Iowa football still without running back in 2021 class, but not for lack of effort
Three-star Arizona native Eli Sanders recently committed to Iowa State
By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With three-star Arizona running back Eli Sanders having made a verbal commitment to Iowa State on Jan. 17, the Iowa football team has yet to land a running back in the 2021 recruiting class with less than two weeks before signing day.
But it is not for a lack of effort.
Iowa recently extended scholarship offers to Mississippi native Jarquez Hunter and Louisiana commit Kendrell Williams, but it is unclear whether either player is seriously considering the Hawkeyes.
Rivals.com Midwest recruiting expert Josh Helmholdt said part of the reason could be that the running back position is not as coveted as it once was.
“Certainly, running back is a position you would love to fill in every class,” Helmholdt said Friday. “Transfers or injuries can devastate your depth chart really quick, but that doesn’t mean it always happens. The running back position has certainly lost value over the last 20 years I’ve covered recruiting. I just don’t know that it is a priority like other positions, including quarterback and defensive line.
“Obviously, Iowa made some efforts to get running backs in this class, but it’s not always successful. It is a position, unlike quarterback, where you can bring in multiple in one year and then miss the following year.”
According to the Rivals.com database, Iowa has signed at least one running back in each recruiting class dating back to 2002.
Mekhi Sargent used up his eligibility after last season, and Alabama native Shadrick Byrd transferred left the team in October and has since transferred to North Carolina-Charlotte.
That leaves Iowa with five running backs on its current roster, including junior Tyler Goodson and senior Ivory Kelly-Martin, both of whom have extensive game experience.
Iowa also has Leshon Williams, Gavin Williams and Keontae Luckett on the roster.
Leshon Williams and Gavin Williams both were part of Iowa’s 2020 recruiting class and redshirted last season.
Luckett, a redshirt sophomore from New London, Iowa, is the only one not currently on scholarship.
Gavin Williams, a native of Altoona, is the only one with game experience, though it was limited action during a blowout win over Michigan State in 2020.
It is difficult to know how the Iowa coaches are prioritizing the running back position in the 2021 class, but Helmholdt said that since Iowa hasn’t offered scholarships to many running backs in the 2021 class, the Iowa coaching staff may be content with its current stable of backs.
“They only offered 10 or 12 running backs in this class, which isn’t a big number,” Helmholdt said. “There were plenty of options out there for them, and guys they just didn’t go that hard after. They offered (Toledo signee) Willie Shaw from Chicago early on then stopped recruiting him, and he’s a kid that I think is an outstanding talent. It happened with several players.
“There are options out there for them for running back. Power Five-caliber running backs were out there that they decided not to pursue, so that tells me it just wasn’t a priority for them in this 2021 class.”
Iowa also went six months without receiving a verbal commitment in the class before Iowa Falls native Karson Sharar committed in December.
While the extended dead period due to the COVID-19 pandemic affects all schools, Iowa has something working against it that other schools don’t – a tumultuous 2020 offseason that saw several former players voice allegations of racial bias within the program, mostly surrounding former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
“Definitely I think the situation that happened in the offseason negatively affected Iowa from a recruiting standpoint,” Helmholdt said. “They have some trust to rebuild, and that’s not going to happen overnight. I expect it will continue to be a recruiting hurdle for them, though one they can overcome as time from the situation elapses.”
Another option could be the transfer portal, which Iowa has mostly utilized to bolster its offensive and defensive line in recent years.
“I think every team should be involved in the transfer portal,” Helmholdt said. “There’s just too much talent in there to ignore. And when you have players that can come in and help you out immediately, the transfer portal should absolutely be part of your personnel development process, every team across the country.”