IOWA CITY, Iowa — The traditional National Signing Day seems anti-climactic for most people around the Iowa football program since the Hawkeyes signed 90 percent of their class in December.
But that doesn’t mean the second signing period isn’t important. Iowa has two commits who are expected to sign: South Hamilton (Iowa) linebacker Logan Klemp and Belleville (Mich.) safety Kaevon Merriweather. Plus, Indianapolis defensive backs Julius Brents and D.J. Johnson publicly will make their signings known (although they officially signed with Iowa in December).
As the world gets wrapped up in the final few hours of intense recruiting and the accompanying announcements, here are five observations about Iowa’s 2018 recruiting class on the brink of the traditional signing day.
Iowa made a significant push at defensive back this year, and it has paid off handsomely in this recruiting class. Two days before Signing Day, the Hawkeyes have commitments or signatures from six defensive backs, including at least five who will be on scholarship this fall.
Rivals grades two of the defensive backs as 4-star recruits — Dallas Craddieth of St. Louis and Julius Brents of Indianapolis. Another Indianapolis defensive back, D.J. Johnson, was a 4-star last summer and turned down offers from LSU and Notre Dame to play at Iowa.
The Hawkeyes picked up two under-the-radar types in Terry Roberts (Erie, Pa.) and Kaevon Merriweather (Belleville, Mich.). Another defensive back, Riley Moss of Ankeny (Iowa) Centennial, expects to grayshirt this fall.
Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker’s expertise in developing talent has tilted these athletes toward Iowa City. Three of the Big Ten’s last six award-winning defensive backs were Hawkeyes — Micah Hyde (2012), Desmond King (2015) and Josh Jackson (2017). Hyde and King were impact players on NFL rosters last season, and Jackson is a likely first-round selection this April in the NFL draft. That’s why many recruits have dubbed Iowa as DBU — Defensive Back University.
Iowa’s secondary appeared depleted at times last fall, especially at safety. Not only do the Hawkeyes have a chance to replenish the roster’s depth, they have a chance to excel well into the future.
Receiver a priority
Iowa made wide receiver a priority for the second straight season and rightly so. The Hawkeyes finished 118th in passing yards per game in 2016 and jumped 25 spots to 93rd last season. That’s nowhere near good enough, even with a run-based offense.
Last year, Iowa brought in four scholarship wide receivers in Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Max Cooper and Henry Marchese. Only Marchese redshirted. This year, the Hawkeyes already have four wide receivers in the class: Tyrone Tracy, Calvin Lockett, Nico Ragaini and Samson Evans (who could switch to running back). With the incredible amount of attrition the position has sustained — no receivers remain from the 2014 or 2015 recruiting classes — Iowa had to attack the group with numbers.
The eight receivers signed the last two years come from seven different states and there’s a geographic symmetry attached to their recruitment. Smith-Marsette (New Jersey) and Ragaini (Connecticut) come from the Northeast. Smith (Mississippi) and Lockett (Florida) are from the South. Marchese and Evans are Chicagoland products, while Cooper (Milwaukee area) and Tracy (Indianapolis) are from other Midwest metro areas.
On (to) Wisconsin
For the third consecutive year, the Hawkeyes invaded rival territory on Highway 151 and pulled away three recruits from Wisconsin. This year, Iowa picked up tackle Jack Plumb and running back Henry Geil from the Green Bay area, while also pulling out offensive lineman Cody Ince from west-central Wisconsin.
Last year, Iowa signed Max Cooper from Waukesha, punter Ryan Gersonde from Milwaukee and defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon from Kenosha. Nixon had to spend one semester in junior college before he was able to join the Hawkeyes, which he did last month. In 2015, Iowa snagged quarterback Nate Stanley from Menomonie, running back Toren Young from Madison and Kristian Welch from Iola.
Assistant defensive coordinator Seth Wallace hit Wisconsin hard the two previous years, while Wisconsin native and new offensive line coach Tom Polasek recruited the area during this cycle.
“Seth has been up there, now Tim for obvious reasons works up there a little bit,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s kind of the nature of who we are, what we are.”
Iowa’s recruiting interest in Pennsylvania and anywhere north of New Jersey had waned since Ken O’Keefe first left the program in early 2012. It wasn’t a natural region for any of the assistants, and the general lack of success forced Iowa to allocate resources in other areas.
Almost by accident, Iowa dipped into western Pennsylvania in 2017 with safety Geno Stone. Iowa sought a defensive back late, and Stone was available. With O’Keefe back in the fold as quarterbacks coach, Iowa again has looked eastward and plucked two recruits from that region. One was Erie, Pa., defensive back Terry Roberts. The other is West Haven, Conn., receiver Nico Ragaini.
It’s undetermined if this is Iowa just dabbling in specific cases or if there’s an eastern push. Either way the Hawkeyes no longer are ignoring the northeast.
Rivals ranked five in-state prospects as 3 stars or better. Iowa claimed the top three prospects, while in-state rival Iowa State picked up the fourth and fifth candidates.
The most acclaimed recruit was 4-star defensive end John Waggoner of West Des Moines Dowling. With loads of interest throughout the country, Waggoner ultimately picked Iowa shortly before early signing day in December. Waggoner is a 3-star player on the final 247Sports composite rankings, but he is rated as the No. 21 player at his position in the nation.
Iowa had no issues locking up high 3-star prospects Dillon Doyle and Tyler Linderbaum. Both grew up within 20 minutes of Kinnick Stadium. Doyle played linebacker at Iowa City West, is the son of Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle and already has enrolled. Linderbaum lives in Solon, which is about 10 miles north of Iowa City, and is slated to play defensive tackle.
The two recruits who selected the Cyclones are offensive lineman Trevor Downing of Creston and defensive end Zach Petersen of Eldridge. Iowa fought fiercely for Downing, but Iowa State’s agricultural school tilted him toward the Cyclones. Iowa showed passing interest in Petersen, who became a fast-rising recruit last fall. Petersen picked the Cyclones without an offer from the Hawkeyes.