By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – No matter if it happens in late December or on the first Wednesday in February, national signing day for college football is a time to rejoice, to give thanks and to maybe even boast a little bit.
There is no such thing as a bad recruiting class on signing day, or even an average one. Glasses aren’t just half full on national signing day, they’re overflowing with hope and optimism.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media on Wednesday and delivered the standard signing day narrative in which he praised the new recruits for being the right fits on and off the field and his assistant coaches for working hard to get them.
“First and foremost, really happy with the class,” Ferentz said. “I think thus far the way it's pulled together, we've done a good job there. Feel good about the class. We're really excited about the young men that chose to sign with us today.”
You could almost be certain that Ferentz said something very similar in each of his previous 20 national signing day press conferences.
Every coach feels good on signing day because signing day is a feel-good occasion. It’s a chance for coaches and recruits to exhale, if only for a few days with the late signing period now approaching under the new setup.
The only significant change to Wednesday’s press conference was the timing of it with Dec. 20th the start of the first early signing period in the history of the sport.
The first Wednesday in February used to be the start of the traditional signing period for college football, but that day now marks the start of the late signing period.
“I'm still in favor of an early signing period,” Ferentz said. “I think the other part of this equation is right now none of us can make full judgment until this whole recruiting process is over because I think it's going to be a learning period in the next six, seven weeks. Eager to see how that unfolds. We’ll probably have a better idea, better perspective in February. I'm sure as I've already heard a lot of my peers have a lot of opinions about it. Kind of hold judgment on that until it's all said and done.
“The bottom line is the guys on our staff have really worked hard to put this group together. I feel really good. Most of these players have been here a lot. They've found their way to campus often, most of them. We really feel comfortable about the mesh between them and us. I think they've got a good idea what we expect in our program, what we're going to expect of them as players. The buy-in has been really good. I feel good about that.”
Ferentz said he expected to sign anywhere from 16 to 18 recruits during the early signing period, which lasts through Friday, and about 20 to 22 players overall.
That is typical for an Iowa class, and so are the players who make up the 2018 class. Most of them are three-star prospects with decent offers, but there are four four-star recruits in the 2018 class, thanks to the late addition of four-star defensive back Dallas Craddieth from St. Louis.
He was expected to sign in February, but ultimately decided that Iowa was the right fit now, largely due to Phil Parker’s influence as defensive coordinator and as the defensive backs coach.
Iowa has had two defensive backs – Desmond King in 2015 and Josh Jackson this season – earn consensus All-American honors in the last three seasons. King also won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top collegiate defensive back in 2015, while Jackson was one of three semifinalists for the award this season.
Combine their success with previous defensive backs who have shined at Iowa, including rising NFL star Micah Hyde, and Parker has something to sell to defensive backs beyond the usual stuff like top-notch facilities, coaching stability and long-term bowl success.
“If anybody is paying attention, we've had pretty good success with those guys,” Ferentz said Wednesday. “I think our guys have played really well back there. A bunch of different stories. Josh is a one-year starter, consensus All-American. He's going to be on that wall here in short time.
“I think the neat thing is they all come from different backgrounds, different pedigree, if you will. The common denominator is they're all guys that like playing football, they're all good teammates. We feel good about the group coming in. They're going to complement the group we have right now. Certainly with guys leaving, it's hard to play without defensive backs.”
There is growing speculation that Jackson will make his final appearance as a Hawkeye in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27 against Boston College at Yankee Stadium in New York City.
The Corinth, Texas native said Tuesday that he was fifty-fifty about declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft as a junior, and that he would announce his decision after the bowl game.
Jackson also said he only needs nine credit hours to graduate, so more signs point to him skipping his senior season to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
If so, Iowa has taken steps to restock the secondary, although, there was some concern because of the fact that Indianapolis defensive backs Julius Brents and D.J. Johnson weren't on the list of recruits that Iowa released on Wednesday. They supposedly are waiting to announce their signings at a later time.
"Some players have signed, but they have not released their information yet, so we're not going to share that or discuss that with them, but we're certainly going to honor their request not to share it until they have a chance to do so," Ferentz said.
Other notable new additions to Iowa's 2018 class include four-star quarterback Spencer Petras from San Rafael, Calif., who previously was committed to Oregon State, and junior-college defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon, who was a member of Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class before an academic issue sent him to Iowa Western Community College for one semester.
Nixon performed well enough this past fall that Alabama reportedly offered him a scholarship, but he stuck with Iowa, which is a lot closer to his hometown of Kenosha, Wis.
Assistant coach Seth Wallace also deserves credit for keeping Nixon committed to Iowa, along with fellow assistant Reese Morgan.
“He put an awful lot of time into that whole thing, starting last winter,” Ferentz said of Wallace. “I remember Reese went up there, they watched a basketball game, all that kind of stuff. It's been a lot of effort. Then we tried to make sure we had a path for him if one didn't work out, that type of thing. That's our jobs. I mean, nobody is looking for a pat on the head or a bonus on that one. It's what we do. Seth did a great job on that.
“Fortunately, I think the family is appreciative of it. The bottom line is we were looking out for Daviyon's well-being the best we could without any guarantee. Happy the way it worked out. Excited to get him here this January. I think we'll have a couple guys coming in in January. Excited to get him here and get him started.”
Petras also plans to enroll at Iowa this January in order to get a head start on college and on the competition at quarterback.
He would be the fifth quarterback on scholarship if all the current quarterbacks on scholarship return for spring practice.
But a lot could change between now and the start of next season with regard to the quarterbacks, and it wouldn’t be a surprise based on the rumors and speculation if there were some roster changes at that position.
Ferentz said Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of any players who plan to leave the team at this point. And while that might be the case, the roster is always fluid this time of year. But especially now between semesters.
The 2018 class also has four Iowa natives, including Iowa City West linebacker Dillon Doyle, who is the son of Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle, and Solon defensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum.
"One thing about him, I think I know him pretty well, who he is, what he stands for, how he operates, all that type of thing," Ferentz said of Dillon Doyle. "Eightteen years ago nobody knew he would be a Division I prospect. Neat how that all worked. I feel glad that he likes our program."
Ferentz also had high praise for Linderbaum.
"We really like Tyler," Ferentz said. "I think he's a really good football player, probably could do a couple things for us. Talk about offense, defense, but our plans are to play him on defense. Really happy about that, for sure."
It's hard not to be happy on signing day.