch him as a sophomore. He’ll be 15 by then.”
Historically, Ferentz is conservative with offers. Iowa waits until later in the process to throw them out.
But 21st-century recruiting doesn’t allow that anymore. The Hawkeyes adapted by offering high-end prospects early. Several of those players became centerpieces of the last two classes.
Iowa offering Liddle says the team believes he is a similar kind of prospect. Yes, it’s surprising Iowa extended an in-state 2021 player.
But it shouldn’t be. This is the new world order in recruiting.
And, most importantly, Liddle checks every box for what Ferentz wants in a recruit.