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Harty: Ugly duckling recruits don’t always become swans

[ 0 ] February 5, 2013 |

Kirk Ferentz wasn’t on top of the college football world a decade ago, but he could see it from where he stood.

The Iowa football program was in the midst of an unprecedented run of success from 2002 to 2004, compiling records of 11-2, 10-3 and 10-2, respectively, in each of the three seasons.

But it wasn’t just the winning that made Ferentz a genius in the opinion of many back then, but also how he achieved success.

He did it by relying on rosters filled mostly with underdogs and over-achievers.

He did it by taking players that other BCS coaches either ignored or had no clue even existed and turned many of them into stars.

He did it by taking advantage of Iowa’s steady flow of walk-on prospects.

And he did it by literally putting players in the right positions to succeed, three examples being Dallas Clark’s move from linebacker to tight end, Robert Gallery’s move from tight end to offensive tackle and Eric Steinbach’s move from tight end to offensive guard.

Now turn the clock back to today and Ferentz is still mostly doing the same thing. It’s just not working like it did a decade ago, or as recently as 2009 when Iowa finished 11-2 and defeated Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Iowa is coming off a 4-8 season, has lost 17 of 29 games dating back to late in the 2010 season and is the verge of signing a 2013 recruiting class that according to some scouting services might rank as low as 10th in the Big Ten Conference.

Ferentz will meet with reporters Wednesday afternoon to discuss his 2013 recruiting class, presumably after all the members of the class have signed their letters of intent. Wednesday marks the start of the national signing period for football.

Iowa is expected to have at least 20 players sign letters of intent, with Chicago linebacker Reggie Spearman the latest to climb aboard Tuesday night, although, reportedly not without some theatrics. Spearman, according to Allen Trieu from Scout.com, annouced for Syracuse, but then removed a Syracuse hat from his head and replaced it with an Iowa hat while announcing for the Hawkeyes.

St. Louis running back Jonathan Parker also will announce his choice between Iowa and Tulsa Wednesday morning, according to Hawkeye Insider.com.

But regardless of what happens between now and the completion of Iowa’s 2013 recruiting class, it is what it is … a typical Ferentz class filled with many recruits that were passed over by most of the elite BCS programs.

There are a few exceptions such as West Des Moines Dowling tight end Jon Wisnieski, who had scholarship offers from Nebraska, Kansas State, Mississippi and Iowa State among others.

Ohio defensive back Solomon Warfield reportedly had over 20 scholarship offers from schools such as Arizona, Arizona State, Michigan State, Penn State, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

Minnesota defensive back Malik Rucker also reportedly had an offer from Arizona State in addition to offers from Texas Tech, North Carolina State, the home-state Gophers and several other BCS schools.

And offensive linemen Colin Goebel and Sean Welsh both had Miami (Fla.) among their more than a dozen scholarships offers.

On the flipside, none of Iowa’s 2013 recruits had an offer from Michigan, Ohio State or Notre Dame, nor are any ranked above a three-star on a five-star scale by Scout.com or Rivals.com.

It’s easy to downplay the recruiting rankings and to dismiss them as unreliable hype when Iowa is winning two-thirds or more of its games, but not when it’s losing two-thirds of its game, as was the case last season.

Iowa’s 2013 recruiting class isn’t necessarily doomed because of not having any four- or five-star prospects. It’s just looked at with more skepticism because of the current state of the program.

Ironically, the first player to commit to Iowa’s 2013 class was four-star defensive end and Indianapolis native David Kenney. He got the ball rolling by committing to the Hawkeyes last April, but has since switched his commitment to Indiana, where his father had been a member of the football staff until recently taking a job at Indiana State.

Four-star defensive back Delano Hill, who is from Detroit, also switched his commitment from Iowa to Michigan when the Wolverines finally offered him a scholarship in mid-December.

Stocking up at receiver was a priority for the Iowa coaches and they responded by landing at least five receivers in the 2013 class, including junior-college standout Damond Powell. He averaged 30 yards per catch this past season, but still reportedly only had scholarship offers from Iowa and Ohio, to whom he was previously committed.

Former Iowa all-America defensive back and retired NFL star Bob Sanders had those same two scholarship offers when he signed with Iowa in 2000. His story of defying the odds is well-documented, but stories like his don’t seem to be happening as much as they used to under Ferentz.

The focus for now is on the 2013 recruiting class because of signing day, but the buzz that comes with adding new players eventually will fade. The only fair and accurate way to evaluate a recruiting class is to reserve judgment.

Iowa State landed offensive lineman Jake Campos from West Des Moines Valley, who is widely regarded as the top instate recruit for 2013. And while it remains to be seen if Campos will live up to the hype, it never looks good when a kid from instate picks the Cyclones over the Hawkeyes. It looks ever worse, though, when you’re struggling.

That’s why it meant a great deal when instate juniors Ross Pierschbacher and Jay Scheel recently committed to Iowa. Pierschbacher is from Cedar Falls and is considered an elite offensive lineman, while Scheel is an explosvie dual-threat quarterback from Union High School in LaPorte City. Both players were starting to pile up the offers, including Pierschbacher being offered by Notre Dame, when they picked the Hawkeyes.

Iowa could use a boost next season from some of the receivers in the 2013 recruiting class and from a defensive back or two. But it’s the players in the previous four recruiting classes that will mostly determine what happens on the field next fall.

It’s only been one year since the Iowa coaches, thanks in large part to running backs coach Lester Erb, landed arguably the top group of recruits from the Chicago area. Defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie turned down scholarship offers from Oregon, Stanford, Nebraska and Wisconsin to play for Iowa, and fellow defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson turned down Michigan to be a Hawkeye.

So it’s not as if the Iowa program is without former star recruits. Ferentz always has had some sprinkled in with the underdogs.

But he mostly has players who slipped under the recruiting radar. It makes for quite a story when Iowa is having success.

Without success, though, it makes for a lot of paranoia and skepticism.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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