By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa - When making an important life decision, it always helps to hear from someone who has been through it before.
Iowa recruiting coordinator and assistant defensive line coach Kelvin Bell takes full advantage of his personal experience as a former Hawkeye player when trying to lure recruits to Iowa City, particularly ones from outside the Midwest.
A native of Olive Branch, Miss., Bell believes his experience helps paint a picture for recruits that know little to nothing about Iowa.
“I tell them my recruiting story,” Bell said. “That’s as big as anything I can sell when I go outside the region. I’m not from the region so I can tell them my thoughts before visiting Iowa, my thoughts while I was at Iowa and then after I graduated my reflection upon Iowa.
“I feel like I’m in a really good position, a really good role, to be able to go out there, outside the region, and be able to sell my experiences here. All of them. Bad, good or indifferent.”
Bell’s thoughts before visiting Iowa begin with a surreal story he tells recruits about his first experience with defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who had just finished his first season as the Iowa defensive backs coach.
“The most important thing that I’ve told them, that’s unique is the guy that I’m working for now, you know a guy named Phil Parker he’s our defensive coordinator,” Bell said. “But I remember December of 1999, Phil Parker walking into Olive Branch High School and putting me against a wall to see how tall I was.
“And now I work here. You don’t have that story at any other college, I guarantee you don’t have it.”
The story serves as a reminder of the longevity of head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff, which is uncommon in college football.
It also helps Iowa with regard to the new early signing period that was implemented last December.
Recruits that decide to commit to Iowa can be assured that things will be business as usual.
“That signing day, putting it there, has now sped everything up because those kids want to focus on their senior seasons, they have to get on campus now,” Bell said.
“The one thing that I think is a benefit for us, in terms of a selling point, because in college football a lot of things can happen, a lot of coaches move around, the landscape doesn’t look the same in August as it will in January of next year.
“The kids that we’re recruiting now, one thing they can bank on is that it’s going to look the same around here.”
Changing landscape: When the NCAA implemented the early signing period and allowed recruits to take official visits in the spring, it received mixed reviews.
The new policy paid off for Iowa as it signed 18 of the 22 players in its 2018 class in December.
“As that signing day looms, I think, and this is the way it should be, it’s not, but this is the way it should be,” Bell said. “From August to December every high school kid should be worried about winning a state championship. They shouldn’t be worried about where am I going on Saturday, in terms of recruiting. They should be trying to be the best high school junior or senior that they can be.”
Never too early: Iowa has been known to offer scholarships to recruits who are just getting started in high school, but it doesn't happen very often.
While other schools are extending offers to eighth graders, Iowa often waits until the recruits are a couple years into high school.
Bell said Iowa doesn't have an age limit and is more concerned about whether there is a mutual interest.
“There’s no age limit,” Bell said. “If I haven’t seen the kid and the kid hasn’t visited here, it’s kind of hard to realistic about their opportunities.
“If a kid visits here and he has genuine interest I have no problem extending an offer. If a kid just wants to be recruited, no, I’m not going appease you. I don’t want you to tweet out what you’re blessed to receive, you have no intention of coming here, you have no idea what I’m trying to offer you if that’s your motive.”
Selling stars: Not only does Bell sell his own recruiting story, he uses stories of past Iowa recruits in an effort to paint a picture of the opportunities that lie ahead for potential recruits.
Two recent examples that Bell mentioned on Friday are Josh Jackson and James Daniels, who came to Iowa under much different circumstances.
Jackson was a lightly recruited defensive back out of Corinth, Texas, while Daniels arrived as a four-star center with dozens of scholarship offers including Alabama, Auburn, Michigan and Ohio State, to name a few.
“You sell them because those names have star power and those kids recognize those names,” Bell said. “But what they don’t know are the stories behind them. They just see Saturday. They see the interception, they see James Daniels blocking, but they don’t understand how James arrived at Iowa.
“Those stories behind that are much more meaningful, they impact the kids much more about how they arrived there.”
Major motivation: The recruiting stories also help with Bell’s other job, which is coaching the Iowa defensive line.
With the exception of sophomore defensive end A.J. Epenesa, a former five-star recruit, the group mostly has recruiting nobodies that turned into Big Ten-caliber players, including senior Parker Hesse.
Bell doesn’t care what kind of background a player comes from as long as the player is willing to work hard and sacrifice for the team.
“There’s only one highly recruited kid in there. Every other kid in there has a story about how they ended up here and they all want an opportunity.
“Every day, at the end of practice, at the beginning of practice, you’re always focused on something. I wish I could be more positive with them and say hey that was a really good job but I never want anyone to become complacent. I don’t want any of our kids to have a false sense of who they really are.
“Take Parker Hesse. I tell him all the time, you’re a two star quarterback from Waukon, Iowa that chose between Iowa, Northern Iowa and South Dakota State. That’s not a lot to brag about.”