IOWA CITY, Iowa – Unlike Urban Meyer at Ohio State or Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Kirk Ferentz doesn’t have the luxury of filling his recruiting classes with players from in state.
No Iowa football coach ever has had that luxury because it doesn’t go with the territory.
But the situation is getting better as more Iowa high school players are being noticed as they develop into Division I prospects.
Solon junior Jacob Coons on Saturday became the fourth player to commit to Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class, all of whom are from in state.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Coons is a versatile athlete who probably could play several positions in college, including tight end, defensive end or outside linebacker.
Some of it will depend on how Coons’ large frame develops once he starts training under Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. Coons looks as if he could easily carry an additional 40 or 50 pounds without losing much of his athleticism.
“He could play tight end, defensive end and possibly tackle,” said Solon football coach Kevin Miller.
Coons joins a 2017 recruiting class that already has verbal commitments from North Fayette defensive tackle Juan Harris, Madrid defensive end Coy Kirkpatrick and Mount Vernon offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs.
Coons is believed to be at least the 24th player from in state to either commit or sign with Iowa dating back to the 2014 recruiting class. Iowa has five players from in state committed to its 2016 recruiting class, while its 2015 and 2014 classes had nine and six players, respectively, from in state.
That hardly makes the state of Iowa a fertile recruiting grand, but the situation is improving for a number of reasons. It’s different than the three-year stretch from 2011-13 when Iowa only signed a total of nine players from in state – three in each class.
“I think it’s much improved, there is no doubt about it,” Miller said. “Obviously, I think the kids have more exposure to various camps. The strength and conditioning component is much improved than it was 10 to 20 years ago. I think also some of the schematic aspects of things have evolved in the Iowa high schools.
“And I think just the exposure piece. Kids just get more exposure now. A lot of programs like Iowa and Iowa State, Minnesota and Wisconsin, you have to camp there and they have to see you.”
Miller compared the present-day recruiting process to purchasing a house or a car.
“Somebody made a really good analogy a long time ago, a college coach, he was like, `you know, when you go to buy a car or if you go to buy a house, don’t you look at the house or the car before you buy it?’” Miller said. “That’s what a lot of college recruiters, they have that mindset. They want to see them on the field at their camps to see what they’re capable of.
“You can look at all the film in the world, but when you get to see them (in person) and see what they’re capable of and how they compete and how they fight, you learn a lot about their overall character.”
Regina coach Marv Cook echoed Miller’s sentiment about recruits having more exposure these days.
“I think there was always maybe more recognition in the bigger cities and major metropolitan areas, and now kids are getting more mobile with exposure, just with Facebook and Twitter and everything else,” Cook said. “They’re getting out and contacting these coaches and getting in there.”
Cook grew up in West Branch and was recruited to Iowa where he developed into an all-America tight end in the late 1980s. He also played seven seasons in the NFL and is the father of Iowa freshman quarterback Drew Cook.
The younger Cook was one of two quarterback from in state who signed with Iowa in 2015. The other was Ryan Boyle, who attended West Des Moines Dowling. Boyle and Cook both are being redshirted this season.
Another thing to consider is that Ferentz could be making in-state recruiting an even bigger priority than he has before.
Former Iowa coach Hayden Fry relied heavily on in-state players, especially in the trenches, as part of his recruiting template in the mid-1980s. You could argue that in-state players are more vested when they arrive on campus because most of them were emotionally attached to the program before being recruited.
As for Coons, he also was hearing from Iowa State, Minnesota and Cincinnati, according to Miller. Coons could’ve waited to see if more offers came his way, but Miller said the Hawkeyes would’ve been tough to beat at any time.
“It’s such a good fit because he represents some of those same qualities that they represent,” Miller said of the Hawkeyes, who are preparing to face Stanford in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif. “Just that blue-collar mentality, just a committed, dedicated athlete, who puts an emphasis on the team before the individual.”
It’s also a good fit because Coons lives just a few miles from the Iowa campus. Much like buying local, recruiting local makes sense if you can do it.
Players from in state who either have signed or committed to the Iowa football team since 2014:
Jacob Coons, TE, Solon
Juan Harris, DT, North Fayette
Coy Kirkpatrick, DE, Madrid
Tristan Wirfs, OL, Mount Vernon
Cole Banwart, OL, Algona
Shaun Beyer, TE, Cedar Rapids Kennedy
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Chariton
Austin Schulte, DE, Pella
Spencer Williams, OL, Cedar Falls
Ryan Boyle, QB, West Des Moines Dowling
Drew Cook, QB, Iowa City Regina
Garrett Jensen, DE, Pella
Anthony Nelson, DE, Waukee
Jake Newborg, OL, Inwood, West Lyon
Landan Paulsen, OL, Woodbury Central (Moville)
Levi Paulsen, OL, Woodbury Central (Moville)
Brett Waechter, OL, Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn
Nick Wilson, LB, West Des Moines Dowling
Parker Hesse, DE, Waukon
Lucas LeGrand, OK, Dubuque Wahlert
Matt Nelson, DE, Cedar Rapids
Keegan Render, OL, Indianola
Ross Reynolds, OL, Waukee
Jay Scheel, WR, Union-La Porte City