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Recruiting reflections

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Random thoughts in the wake of Wednesday’s national signing day:

— Once upon a time, when a high school football player made a verbal commitment to sign with a school, you could take it to the bank. The recruiting was over. The kid was going to that school.

Not any more.

“Decommits” — players who change their mind after committing to a school — are now very common and seemingly increasing with each passing year.

Iowa only had one player decommit this year — Matt Hoch of Harlan, Iowa, changed his mind in December and decided to join his brother at Missouri — but the Hawkeyes picked up three players who once were pledged to other schools: C.J. Fiedorowicz (Illinois), Kevonte Martin-Manley (Bowling Green) and Tanner Miller (Northern Iowa).

— After signing Marcus Coker and D’Andre Johnson on Wednesday, Iowa now has eight running backs on scholarship and all but one of them will be either a freshman or a sophomore next season. And the one who will be a senior (Paki O’Meara) may be the least of the eight.

Even if Brad Rogers and Jeff Brinson end up at some other position (or some other school), it’s still hard to figure out how the Hawkeyes can find enough playing time for Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Jewell Hampton, especially if Coker is the second coming of Shonn Greene, as some believe.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t concerned.

“You know, I hope it becomes a problem,” he said. “I’m trying to think of the last time it was … I can’t remember us having too many good players at any one position. I certainly can’t remember us having too many running backs. My memory is a little bit recent right now. I was just happy this past year to have two in one game.”

— Obviously, big things are expected of Fiedorowicz, Coker, A.J. Derby and Andrew Donnal, the four-star players in Iowa’s recruiting class.

But some of us won’t be shocked if Solon linebacker James Morris ends up being the best player out of this class. And you have to believe there are some other great “sleeper” prospects in this bunch. Carl Davis is a 300-pound defensive tackle who regularly dunks in his high school basket-ball games in Detroit. I can’t wait to see what that guy looks like.

— From my experience, recruits who also have played sports such as basketball and tennis generally have very good footwork that translates well to the football field.

If that’s the case, this is a really good group. I counted 14 players among the 21 in Iowa’s class who play or have played for their high school basketball teams. Fiedorowicz already is his school’s career scoring leader. Brandon Scherff and Austin Vier are among the top rebounders in the state of Iowa right now. B.J. Lowery and Martin-Manley are going to be four-year lettermen at the var-sity level. Tanner Miller and Jim Poggi are in their third varsity season. Derby, who is sitting out this basketball season, helped Iowa City win a Class 4A state title as a sophomore.

Scherff, who is listed at 310 pounds, also lettered in tennis as a freshman in high school.

Hawks getting their kicks, too

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

ou won’t see any punters and kickers on the list of scholarship recruits that Iowa will sign next week, but with Ryan Donahue and Daniel Murray both being seniors next year, Kirk Ferentz and his staff are looking to the future.

Punter Jonny Mullings will come on board as a “grayshirt,’’ which means he won’t enroll in school until next January. And the Hawkeyes enticed place-kicker Mike Meyer to join them as a walk-on.

Both are pretty intriguing prospects.

Mullings is a 21-year-old former rugby player who grew up in England and now lives in Austra-lia. In between, he spent a year as a foreign exchange student in Ottumwa, where he wasn’t even eligible to play in varsity games but once launched an 85-yard punt in a JV game. He’s a big guy – 6-foot-4, 215 pounds – whose rugby style punts could really be effective in some of the windswept stadiums of the Big Ten.

Meyer, a senior at Dubuque Wahlert, also brings a tremendously strong leg. He kicked off 30 times last season and 28 of them went for touchbacks. He also was eight for nine on field goals with six of those coming from beyond 40 yards and one of them coming from 56 yards. He could actually have an immediate impact because neither Murray nor sophomore Trent Mossbrucker, who figures to eventually replace him as the Hawkeyes’ place-kicker, has an extremely strong leg. (Murray had just five touchbacks on 66 kickoffs last season and averaged 60.8 yards per kickoff.) It’s possible that Meyer could be used on kickoffs and long field goals next fall with Murray handling extra points and short-range field goals.

Maybe one more recruit?

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Upon further review, maybe the Hawkeyes aren’t quite finished recruiting.

It looks as though they could get one more recruit this weekend when Lorain (Ohio) Clearview star Anthony Hitchens makes his official visit to the Iowa campus. Hitchens was regarded as a fall-back recruit – someone the Hawkeyes only would take if other recruiting pitches fell through — but they made him an offer earlier this week and in comments he made to Rivals.com, Hitchens sounded as though he was thinking he would give his commitment before leaving Iowa City.

Hitchens made an unofficial visit to Iowa to watch the Hawkeyes’ game with Indiana in October and felt then that this is where he’d like to go. He had offers on the table from Kansas, Indiana and other schools, but was holding off on a commitment, waiting to hear from Iowa.

While most of those other schools see the 6-foot-1, 195-pound speedster as a running back, the Hawkeyes probably will play him at safety. He rushed for 1,428 yards and 21 touchdowns last fall, but also made 76 tackles and had two interceptions on the defensive side. He’s only rated a two-star recruit and he’s not ranked among the top 75 players in Ohio, but he’s the kind of recruit the Hawk-eyes love to develop.

He won’t be the only recruit visiting campus this weekend. Nine players who already have made verbal commitments to Iowa – Marcus Coker, Andrew Donnal, Austin Gray, Matt Hardy, Christian Kirksey, James Morris, Brandon Scherff, Don Shumpert and Austin Vier – also will be making their official visits.

This is how backward recruiting has gotten. Many of those players have been committed for close to a year. Morris, whose father is Iowa’s equipment manager, has been committed for more than two years. But they’re just now making their visits.

Recruiting done, just waiting to sign ‘em

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

With the national signing date now just two weeks away, Iowa recruiting class is holding steady with 19 recruits. There probably will not be any more additions to the class. Coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff are just hoping there won’t be any more subtractions.

One player who was committed to signing with Iowa for 5½ months, Matt Hoch of Harlan, Iowa, changed his mind in late December and is now committed to Missouri, where his older brother is a starting offensive lineman. Hoch admitted he knew he was going to switch even before he made an official visit to Missouri the weekend before Christmas. He said he really wanted to play tight end and the Hawkeyes planned to use him in the defensive line.

On the same day Hoch switched to Missouri, the Hawks got another commitment from wide receiver/kick returner Kevonte Martin-Manley of Brother Rice High School in suburban Detroit. Martin-Manley, from the same high school that produced former Iowa basketball star B.J. Armstrong, had been thought to be headed for Bowling Green. He supposedly is an exceptional punt returner.

The current Iowa class is rated No. 37 in the country and No. 5 in the Big Ten by Rivals.com. Penn State is No. 9 nationally with Michigan 19th, Ohio State 22nd and Michigan State 29th.

Hawks will be at least No. 8, maybe higher

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

After handling Georgia Tech 24-14 in Tuesday’s night’s Orange Bowl, the Iowa football team probably is going to finish in a very familiar spot in the final Associated Press poll.

The Hawkeyes are likely to be eighth, which is exactly where they were at the end of the 2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons.

They were 10th entering the bowls and they clearly are going to leap ahead of No. 9 Georgia Tech and No. 7 Oregon, which lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

The only way they can go higher is if the voters severely penalize No. 4 Cincinnati for getting routed by No.5 Florida in the Sugar Bowl. It was the Bearcats’ first loss, but I could see some voters dropping them down below the Hawkeyes. No. 3 TCU also lost but it was a close enough game that I don’t think they’ll fall to lower than sixth.

If the Hawkeyes should get up the No. 6 or No. 7, it will be their highest ranking since they were third in the 1960 poll.

The most impressive thing about Iowa’s 24-14 conquest of Georgia Tech, I think, is that the Hawks didn’t even radically change their defense to shut down Tech’s much-feared (and clearly overrated) triple option. They didn’t need to bring their safeties up close to the line to add extra run support.

They left it to their front seven to manhandle Tech’s front, and they did.

I came away thinking that if Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan is a top 10 NFL draft choice, as some experts are saying, then Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn is too. Fortunately, Clayborn is not going pro this year. Look for him on some All-American teams next season.

Lots of black and gold on South Beach

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

 The Iowa fans have begun to descend on South Florida for Tuesday’s Orange Bowl. A bunch of them took over the Clevelander, an outdoor bar along Ocean Drive in South Beach on Sunday afternoon. It was quite a show.

 

They had the proprietors playing the Iowa fight song and everything.
It’s one of those bars they have in South Beach where almost naked women are dancing at various places around the establishment. One of them was having a big gold Hawk painted on her biscuits and the word I-O-W-A stenciling across her chest while I was there. (I shot video but I don’t think I can show it here.)

 

There don’t seem to be many Georgia Tech fans around. Maybe it’s just that they don’t wear the school colors everywhere they go, as the Iowa fans do. I’ll bet they don’t have as much fun either.

Hawks in holding pattern recruit-wise

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

This normally is a very busy time for college recruiters. They use the time between the end of the regular season and the bowl game (for those that are in bowl games) to host recruits on campus and to try to nail down firm commitments from players they have been courting for months.

It’s a rare year for the Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz and his staff don’t have much to do. They have a solid recruiting class of 19 committed players in place. All they want to do now is make sure they hold onto what they already have.

And Ferentz admitted that because of the kind of season the Hawks have had, they don’t expect to have much trouble doing that.

At least one of Iowa’s recruits – quarterback A.J. Derby of Iowa City – is planning to graduate from high school in mid-year and enroll at Iowa for the second semester so he can go through spring practice. It’s a blow for the City High basketball team, but it should help Derby find playing time earlier in his college career.

Scout.com rates the Hawkeyes’ recruiting class No. 33 in the country and No. 5 in the Big Ten, which is probably slightly higher than they usually are rated. Recruiting rankings aren’t something Ferentz cares much about anyway.

The rest of the Big Ten, according to Scout.com: Penn State is 4th, Michigan 16th, Ohio State 21st, Michigan State 26th, Wisconsin 39th, Purdue 42nd, Indiana 47th, Minnesota 50th, Northwestern 58th and Illinois 68th. The Illini normally would be up in the middle of the Big Ten somewhere, but they only have six commitments at the moment.

Big Ten shut out on Camp All-American team

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

The first of many All-American teams is out and if this is any indication, the Big Ten is not very highly thought of nationwide.

There is not a single Big Ten player on the 25-player first team of the Walter Camp Foundation team. None. Zero. My guess is that might be a first. I certainly don’t recall it happening before. Heck, this might be the first time in a long time there isn’t at least one Ohio State player in there.

There are five Big Ten guys on the second team, including Iowa’s Pat Angerer and Bryan Bulaga, but it’s clear that the people who select these teams don’t think there are any really elite players in the league.
The question: Is that an accurate depiction or just perception?

I’d say it’s perception. Other than offensive skill position players, where there are concrete stats that can be used for comparative purposes, there’s a lot of guesswork that goes into these selec-tions. There are 10 Camp first-teamers from the SEC (Alabama and Florida accounted for seven of those) and seven from the Big 12, and while those leagues are better than the Big Ten right now, they’re not that much better.

For what’s worth, the Big East also got shut out and there was only one ACC player on the first team.

Besides Angerer and Bulaga, other Big Ten players on the second were team were Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones and two Michigan players – defensive end Brandon Graham and punter Zoltan Mesko. No one from either Ohio State or Penn State.

Reporters get their marching orders

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Part of what makes Kirk Ferentz successful as a college football coach is that he’s a control freak. He wants to be in command of every aspect of his program, to make sure that everything is done his way. It’s a good thing in a lot of ways.

It’s not always a good thing for members of the media, who have become accustomed to having Ferentz tell them what they can and can not do. Some of them even obey.

On Wednesday, Ferentz asked reporters not to ask any of his players questions about whether or not they are planning to turn pro after their junior seasons. (Three of his current stars are thinking about it.) He also said he’d appreciate it if we didn’t ask about rumors connecting Ferentz to Notre Dame and other job openings. He long ago told us not to ask players about injuries.

There even was talk a few weeks ago that he had admonished the parents of players not to speak to the media.

What harm would any of this do? Probably none. Ferentz’s players are so well-coached in how to sidestep the media they wouldn’t say anything outlandish or controversial anyway. But he’d prefer we didn’t even try.

And when would we ask? Only four players – those most adept at dealing with reporters – will be made available Sunday when the Hawkeyes announce what bowl game they’re going to. When they hold a pre-bowl interview session about 10 or 12 days after that, we again will get only “selected’’ players.

Ferentz joked Wednesday that we won’t be allowed to speak with sometimes controversial wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos until after the bowl game.

At least I think he was kidding.

‘Experts’ can be quiet now

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Although James Vandenberg and his teammates insisted they weren’t into moral victories or consolation prizes, there were a lot of things they could take away from Saturday’s 27-24 overtime loss to Ohio State.

They proved that the Iowa offense does not move by Ricky Stanzi alone. They showed that no one on this team is completely irreplaceable. Vandenberg served notice that the Hawkeyes have a quarterback of the future, once Stanzi is gone.

Best of all, they shut up some of those national “experts’’ who gave Iowa zero chance of even being competitive with Ohio State.

Some of the pregame commentaries were pretty outrageous. One of the “experts’’ on the 9-hour pregame show on a Columbus radio station said this was one time Ohio State could go into “Michigan mode’’ a week early because this wasn’t even going to be a contest.

(Sure, like Michigan is going to be a big test. The Wolverines are no better than the ninth best team in the Big Ten. Right now, at this point in time, they might be No. 10 or 11. I’d say Ohio State can go into Rose Bowl mode about six weeks early.)

On the ESPN Game Day show, Desmond Howard (an old Michigan man, by the way), said Ohio State would beat Iowa by at least three touchdowns. His cohort, Lee Corso, said Iowa had two chances to win – “slim and none.’’

Of course, a lot of us long ago stopped regarding Corso as any sort of expert.