IOWA CITY, Iowa — Two questions hang over Texas recruiting like humidity on a hot Dallas night.
Why should I play for you?
Why is your program the best to help me reach the NFL?
Iowa has recruited Texas for years, but the Hawkeyes focused more on the state in the last month than in the last year. If the Hawkeyes are to see a return on their recruiting investment, their response must resonate with recruits. It’s one of the most important things they can do to be successful in the Lone Star State.
“Some guys are more open to leaving the state, and if you have a good answer to the questions, you can land someone,” Dave Campbell’s Texas Football college football insider/editor David Ubben said. “But it starts with that response and it better be pretty good.”
More than oil flows from Texas
Those questions aren’t unique to Texas. Recruits across the country ask them. But Texas recruits need answers because they have options.
The hierarchy of Texas is just like that around college football. The blue bloods such as Texas, Alabama and Ohio State fight over the 5-star talent.
The difference with Texas is the breadth and depth of the next tier of prospects capable of becoming college stars and sought-after NFL prospects.
Iowa experienced this first-hand as cornerback Josh Jackson blossomed from a 3-star prospect to likely first-round pick last season.
Jackson is one of several cases of mid-level Texas recruits becoming college stars in the 2018 draft class, and he isn’t the highest-profile example. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and a possible top-10 pick, was also a 3-star recruit.
“The list of guys who have been stars at the next level and been second-tier recruits is a long list,” Ubben said. “So if you can grab a couple of those guys you never know. Those guys might develop into being stars.”
Selling the Hawkeyes
Iowa designs its recruiting message for this type of recruit. The Hawkeyes aren’t afraid to offer 4-star prospects, including Dallas Bishop Dunne cornerback Marquez Beason, but do most of their recruiting work with developing 3-star players.
Iowa’s ability to mention Jackson’s name as proof of a Texan the staff developed is likely to resonate better with players in the state.
“It won’t hurt,” Ubben said. “Kids are all about right now and what you are doing today.”
Iowa can do more than talk about the present. The Hawkeyes pride themselves on being a developmental program and can cite their long history under Ferentz of transforming anyone from walk-ons to highly-ranked prospects into NFL players.
“We always tell those stories to everybody,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “There [is] opportunity here. If we invite you to come here, it doesn’t matter how you get here, you’re in the program and what do you want to do with that opportunity? How hard are you going to run with it.”
Iowa and Texas
Iowa started mining the state for talent following the hire of former Texas coaches Greg Davis and Bobby Kennedy in 2012.
Iowa offered 94 players and signed eight of them, including Jackson, in the 2013-16 classes.
Still, it’s a surprise Iowa is making a push in Texas again. Davis retired and Kennedy’s contract expired after the 2017 season.
It looked like their departure, plus four high-profile Texas de-commitments from the Class of 2017, closed the door on Iowa’s Lone Star State connection.
For the second time in three years, Iowa didn’t sign a Texas player in 2018 and only offered four players in the class.
But come this winter, the Hawkeyes started throwing out offers as if Texas players were in-state prospects. Fourteen Class of 2019 or 2020 players received Iowa offers.
Special teams coordinator LeVar Woods spent the last few years spot-recruiting Dallas, and his efforts led to several promising targets in 2019.
“He has built a relationship with those coaches and those schools,” Hawkeyes recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said. “They know us. They know who we are. They aren’t tied into sending their kid to [Texas] A&M or Texas. Those kids go all over the country.”
Dallas is 800 miles from Iowa City, Iowa. Distance will always be a roadblock for recruiting outside the Midwest. Getting recruits on campus is a challenge, even if a direct flight to the Eastern Iowa Airport makes the trip easier.
Some prospects won’t take to Iowa’s sales pitch. Beason didn’t. The Hawkeyes didn’t make his final four.
Iowa will intrigue others. Class of 2020 athlete Jaden Hullaby took part in junior day on Sunday.
Landing Hullaby, or anyone else from the state, depends on the ability to sell a program and the path to the NFL.
It always does in Texas.