Exhausted from the rigors of the recruiting trail, touted Sioux City Heelan running back Brandon Wegher took the past month off.
While other top prospects have been making visits to colleges and maximizing exposure at camps, Wegher, who last season rushed for 2,334 yards and 34 touchdowns while leading Heelan to the Iowa Class 3A state title game, has been hanging out at home.
“I’ve been hitting the weight room hard. And we have running and (skeleton drills) three times a week,” Wegher said when I talked to him Sunday night. “So, I’ve been working out, doing some fishing, hanging out, swimming … that’s what I’ve been doing this summer.”
Ranked a 4-star prospect by Web site Rivals.com and the third-best player in the state of Iowa’s high school class of 2009, Wegher did take time to visit a pair of schools this past month, and that might be an indication of where he’ll commit before his high school season starts next month.
The schools he visited were Iowa and Nebraska, which makes a lot of sense since Wegher, who actually resides in Dakota Dunes, S.D., lives very near the Nebraska-Iowa border.
Turns out, while taking time off — Brandon’s father, Rick, said Brandon was just a little burned out on the process — Wegher made a lot of progress. When I talked to him a month ago, he still was considering most of his 16 scholarship offers. Now, he’s whittled it to five: Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri.
“I think I’m going to take a few more visits and then decide,” Wegher told me Sunday.
Here’s what his dad had to say last week:
“I think he’d rather stay a little closer to home. If he’s made any decision, he’s made that one. That’s good news for us, too. I would say, you know, I don’t think he wants to travel clear down South or clear over to the West to play. I think he’d rather stay within a half a day’s drive.”
Hmmm … a half a day’s drive? You can work the Mapquest yourself if you want to double check, but the driving time from Dakota Dunes to Lincoln, Neb., where the Huskers play, is roughly 2 hours, 30 minutes. To Iowa City is 5 hours. To Lawrence, Kan., is 4:45. To Columbia, Mo., is just over 6. Arkansas … is a few hours, and perhaps an extended layover, by plane.
I get the sense it’s going to be either Iowa or Nebraska, and it appears the Hawkeyes have a real shot at adding Wegher to their backfield.
“We visited Iowa right before the 4th of July,” Rick Wegher said. “We had a good visit. I think Iowa … I think he likes Iowa a lot. I do too.”
Added the younger Wegher: “I really like Iowa. The coaches there are on my top list of coaches. I know they’re having a lot of troubles right now, but I’m looking past that.”
Both Weghers talked a lot about the bad publicity the Iowa program has received lately because of off-field legal issues — two former players are awaiting trial on sexual assault charges, part of a stretch that has seen 18 Hawkeyes pile up 23 arrests or citations in 15 months.
It doesn’t seem like it’s a big problem for them — Brandon doesn’t seem like the type of kid who’s going to run into a bunch of legal trouble once he’s on campus — but it’s definitely been brought up in the recruiting process, and it’s definitely something competing coaches can point to as a negative in Iowa City.
“Obviously, we’ve asked that question as we’ve gone through the process. They’ve addressed it. I know they’re bringing in a new position just to deal with that,” Rick Wegher said. “I think it has to be a little concerning for anybody. In the same sense, I’d rather have him come in on the back side of that than the front side of that. It’d be a problem for any university, and they have to address it. And I think Iowa is addressing it.”
An interesting note there is that Rick said many of the other schools recruiting Brandon already have a “life skills coach” in place. Iowa is in the process of creating that position.
Brandon said that when he was on his last visit to Iowa, he and his parents sat down with coach Kirk Ferentz and asked what was going on with all the legal troubles.
“He couldn’t really explain it that well to us. He just said it was the kids’ choices and they’re trying to resolve it,” Wegher said. “I think they’re going to resolve it. Once you have too much of something, you’ve got to stop it. They’re going to put their foot down.”
That’s the perception, from one recruit anyway.
You have to wonder, though, if David Barrent’s decision Monday to pull his commitment from Iowa in favor of Michigan State had anything to do with the situation in Iowa City. Maybe he felt like Ferentz’s days are numbered. Maybe he didn’t want to join a program that appears, from the outside, to be falling apart.
Or maybe he just wanted to go play for his dad’s old buddy — Michigan State’s offensive line coach Dan Roushar played high school and college football with Barrent’s father, Rich. They went to high school in Clinton, Iowa, before moving on to Northern Illinois.
All I know is when I talked to David in May and asked him if he was one of these guys who would commit early and then flip, he told me he was a rock-solid Hawkeye.
“I’m fully committed. I’m really excited. I can’t wait to be there,” was what he said at the time.
But Roushar and the Michigan State staff stayed on Barrent, and he changed his mind and is joining what is turning into an impressive class in East Lansing — 14 commits, including eight with 4-star ratings. (Yeah, second-year coach Mark Dantonio is taking advantage of that coaching change in Ann Arbor)
Program stability, perceived or otherwise, means a lot in the recruiting game, and Iowa’s a tough sell right now. With the program in a decline on the field — 19-18 the past three seasons, including an 11-13 mark in the Big Ten and a 6-6 record in a bowl-less 2007 — and in shambles off it, how do prospects know Ferentz is going to be around next year, the year after or four years down the line?
For what it’s worth, Wegher doesn’t think Ferentz is going anywhere. But will Barrent’s decision affect were Wegher ends up? Wegher’s father, for one, talked a lot about how great he thought it would be if the Big Four — Wegher, Barrent, Mt. Pleasant receiver Jordan Cotton and Cedar Rapids Washington receiver Keenan Davis — ended up at Iowa. (It sounds a little like dad’s leaning toward Iowa)
Now, Barrent is gone and Davis and Cotton have yet to commit, though Cotton is set to make an announcement later this week and has narrowed his list of choices to Iowa and Kansas. Davis still is considering Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona State and Oklahoma. He, like Wegher, is planning to commit before his high school season starts next month.
As it stands, Iowa has one commit for the class of 2009. One – Ohio running back Brad Rogers.
As stated, Michigan State has 14. Ohio State 24.
This was never going to be Iowa’s largest class – indications are it will come in around 13 to 15 players when it’s all said and done on signing day — but, with four top-tier prospects in the state, it was a chance, as recruiting analyst Tom Lemming put it, for the Hawkeyes coaching staff to make a strong statement that the U of I still is king in its own state. The Big Four was to be the framework for the Hawkeyes’ offense of the future. Barrent was the foundation. Losing him to Michigan or Ohio State or Notre Dame, in most fans’ eyes would have been understandable. But to Michigan State? Never. That’s the wrong kind of strong statement.