IOWA CITY, Iowa – The state of Texas produces enough Division I football talent on a regular basis that teams from all over the country feel a need to recruit there.
The teams in the Big Ten are certainly part of that group.
Some Big Ten teams recruit in Texas more than others, but all of the conference schools pay attention to the Lone Star State because the circumstances are too good to ignore.
And right now, it seems that Northwestern and Iowa are paying the most attention in Texas when it comes to the 2017 recruiting class.
The Big Ten as of Wednesday night had verbal commitments from 12 players from Texas in the 2017 classes combined. All but three were committed to either Northwestern or Iowa, with the Wildcats leading the way with five, while nine Big Ten teams had no commitments from Texas natives in the 2017 class.
It’s still early in the recruiting process, though, with the 2017 national signing day in February still seven months away.
“Some of the (teams) spend a lot more time in Florida and Georgia, but Iowa is not that far from Texas if you consider it,” said veteran recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “And I think it’s smart for them and Iowa State and a lot of other schools, Missouri spends a lot of time in Texas also, to recruit there.”
Northwestern has a history of recruiting in Texas under current head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is entering his 11th season as head coach. There were eight Texas natives on Northwestern’s 2016 spring roster and five Texas natives in its 2016 recruiting class.
“They’re in Texas a lot,” Lemming said of Northwestern. “It’s unique to Fitzgerald. He’s got some guys that know Texas.”
Iowa’s recruiting in Texas has been more sporadic under current head coach Kirk Ferentz. It seems several factors could be responsible for the current surge, including the presence of Iowa receivers coach Bobby Kennedy. He used to be an assistant for the Texas Longhorns and knows the landscape well in Texas.
Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis also had the same job with the Texas Longhorns from 1998 to 2010 and was born and raised in Texas.
“(Northwestern) does a good job there and Bobby Kennedy of Iowa knows Texas very well,” Lemming said of Northwestern and Iowa. “He did a really good job when he was there with the Longhorns.”
Receiver Gavin Holmes and cornerback Matt Hankins were the third and fourth players from Texas to commit to Iowa’s 2017 class as they both announced their commitments Monday on Twitter.
Running back Eno Benjamin was the first player from Texas to commit to Iowa’s 2017 class in April. Benjamin has since been actively recruiting for Iowa in his home state.
His efforts are now paying huge dividends.
Texas quarterback Peyton Mansell committed to Iowa on June 20 followed by Holmes and Hankins exactly a week later.
Iowa also has gained the interest of Texas defensive back Kobe Boyce even though he is committed to the Texas Longhorns. Boyce visited Iowa City last weekend for the annual tailgater event, saying on Twitter that the visit gave him something to think about.
Texas four-star receiver Camron Buckley also recently trimmed his list of schools to seven, with Iowa making the cut.
Lemming thinks Iowa’s current hot streak in Texas could help land Buckley, who is expected to visit Iowa City in July.
“With all these other Texas guys they already have, yes, I think they have good shot because he’s starting to see the pipeline growing to Iowa from Texas,” Lemming said of Buckley. “And once you get it going, that can really help you.”
As for Northwestern, its finding help on defense in Texas, with four of the five Texas natives in its 2017 class being recruited for defense.
All five of Northwestern’s recruits from Texas are ranked as three-star prospects by Rivals, while Iowa’s current haul from Texas is more divided. Benjamin is ranked as a four-star recruit by Rivals, while Holmes and Hankins are ranked as three-star recruits and Mansell a two-star.
Northwestern’s 2017 class, which currently has 17 players committed, is ranked 17th nationally by Rivals, while Iowa’s 14-player class is ranked 20th nationally.
Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin were the only other Big Ten teams as of Wednesday to have at least one player from Texas committed to their 2017 recruiting classes.
The Buckeyes landed a big fish, though, with their lone star from the Lone Star State in four-star running back J.K. Dobbins from LaGrange, Texas. He has over two dozen scholarship offers from some of the best programs in the country, including Florida, Oklahoma, Stanford, Texas and Southern California.
Benjamin also picked Iowa over multiple power five offers, including one from Michigan.
Texas natives committed to Northwestern’s 2017 recruiting class
Bryce Jackson, DB, 6-0, 185, Denton
Austin Hiller, DB, 6-2, 201, Austin
Earnest Brown, DE, 6-5, 230, Denton
Rashawn Slater, OL, 6-5, 270, Sugarland
Sam Miller, DE, 6-3, 260, Houston
Texas natives committed to Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class
Eno Benjamin, RB, 5-9, 203, Wylie
Matt Hankins, DB, 6-1, 160, Flower Mound
Gavin Holmes, WR, 5-11, 180, Justin
Peyton Mansell, QB, 6-2, 195, Belton