By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Time, luck and performance ultimately will determine the fate of Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class, but how it came to be is fascinating by itself.
The 2017 class is a mix of turbulence and triumph.
On one hand, there is A.J. Epenesa, the greatest legacy recruit in program history, a five-star defensive end who turned down almost everybody to be a Hawkeye. Epenesa is the kind of recruit that typically signs with a blue blood program, but his emotional attachment to Iowa rose above everything else.
"He is a good football player, my sister could tell you that," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday of Epenesa. "He's a pretty good athlete, too, obviously.
"He's a very poised guy. He's very humble. He's been raised, to me, the right way. He's a member of a tremendous family, great support network at home, at school. So he's never been, at least from my vantage point, never overly impressed with this whole (recruiting) thing and the process and that kind of stuff. He's just taking it day by day and has been unwavering in terms of his commitment, which we really appreciate."
Epenesa's father cherished being a walk-on defensive lineman for Iowa in the late 1990s and has stayed close to the program ever since. His son's presence in the 2017 class is a source of pride for everyone involved and reason for optimism.
But on the other hand with this class is the Eno Effect having gone awry.
As much you want to forget it, the rise and fall of Texas four-star running back Eno Benjamin will forever be a part of Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class, which currently consists of 22 players from 10 different states, including six from Iowa.
Benjamin has gone from being a recruiter and spokesperson for Iowa’s 2017 class to now being a member of Arizona State’s class.
He was among four players from Texas who de-committed from Iowa’s 2017 class, partly over dissatisfaction with Ferentz’s no-visit policy for committed players.
The situation looked bleak in November after the Texas turmoil. Nearly one-fourth of the class had been lost, including two four-star prospects.
Ferentz addressed the media shortly after the mass defections. There was no sign of panic in Ferentz because he trusts and believes strongly in his way of doing things.
“You've got to have good recruits to be successful, I get that,” Ferentz said. “What's really important is identifying and finding players that are going to fit here in our program and thrive in our environment. And it's not for everybody.”
Iowa suffered another public relations blow when Iowa City West four-star receiver Oliver Martin signed with Michigan on Wednesday. It doesn’t look good when a kid who lives just a few blocks from campus, and who plays a position of need, picks a rival Big Ten school.
One player hardly makes or breaks a recruiting class, though.
Recruiting always seems to have a way of working itself out by national signing day to where everybody is happy.
Iowa didn’t get Martin, but the Hawkeyes have added seven players to the 2017 class since Monday, the latest additions being defensive lineman Dayvion Nixon from Kenosha, Wis., and New Jersey receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who previously had been committed to Minnesota and Rutgers. They both pledged for Iowa on Wednesday.
Restocking at defensive back was a priority for the 2017 class and the Iowa coaches responded to that need by signing six players at that position. Two of the late additions this week were defensive backs, including Cartersville, Ga., native Trey Creamer, who also might play offense.
The Iowa coaches have tried for two years to make an impact in talent-rich Georgia and it finally paid dividends with Creamer climbing aboard.
Pennsylvania native Geno Stone was the other defensive back to pick Iowa this week. He previously had been committed to Kent State, while Creamer previously had been committed to Minnesota
Stone and Creamer both look impressive on film, but recruiting clips are called highlights for a reason.
Iowa added depth at running back by signing two players at that position: Florida native Kyshaun Bryan and Illinois native Ivory Kelly-Martin.
Bryan at one time reportedly had scholarship offers from some of the top programs in the country, including Florida, Florida State and Louisiana State. He previously was committed to South Carolina, but then took a late visit to Iowa and liked what he saw and heard.
Iowa also has one quarterback in the 2017 class with Belton, Texas native Peyton Mansell signing on Wednesday. Mansell isn't a dual-threat quarterback by definition, but his film shows that he can run a little bit.
From a rankings standpoint, the class is typical for Ferentz with the Hawkeyes currently ranked 40th nationally by 247Sports, which collects data from multiple recruiting services. That would be Iowa’s highest ranking since 2011, but hardly a significant jump.
As for Epenesa, he will have enormous shoes to fill – his own.
He is the most decorated player to sign with Iowa since maybe five-star offensive lineman Dan Doering in 2005.
Doering failed to live up the hype, but that doesn’t mean Epenesa will meet the same fate. Epenesa is gifted, driven and extremely proud to be a Hawkeye.
That’s as good as it gets on signing day.