IOWA CITY, Iowa — If Charles Dickens covered football recruiting instead of writing brilliant prose in the early 1800s, he might have a new twist on Iowa’s class of 2017.
Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” might instead become “A Tale of Two Classes.” But his opening words would remain the same in both situations, because both Iowa stories encompass the best of times and the worst of times.
While the Hawkeyes’ 2017 recruiting class lacks the historical significance of the French Revolution, football matters in the United States and in Iowa. The class opened full of gusto with high-profile commitments. Then a few months later, there were public departures as sour as their commitments were sweet. Let’s take a look back at the formation of Iowa’s 2017 class with help from Rivals on dates.
2015: Local, local, local
There are few high-powered FBS players in Iowa, and the Hawkeyes try to identify them early. From mid-summer of 2015 through the end of the year, Iowa secured three line-of-scrimmage prospects from within its borders. Defensive lineman Coy Kirkpatrick of Madrid in central Iowa became the first to commit on June 9, 2015.
In December, two nearby prospects — lineman Tristan Wirfs of Mount Vernon and tight end Jacob Coons of Solon — opted for the Hawkeyes. Wirfs eventually became a Rivals’ 4-star and participated in the 2016 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Kirkpatrick and Coons are 3-star prospects.
Jan. 17, 2016: The Epenesa Earthquake
Prospects like A.J. Epenesa rarely pick schools like Iowa. They might flirt with the Hawkeyes — like Justin Hilliard, Alex Kozan or Seantrel Henderson — but they usually pick a sexier school. Well, A.J. Epenesa, the son of former Iowa player Epenesa Epenesa, found an early comfort level with the Hawkeyes.
Then on an unofficial visit more than a year ago, Epenesa ended his recruitment with a commitment. Epenesa, a Rivals’ 5-star and the nation’s top strongside defensive end, could have selected any team in the country, but he picked Iowa. He’s never wavered, and the Hawkeyes are darn glad he’s in their camp.
Loyalty Over Everything #Swarm17
— AJ Epenesa (@ajepenesa24) November 2, 2016
Spring 2016: Collecting solid prospects
The Hawkeyes padded their recruiting wares throughout 2016 spring practice. Iowa added Kansas City-area defensive back Djimon Colbert, in-state offensive tackle Mark Kallenberger, Chicago-area running back Ivory Kelly-Martin and Mid-Prairie (Iowa) defensive lineman Levi Duwa in March and April. Kallenberger, in particular, was a vital addition.
The spring period ended with the biggest pick-up of all in 4-star running back Eno Benjamin of Wylie, Texas. Benjamin vowed to start a talent pipeline from Texas to Iowa City. He was just the first of several Texas commitments for the Hawkeyes in the span of about 10 weeks.
I am very excited to announce that I will be furthering my education and football career at the University of Iowa! pic.twitter.com/TUjcsC1Wy5
— Mark Kallenberger (@m_kallenberger) March 31, 2016
June/July 2016: Boom!
Not since 2004-05 was the Hawkeyes program as hot in recruiting as it was in June. Iowa picked up commitments from 3-star quarterback Peyton Mansell (June 20), wide receiver Gavin Holmes (June 27), 3-star cornerback Matt Hankins (June 27) — all from Texas. Illinois defensive back Camron Harrell and Mississippi wide receiver Brandon Smith both hopped on board June 26.
In an odd recruitment, North Fayette (Iowa) 4-star defensive lineman Juan Harris, who initially picked Iowa in 2014, de-committed from Iowa for the third and final time. Harris, who moved to Janesville, Wis., has since committed to Indiana — twice.
Perhaps the most important commitment was 4-star cornerback Chevin Calloway of Dallas on July 11. He aired his announcement over Periscope and joined Epenesa as one of the program’s highest-rated recruits in the last decade. Considering Calloway’s offer list and the fact he has no ties to Iowa, it had a “wow” factor to it.
By late summer, cornerback Josh Turner (Aug. 11) of Delray Beach, Fla., and Texas wide receiver Beau Corrales (Sept. 15) also committed to Iowa. The Hawkeyes were up to 17 recruits and appeared to have capitalized on their 12-win regular season in 2015.
September: Calloway drifts away
By mid-September, Calloway complained to multiple outlets that Iowa’s staff had not maintained communication with him and he planned to take visits to other schools. Nebraska, Arkansas and Mississippi all continued to recruit him hard. By October, Calloway drifted away, and he officially de-committed on Nov. 8.
Oct. 23, 2016: D-day and decline
Benjamin was the ringleader of the early summer Texas roundup. Benjamin was active on social media, interacted with Iowa fans and promoted the program in every way possible. He became a rock star in Hawkeyeland.
But Benjamin wanted to make a few trips to other schools, something which is non-negotiable under Kirk Ferentz’s offer sheet. So whether Benjamin did it — with or without the Iowa staff knowing, he took visits to Arizona State and Missouri — a disagreement ensued and Benjamin officially de-committed on Oct. 23.
I am officially opening up my recruitment!
Thank you & God Bless?? pic.twitter.com/Q3qILK12ni
— EB5™ (@eno_benjamin5) October 23, 2016
Benjamin then became instrumental in ushering some of Iowa’s other committed recruits out the door. Corrales, a 2-star until he committed to Iowa, bolted to explore his options on Nov. 18. Holmes dropped a bigger bomb on Nov. 22 when he de-committed over Twitter and accused the Iowa staff of hypocrisy, because the Hawkeyes deny committed prospects permission to visit other programs but invite recruits committed elsewhere to visit their campus.
In January, Benjamin landed with Arizona State, while Holmes and Corrales picked Baylor and North Carolina, respectively.
— Land Of 10 (@landof10) November 22, 2016
Filling out the lineup
With five de-commitments, Iowa coaches played catch-up after the regular season, especially at wide receiver. They first secured a commitment from overlooked 2-star wide receiver Max Cooper from Waukesha, Wis., on Dec. 14. The Hawkeyes added to the wide receiver corps on Jan. 24 with 2-star Henry Marchese of Lincolnshire, Ill.