IOWA CITY — A selective approach in offering scholarships strengthens relationships and leads Iowa to results on the recruiting trail.
Coach Kirk Ferentz conceded Wednesday that may be a bit of an old-school approach, but players among the first 20 members of the Hawkeyes’ 2019 recruiting class say it develops trust.
“When they say they want you as part of their program, it isn’t just lip service,” linebacker Jestin Jacobs said.
Only seven football programs in the power-five conferences, and only Northwestern among its Big Ten peers, offered fewer scholarships than the 131 Iowa offered to 2019 prospects that became part of the class that signed with the Hawkeyes on the first day of the NCAA’s early-signing period.
“You probably should not offer a scholarship if you aren’t excited about the prospect,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz said the collection of talent signed by the Hawkeyes does a good job of filling needs, and the group that includes four offensive linemen and three tight ends is filled with the type of prospects that have led Iowa to success.
Of the 20, 19 are team captains, 17 are multi-sport athletes, 19 were part of playoff teams and four won state championships.
They fit what the Hawkeyes are looking for beyond the skill set on the field.
“If we offer someone, we’re serious about it. To offer multi, multi, multi players at one position, it’s kind of a scam because all you’re doing is you’re getting that guy to think hey, they like me, only to say we’ll let you know in a couple of weeks,” Ferentz said.
“To me, that’s not real. We try to be very straightforward with our dialect. That’s approach we’ve always taken.”
Iowa expanded its recruiting class to 20 on Wednesday with the addition of two players, getting cornerback and return specialist Daraun McKinney of River Rouge, Michigan, to flip his previous commitment from Northern Illinois to Iowa and signing Alabama running back Shadrick Byrd.
The 5-10, 175-pound McKinney returned four interceptions for touchdowns this season at his suburban Detroit high school, one year after setting a state record by returning seven kickoffs and five punts for touchdowns.
Byrd, a 5-10, 210-pound back from Alabaster, Alabama, selected Iowa over a collection of 15 offers that included Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
They are part of a group Ferentz said could grow at the Feb. 6 signing date by a couple of players, most likely on the defensive side of the ball, if the right players can be found.
“One of the things I really like with this group is how they’re already communicating with each other,” Ferentz said. “It may be the one positive of social media.”
Before arriving on campus, they share a unique bond created by the relationship they have established with Iowa coaches, current Hawkeye players and the other members of the recruiting class.
“I got a different feel when I connected with the people at Iowa,” said Jacobs, a Norwalk, Ohio native who turned back a late push from Ohio State to stick with his earlier commitment to the Hawkeyes.
“The coaches, the players, they were open and honest about everything. Everybody has facilities, but the stability of the coaches there, the comfort level was the best I experienced. It wasn’t just talk.”
Quarterback Alex Padilla, a two-time all-state selection for Cherry Creek High School in suburban Denver, sensed the same thing.
“Iowa isn’t one of those programs out there throwing offers at anybody with a pulse,” Padilla said. “They know who they are and what they want at every position, and those are the players they offer. As a recruit, it’s good to know where you stand.”
The first player to commit to Iowa in its 2019 class was offensive lineman Ezra Miller, and the Holstein, Iowa, native has done what he can to help build the recruiting class he signed with on Wednesday.
Padilla said he talks on an almost daily basis with other members of Iowa’s recruiting class and converses weekly with his position coach, Ken O’Keefe.
“We’ve all gotten to know each other on visits, and we’re already there for each other even though we aren’t on campus yet,” Padilla said.
That led Padilla to maintaining his commitment when he received an offer from Georgia earlier this fall.
“The connections I had established with Iowa coaches and the other recruits, I knew that I was going to honor the commitment I had made to Iowa,” Padilla said. “They offered me because I fit what they want, and I picked them because of how they operate their program.”
Running back Tyler Goodson, named the top running back in Gwinnett County in suburban Atlanta, said that two-way commitment made it easy for him to stick with Iowa even when Michigan attempted to get involved a little over a week ago.
“It’s always good when somebody is interested in you, but the strength of my relationship with the coaches at Iowa and with my future teammates, they kept me true,” Goodson said. “I’ve been looking forward to being part of the ‘Swarm’ for a long time. I see myself in what they do on offense, and it’s where I want to be.”