By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Not that you need to be reminded, but the first early signing day in the history of college football starts in less than 24 hours.
So plan accordingly, if you haven't already.
Dec. 20, 2017 is a day that will live forever in the world of college football recruiting because it marks the first early signing day for the sport.
The first Wednesday in February had been for decades the much-anticipated day when verbal commitments finally became official, and that day still marks the start of the later signing period.
But by then, Iowa’s class will be nearly two-thirds full with at least 15 players expected to sign national letters of intent on Wednesday.
Those who are expected to sign with Iowa on Wednesday include four-star defensive end John Waggoner from in-state power West Des Moines Dowling, four-star quarterback Spencer Petras from Kentfield, Calif., and three of the top players from Indianapolis, including four-star defensive back D.J. Johnson, who turned down scholarship offers from Notre Dame and Louisiana State to be a Hawkeye.
Defensive back Julius Brents and receiver Tyrone Tracy are the other two Indianapolis natives who are expected to sign with Iowa on Wednesday.
“All of them are good players,” veteran recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said of the three Indianapolis natives. “They all are big-time ball players.
“It was a really good catch getting (D.J. Johnson). And Brents and Tracy had really good senior years.”
And don’t forget about defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon, who had been committed to Iowa’s 2017 class before an academic issue forced him to attend junior college for one semester. The Kenosha, Wis., native played for Iowa Western Community College this past fall and performed well enough that Alabama reportedly offered him a scholarship.
But Nixon stuck with the Hawkeyes and now will join a defensive line that is loaded with proven talent and coached by the highly respected Reese Morgan.
You probably could count on one hand the number of recruits who have turned down a scholarship from Alabama to play football for Iowa, at least since Kirk Ferentz started coaching the Hawkeyes in 1999.
So in that regard, Nixon is special.
Iowa’s 2018 recruiting class pales in comparison to Ohio State’s star-studded class, but when is that not the case?
With exception maybe to Alabama, nobody recruits better than the Buckeyes under head coach Urban Meyer. It is almost a bigger surprise when Ohio State lands somebody who is ranked lower than a four-star recruit.
That’s what made Iowa’s 55-24 victory over the Buckeyes on Nov. 4 at Kinnick Stadium so incredible because it was basically a bunch of two and three-star recruits whipping a bunch of four and five-star recruits.
At least for one day, the recruiting rankings didn’t matter.
But for many, national signing day is almost like a national holiday in which fans rejoice and give thanks for the newest additions to their favorite team.
The days leading up to signing day are tense and unpredictable as kids from across the country try to make what might be the toughest decision in their young lives up to that point.
And it’s important to remember that they are just kids, naïve and impressionable.
Kids are fickle and impulsive and many of them grab hold of the first shiny thing that comes their way, including a scholarship offer.
Some of them also receive bad advice and are pressured to make decisions that might not be in their best interest.
A kid de-committing from a school is almost as common as a kid committing to a school. And that’s unfortunate because it leads to resentment, anger and ridicule, mostly at the expense of the recruits.
Iowa has signed its share of players who were committed to other schools, a list that includes running back Akrum Wadley (Temple); linebacker Ben Niemann (Northern Illinois); receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Rutgers and Minnesota); defensive end Anthony Nelson (Iowa State) and quarterback Tyler Wiegers (Rutgers), just to name a few from the current team.
Iowa also has lost its share of committed recruits to other schools, with the latest being Michigan athlete Ben VanSumeren. He was committed to Iowa as a linebacker until Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh made a late scholarship offer.
VanSumeren couldn’t turn down the chance to play in his home state and for a school rich in tradition. Some Hawkeye fans might want to rip him for going back on his word, but remember, he’s just a kid and it works both ways.
Just think of the players who were committed to Northern Iowa before switching to Iowa after receiving a late scholarship offer. Some examples include former tight end Brandon Myers, former defensive back Tanner Miller and current starting linebacker Bo Bower.
My only problem with the early signing period is that it isn’t early enough. It would have made more sense to have it in late September or early October at the latest because that would have created some space between the traditional signing day in February.
Lemming feels the same way.
“I like the two dates,” Lemming said. “I just wish this one would have been a little bit earlier.”
Basketball has two signing days, the first in November followed by another in April. That is five months of seperation, which makes more sense than six weeks.
Iowa’s 2018 recruiting class likely will finish ranked somewhere between 30th and 50th nationally, which is typical.
Kirk Ferentz will meet with the media on Wednesday to discuss the 2018 class. And just like with every head coach, Ferentz will rave about the class and will praise his assistant coaches for finding the right fits in terms of talent, character and work ethic.
And for now, they are the right fits, because despite what the ranking might say, there is no such thing as a mediocre recruiting class on national signing day.