Iowa reached into Ohio for an underrated, lightly-recruited Anthony Hitchens during the 2010 recruiting cycle. The Hawkeyes followed the same path in offering another lesser known prospect in the current class from the same high school.
Cornerback Lance Billings received and accepted an Iowa scholarship offer Monday. It left most recruiting services to research the Lorain (OH) Clearview High product.
Billings worried little about star rankings and publicity during his process. He attended a Nike combine last year but he stayed away from other exposure events.
In the back of his mind, Billings always thought about Hitchens, who started two years at Iowa before starting for the Dallas Cowboys last season as a rookie. When he pledged to the Hawkeyes Monday, Hitchens served as inspiration.
"I feel like if he can do it, I have that same chance. He was like me, underrated and all that but he proved people wrong and now he’s in the NFL. And that’s my goal as well. Seeing him do it means that it can be done. It gives me something to work for," Billings said.
The major recruiting services scrambled when Billings committed. Rivals and 247 did not have him ranked prior to his pledge then awarded him three stars later in the day. Scout listed him as a two-star.
"For me, being under the radar, I guess I accept it because I didn’t go to any camps this year. So, I didn’t really try to sell myself expect for my highlight tape. Most schools probably didn’t hear of me but I do think I was one of the top guys," Billings said.
Per Cleveland.com, Billings is a two-time All-Ohio selection including after his junior season where he caught 49 passes for 799 yards and nine touchdowns. He also had 26 carries for 328 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, Billings had 30 solo tackles, intercepted three passes and returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns.
"He’s unbelievable to watch on the field. His change of direction; just his ability to get going from 0-60 in no time flat," Clearview Coach Mike Collier said. "He makes plays on offense, defense and special teams. He’s just an exceptional athlete who’s also worked hard to improve his game and build his strength. He continues to find ways to make his game better."
Collier said that they list Billings as a wide receiver and a cornerback but he’s also played running back, quarterback and safety along with returning punts and kicks. He kicked off last year and is expected to punt this year, the coach said.
"Obviously, everybody on our schedule knows exactly where he’s at on every snap of the ball," Collier said. "So, we move him around quite a bit. On defense, his ability to cover and get to the ball has been exceptional for us. On special teams, he’s an electric return man. We’ve already told him he’s not going to get much of a breather this year."
Iowa recruited Billings as a cornerback, he said.
"With where he is right now, I think he’s a better fit at corner," Collier said. "But he’s got the frame to grow so I could see him down the road progressing to safety. But he’s got great coverage ability, good hips, able to turn and change directions, able to go up and high-point the ball."
Billings also reported a scholarship offer from Ball State. Collier said his star was ready to pounce on an Iowa opportunity if it came his way after visiting the school in early April and falling in love with it.
"Iowa had a great facility but mainly the coaches just opened up to me with open arms and it just felt like home. It just felt natural that I should be there," Billings said.
Said Collier: "He’s a fun kid. He likes to have fun as most teenage boys do. He’s a jokester. He likes to get in front of the camera. He’s not a shy guy. He knows how to have fun but he also knows when it’s time to get down to work as well. He’s a good kid to have around. He builds the team chemistry up and helps in that regard as well."
The coach praised Iowa Assistant Phil Parker for building a relationship with Billings and keeping him informed of where he stood with the school throughout the process. And the Hawkeyes weren’t the only program hanging around.
"There were a lot of teams that were on the cusp of offering. Just about every MAC school had been in this spring to talk about him. A lot of them were just waiting to see what type of combine he had here in the summer time," Collier said.
Billings said he will study Communications in college. He plans to visit Iowa at the end of the month to learn more about its academics and also look around the football facilities again.
In addition to being the team’s defensive coordinator, Parker, a Lorain native, tutors defensive backs. That’s important to Billings.
"I’m comfortable with that. He’s a great coach and has been sending people to the NFL for years. If I can to play under him, that’s nice," he said.
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