By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Ohio linebacker Jestin Jacobs recently did something that is considered highly risky as an Iowa football recruit.
He visited his home-state Ohio State Buckeyes despite being committed to the Iowa football team and despite knowing that Kirk Ferentz has a strict rule that prohibits a committed player from visiting another school.
Ferentz is so committed to this rule that he has lost some heralded recruits because of it, including current Arizona State star running back Eno Benjamin in 2016.
Benjamin was committed to Iowa and was actively recruiting other high school players to join him in the class when he visited Missouri in mid-September of 2016 without having informed Ferentz.
Benjamin also visited Arizona State and said later that he had informed two members of the Iowa coaching staff about his plans to visit other schools and they all agreed to keep it private, according to Benjamin.
To make a long story short, Ferentz eventually found out about the visit and wasn’t pleased. Benjamin had violated the no-visit policy, but not just because he visited another school, but because of the circumstance surrounding the visit.
There was deception and secrecy and it’s probably not a coincidence that the two assistant coaches are no longer on the Iowa staff.
Jacobs, on the other hand, was upfront and honest about his desire to visit Ohio State, according to Ferentz, and Ferentz was willing to compromise because of that transparency.
“Every case is a little bit different,” Ferentz said Wednesday at Iowa’s national signing day press conference. “Bottom line is you want to be fair in how you handle things, and all you can do is act on the information you have.
“But everything, at least the things I'm aware of, everything was straightforward to us. It was presented. We knew ahead of time what was going to take place, and we were comfortable with what we heard.”
A cynic might say that Ferentz caved because he was concerned about losing a four-star linebacker from Ohio.
But that argument doesn’t stand up because Ferentz was willing to let Benjamin go even though Benjamin was considered one of the top running backs in the 2017 senior class. Benjamin has since lived up to the hype at Arizona State where he led the Pac-12 Conference in rushing during the regular season.
Benjamin was among four Texas natives in the 2017 senior class who de-committed from Iowa because of Ferentz’s no-visit policy.
Ferentz was criticized for being too rigid and stubborn and for having a double standard since he allows his assistant coaches to keep recruiting players who are committed to other schools.
Ferentz stood his ground and the controversy eventually faded.
The controversy also created a false image of Ferentz that said he was unwilling to compromise under any circumstance.
Ferentz is willing to compromise when he feels that a recruit is being honest, forthright and respectful to him. Earn his trust and Ferentz will return that trust.
He took a chance by allowing Jacobs to visit Ohio State, but Ferentz also might have taken a chance by not allowing Jacobs to visit, especially since Jacobs was honest about it.
“That's a big part about everything in life, right?” Ferentz said of honesty. “When people are straightforward and honest, yeah, it's a lot easier to give it thought and consideration, and you just take everything into consideration with everything. But if there's some missing clues that pop up later on after the fact, that can be a little disturbing.
“We ask every recruit to be honest with us, and then obviously we tell them they can expect that from us. Just like when they come here, we ask them to work hard, but they can expect the same thing from us as a staff. We're here to work for them, as well, so it's got to be a two-way street all the time. And to me, that's the best way to have any kind of relationship that's meaningful.”
So let this be a lesson to any recruit who has Iowa on his radar.
Ferentz believes strongly in his no-visit policy because he thinks it serves as a true test of loyalty and that it teaches the importance of commitment. But he is also willing to compromise if you handle it the right way, which is to be upfront and honest with him.
Ferentz is willing to let a committed player visit another school if that player is honest about his intentions because Ferentz wants every recruit to make the right decision.
Picking which college to attend is probably the biggest decision most recruits make at that stage in their lives.
And they’re just teenagers who are highly impressionable, and sometimes fickle, so that only complicates things.
So as the adult in the relationship, Ferentz has to be ready for the unexpected.
As for Jacobs, he received the red carpet treatment from the mighty Buckeyes, which included a scholarship offer and an official visit, and yet, he still stayed committed to Iowa.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Jacobs is among 20 recruits who signed with Iowa on Wednesday.
“First of all, we're really excited about him, and I think more excited now that they made a run at him, another school made a run at him, and I think there were some people in the community obviously that would have hoped he would have gone there, but he stood his ground,” Ferentz said. ‘He was firmly committed to us, and that certainly makes us feel good, and that's not easy when you're 17, 18 years old to make a firm commitment and then stick with it when there's maybe some outside pressure to do something differently.
“So that gives us a little bit of insight into his makeup, and for a linebacker that's what you're looking for, a guy that's strong minded. Every position, but certainly a linebacker.”