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Iowa dips toe in JUCO pool this year

[ 2 ] January 31, 2012 |

Recruiting is like grocery shopping for football coaches. And over the last 13 years under Kirk Ferentz, the Iowa coaches have seldom pushed the cart down the junior college aisle.

Iowa had given just a handful of JUCO players scholarships over the last 10 years before bringing in two with this year’s recruiting class.

“Most years, that’s not our philosophy,” Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson said. “Our philosophy is we’re going to try and develop a team through the high school level. Hopefully bring in a kid as a freshman, and four or five years later, they leave a better player.

Johnson said the Hawkeyes embrace being labeled a “developmental” program.

“At Iowa, we’re not going to get four- and five-star guys down the entire list of our recruiting class,” Johnson said. “We attempt to recruit the guys we feel comfortable with.”

This winter, however, the Hawkeyes found themselves a little shorthanded at a couple of positions. Johnson said the coaches went out to the junior college ranks to find defensive linemen and running backs.

“We dipped our foot in the water to see if we could find anybody we felt comfortable with in those positions,” Johnson said.

Iowa ended up with an offensive lineman and a quarterback.

The Hawkeyes have signed Cody Sokol, a quarterback from Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, and Eric Simmons, an offensive lineman from Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.

Johnson said Sokol was a player with Iowa ties who they were very comfortable with even though Iowa already had three quarterbacks returning this spring — seniors James Vandenberg and John Wienke, plus redshirt freshman Jake Rudock.

“Jake is doing really well for us right now, but it was an opportunity for us to bring in another guy that has experience,” Johnson said.

Junior Riley Reiff leaving school early for the NFL helped open the door to add Simmons.

“It was a little bit more of a need for us,” Johnson said. “Eric was a guy Reece (Morgan) felt very comfortable with, and we have a close relationship with those guys at Iowa Western.”

The last JUCO player Iowa got also was from Iowa Western. The Hawkeyes picked up Dan Heiar last year, but his football career was derailed by a car accident in the spring.

Before that, Iowa cherry-picked only a few JUCO players over eight years.

But back when Ferentz and his coaches first took over at Iowa, they needed immediate help. They brought in seven JUCO players over three years.

You might remember a few of them. Brad Banks finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, and his cousin, C.J. Jones, returned a kickoff for a touchdown to open the Orange Bowl against USC.

Derrick Pickens earned Defensive Player of the Game in the 2001 Alamo Bowl. A.J. Blazek was a starter on those early offensive lines.

“It has to be a great situation for a JUCO kid to come in,” Johnson said. “Most are in a junior college for a reason, whether something in their background, or academically.

“We live in a fishbowl, we have to make sure we’re putting that person in the right situation to be successful.”

Recruiting anaylist Tom Lemming said Iowa is following the correct model of how to use junior colleges.

“You bring in one or two that can fit in and play right away,” Lemming said. “More than that will screw up your high school recruiting.”

“We don’t have ties with the junior colleges that other people might have,” Johnson said. “But on a year-to-year basis, it’s not going to be something that’s really strong in our minds.”

And as for the defensive line and running backs? Well, Iowa is bringing in several high school seniors to fill those spots.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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