IOWA CITY, Iowa — The backbone for any college football program is rooted in its upperclassmen.
Such was the case with Iowa’s 2016 squad with seniors C.J. Beathard, Desmond King and Jaleel Johnson leading the way. But in many ways, winning eight games last season — and 12 in 2015 — is borderline miraculous based on the program’s attrition in its 2012 and 2013 classes.
The 2012 class, which included Beathard and Johnson, had 10 players (42 percent) leave with eligibility remaining. It’s even worse with 2013.
Backup RB Derrick Mitchell Jr. and reserve WR Jonathan Parker both announced this month they will transfer after their May graduations. That brings the 2013 class up to 12 defections, meaning only 10 players will have completed their eligibility while at Iowa. Three of those players — King, LeShun Daniels and Damond Powell — have graduated or will graduate by May.
Only seven players remain on Iowa’s roster from its 2013 class and six are starters: LB Josey Jewell, RB Akrum Wadley, OT Ike Boettger, OG Sean Welsh, WR Matt VandeBerg and TE Jon Wisnieski. They form the foundation of Iowa’s 2017 squad. But the attrition is noticeable — and impactful — at a developmental program such as Iowa.
“Attrition is our enemy because one thing I know, a guy can’t play his best as a senior (if he’s not at Iowa),” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s one of our program goals. He can’t graduate if he’s not here after Year 1, Year 2, Year 3. So that’s what we’re looking for, guys that can run the whole race. It’s a hard race, college football anywhere is tough, it’s a challenge and competing in any sport in the Big Ten is a challenge.
“You just try to identify as best you can people that have that capability and also meet the demands that go with being an athlete, graduating from a Big Ten school and doing things socially that are going to be, you know, people that will look at you and respect you for the way you live.”
Like all schools, Iowa spends significant time and money recruiting top athletes. But the school has refined its approach to find not only the best available players, but to make sure they are the right fit.
“At the end of the day, we’re looking for more than the skill set, more than the ranks and stars — it’s a set of characteristics here,” Iowa recruiting director Tyler Barnes said. “Can they thrive in this culture? Can they fit here? Are they blue collar, hard, tough, tough-nosed players? Is football important to them? It’s some of the questions you don’t think about a whole lot and sometimes that means more than what you see on film and the offers that he has, especially at this place.”
Barnes identified some of the traits the staff zeroed in on during this year’s recruiting process. Iowa never strays far from its values, but the staff was even more diligent in checking out prospects. The goal was ensuring the upcoming group has the proper mental toughness to go along with the talent to play Big Ten football. The coaching staff won’t know how the prospects turn out for several years, but it likes what it sees.
“The model is there,” Barnes said. “It’s just a matter of trying to be right more than you’re wrong. In some years you’re going to miss a little bit, in other years you’re going to hit on guys. The biggest thing is making sure we don’t get away from what we know and the guys that have been successful. That’s our biggest thing. We’re constantly looking back at every class and other schools like ourselves that recruit similar to how we do. We’re just trying to look to see where some of the similarities are and maybe we need to get back to the fundamentals.”
“I think 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.”
Iowa football 2013 recruiting class
|Derrick Mitchell Jr.||RB||Will transfer|
|Jonathan Parker||WR||Will transfer|
|Brant Gressel||DT||Iowa (school only)|