The recruiting class of 2013 is in the books and the Hawkeye coaches are already hard at work on the Class of 2014 prospects. Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson talks about this class of recruits, where the position priorities will be in 2014, and he discusses the impact of some of the new recruiting rules that go into effect this summer.
Q: You guys got off to a fast start in recruiting with a lot of commitments before the summer was over. Was that the plan in 2013?
JOHNSON: That is where the trend is going.
Q: Did you guys feel like you had to embrace that trend right away?
JOHNSON: Yeah. I think it will speed up even more with the new recruiting rules. Everything is moving fastest. We are trying to get kids on campus sooner and get them committed. We were fortunate in that I think we had 16 guys committed early and we held on to 14 of them. It is a credit to the character of the kids that stuck with us and honored their commitment.
Q: Are there other trends that you see happening and that you will have to adjust to in the next recruiting cycle?
JOHNSON: Not really. I think it's really just the new rules that you have to adjust to. Now you are going to be able to make phone contact with sophomores. They will be juniors by the time you are able to contact them in the first part of the new rules. Moving forward it's July 1st after their sophomore year. It means you have to evaluate them earlier and try to be right on your evaluations.
Q: It would seem that the new rules also make it riskier because you are evaluating kids earlier.
JOHNSON: It makes it a lot more risky. We are kind of getting into basketball rules, but kids are mature enough to evaluate like you can with a basketball evaluation. There is a big difference between knocking a 17 or 18 year old around than a 15 or 16 year old kid. You can probably evaluate the skill position kids early enough, but it is hard to evaluate linemen. You are throwing caution into the wind because a lot of kids don't even play varsity at that age. What are you going to do, evaluate freshmen and JV tape now? It's getting a little crazy.
Q: I would think that makes getting them on campus and into your summer camp where you can work with them hands on even more important.
JOHNSON: It becomes even more important. We have talked about doing a couple of different things from a visit standpoint and when we are going to get kids on campus. It is all stuff that is new to everyone and we are going to try and be at the forefront with our thoughts on what we do.
Q: With the contacts, I have to think it's going to get a little crazy with the unlimited texts and phone calls coming into play. You guys will all be allowed to be out on the road now. How do you coordinate all of that at one time?
JOHNSON: It will be a lot easier to coordinate being on the road. Now you don't have to pull guys off the road so someone else can go out. Honestly, that's the best rule that was just added because it will be easier to manage. The hard part will be, for example, I had three kids that I was working on in St. Louis, a kid in Minneapolis, and a kid in Indiana. All of those guys in December. So you have five kids that you have to spend serious amounts of time with and now you are getting into the homes of juniors at the same time. There is going to be some shuffling to get it all in. Then you have to get the head coach in there to see the juniors one time in December and January. It will certainly eat up a lot of time.
Q: You guys have done it both ways. In the past few years a lot of early commits and keep them, but you have also had a smaller number and then go out and get more later in the process. Which one is easier or better?
JOHNSON: It is a lot easier to get them early and then work on keeping them. I think it helps to narrow your focus on who you are working on so you can start to evaluate other prospects.
Q: Did you feel hamstrung at any point by having so many commits? As you went through the season and felt you might need a player or two at different positions and maybe not have room to get what you needed because you had most of the class already committed?
JOHNSON: I think we were in good shape coming down to the end. We still had a few spots open and we felt like those guys fit a need for us.
Q: Talk about the three kids from St. Louis: Harris, Mitchell, and the late addition of Parker.
JOHNSON: They are all different guys. We had Harris and Mitchell committed early. All three are very good athletes. The other two guys are wide receivers and then with Parker, he can play running back and could move out to wide receiver in the slot. A big part of our class as a whole, the goal was to increase our speed and athletic ability. We feel like all three of those kids can do that for us. All three are a little bit raw from a football standpoint, but they have their best football ahead of them and we feel like they will be tremendous football players for us.
Q: John Kenny is already on campus. He was getting worked on by a lot of the other Indiana kids to get him to flip. Talk about him sticking with you guys when he faced the peer pressure.
JOHNSON: That is a credit to his character and his desire to be part of something special here at Iowa. He was important to us because we have a huge need at linebacker. Getting Reggie Spearman too. We have a huge need at linebacker. I thought that was big for us at the end.
Q: Speaking of Reggie Spearman, what we your take on his recruitment. It was pretty wild going from committed to Indiana, to committed to Illinois, to finally ending up with you guys at the end.
JOHNSON: Reggie has been evaluating a lot of programs. (laugh) I think his parents did a nice job of helping him through the process. We are just happy that we were where the bottle stopped at. (laugh)
Q: So kids have fun with the process
JOHNSON: A lot of kids have fun with it.
Q: They jump on twitter and other social media sites getting feedback from people. From the coach perspective, does that drive you a little crazy or do you just have to not think about it?
JOHNSON: I think it was a year or two ago you asked me about Twitter. I have gone completely the opposite on it now. I don't really get on Twitter now because of the information overload. To me, some of the stuff is just silliness about trying to get more followers and things like that. Then you look at what people are saying. It's like trying to moderate your message boards, but there's no moderation there. In some ways, it's just better that it's left unknown.
Q: Does it concern you at all with fans reaching out to prospects, like fans from a lot of schools were doing with Reggie Spearman?
JOHNSON: It's a different world out there. If someone wants to try and sway a 16 year old kid, then that's up to them. We choose to spend our time differently looking at different things.
Q: I think you landed recruits from ten different states this year. Do you feel like you guys expanded the map a bit this year?
JOHNSON: I think we put a little more of an emphasis down in Texas.
Q: Did Greg Davis help down there?
JOHNSON: Greg helped us down there. LeVar Woods was new in that area, so Greg was a great mentor to him down there. He was a great guide for him. Brian Ferentz did an excellent job over in Ohio. Those were two states where we gained a little more access. The next step is to keep expanding it.
Q: Talk about the late additions of A.J. Jones and Wadley.
JOHNSON: Both of them are interesting stories. Jones was a kid that LeVar had a strong feeling about getting into our program. He got to know him very well in the recruiting process. He is a very raw athlete. If you talk to his high school coach, he will tell you that his best football is definitely in front of him. He's a really long kid and an athletic kid. He has been timed electronically in the 4.4's. He has some speed and some tools to him. He has great character and he's excited to be here. That excitement is contagious and we felt very strongly that we wanted him on our team. Wadley was a kid that the elder Coach Verducci, who had filtered a lot of players to us in the past in the 80's, called us and in December about him. Coach Ferentz really respects Coach Verducci and feels like the kind of players he filtered to us in the 80's , he never really missed on them. Once we saw his tape, Coach Ferentz was very impressed with him. Coach Ferentz watched him play basketball and just felt like he was a kid that we had to have on our team.
Q: What ultimately sold you guys on Josey Jewell?
JOHNSON: Kind of a similar story to A.J. Jones. He was a kid that from the very beginning of recruiting that Reese Morgan felt very strongly about. He loved his character. He is a multi-sport athlete. He has toughness and he was a guy that Reese always brought up. When Reese does something like that, Coach Ferentz listens because Reese is usually right when he has those strong feelings. Coach Ferentz made the decision because of the way Reese felt about him, we were going to offer him.
Q: Coach Morgan always seems to find one guy every year that he really likes in-state and gets them an offer and usually they turn out to be solid players for you guys.
JOHNSON: He really does and they have usually worked out very well for us. Reese rarely misses when he feels strongly about a kid and he felt that way about Josey Jewell.
Q: You were the lead guy for Malik Rucker. Talk about his recruitment.
JOHNSON: Again, he was one of the guys we locked up early. He's an excellent athlete. We tease him that the 170 pounds that's on the list right now is probably pretty generous. He is probably close to 160 right now, but he has no regard for his body. He will strike you and he's a very physical player. He can really run and gets after people. He could play corner or safety because he is physical. We want him to be a corner, but he has the ability to go back and forth.
Q: What about Solomon Warfield, another big hitter on film.
JOHNSON: Yeah, you are right. He's not afraid to hit anyone. When you look at it we are going to really try to keep Rucker at corner and Warfield at safety. Desmond King is a tremendous athlete that we ended up getting at the end. We have to wait and see where he will fit from a corner or safety perspective.
Q: Is the biggest need area that you didn't get filled at defensive end?
JOHNSON: I think we would have liked to have gotten a defensive end in this class. We just didn't feel comfortable and we didn't want to just make someone up. We felt like we had to be right at that position. We didn't just want to take a body, so that is going to be a huge need for us in the upcoming class. I think also at linebacker, if we could have found another one that we really felt comfortable with, we would have liked that.
Q: Looking ahead to the 2014 class, obviously you can't talk about specific kids, but you have to feel good about the start so far. What positions will be a priority next year beyond defensive end and linebacker?
JOHNSON: I think you would look at defensive end, linebacker, and offensive line to start. I think those are three need areas for us. I think from there, you will see us take at least one kid at each position. We really loaded up with a lot of offensive players this year, especially at the skill positions. We are probably not going to take a lot of wide receivers in 2014. We will always take a quarterback, running back, and tight end. Offensive line is going to be huge need for us and then defensive backs, linebackers, and defensive line.
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