Iowa's latest defensive backs recruits seem to be just what Phil Parker likes

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Phil Parker during practice

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Never would I be foolish enough to predict stardom for any Iowa football recruit not named A.J. Epenesa, but Iowa’s latest verbal commitment shows some early signs of star potential.

And I say that only half jokingly.

His name is Brenden Deasfernades and he is a 2020 defensive back from Belleville, Mich., who picked Iowa over scholarship offers from Southeast Missouri State, Davenport University and Northwood, according to Rivals.

Iowa apparently offered Deasfernades a scholarship during his visit to the UI campus this past weekend. He appears to have accepted the offer almost immediately, which is easy to understand, considering his other three reported offers.

To have gone from having scholarship offers from Southeast Missouri State, Davenport University and Northwood to getting an offer from Iowa is a significant development and a major step forward.

“That tells me that I am fortunate enough for God to place me on a great path to success, Deasfernandes said Sunday. 

If Iowa fans didn’t know better, they’d wonder why their school was recruiting against the likes of Davenport University, which is in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a prospect.

But Iowa fans do know better.

They have learned over the years that a recruit’s ranking and his offer list coming out of high school doesn’t always determine what will happen in college, especially in regard to defensive backs where Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker is almost like a magician in how he sees potential where other coaches don’t see it.

Iowa fans have witnessed up close the improbable rise of Desmond King and Josh Jackson, how they both have gone from being defensive back recruits with just one power five scholarship offer from Iowa to All-America defensive backs in college, to now current NFL players.

Former Iowa defensive backs Micah Hyde and Amani Hooker are other examples of unheralded recruits who would go on to thrive under Parker before playing in the NFL. Neither Hyde nor Hooker had a power 5 scholarship offer besides one from Iowa, and yet, they were named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year in 2012 and 2018, respectively.

These improbable rises have happened enough under Parker to where it has to be more than just a coincidence.

Parker clearly has a knack for identifying hidden talent and then developing it in the secondary.

That’s why it would be naïve and misguided to judge Deasfernandes by his list of scholarship offers, or by the fact that he has no stars.

If Parker believes that Deasfernandes has what it takes to compete in the Big Ten, then Hawkeye fans should believe it, too.

Iowa also received a verbal commitment from 2020 defensive back A.J. Lawson on Saturday.

A native of Decatur, Ill., the 6-2, 180-pound Lawson has received more attention during the recruiting process than Deasfernandes, but Minnesota is believed to be Lawson’s only other power five offer, according to the Rivals data base. 

Even in this age of recruiting overkill where kids start being evaluated almost as soon as they graduate from middle school, some recruits still fall under the radar and are under-appreciated.

It takes a special talent to identify those recruits, and Parker clearly has that talent.

Former Iowa assistant coach Reese Morgan had a similar talent in finding overlooked and hidden gems in plain sight, one example being former All-America and NFL linebacker Chad Greenway.

In fairness to the recruiting rankings, they are credible and helpful to a point.

There is obviously something to be said for being a four- or a five-star recruit coming out of high because just look at Alabama’s dominance under Nick Saban. It has been built and sustained mostly on the shoulders of four-and five-star recruits.

However, most programs don’t have the luxury of signing mega-recruits on an annual basis, so they have to look elsewhere and take chances. The coaches have to trust their ability to identify and develop hidden talent, and that’s what you see happening at Iowa.

Iowa received a verbal commitment from 2021 offensive lineman Connor Colby on Friday. He is ranked as a four-star recruit and has offers from both Ohio State and Michigan.

But Colby also lives in Cedar Rapids and will be a junior at Kennedy High School this fall. So Iowa had a built-in advantage in recruiting him and made the most of it.

Kirk Ferentz’s crew certainly tries to land big-time recruits, but they don’t dwell on it and they always seem to have other more realistic options.

They don’t pay much attention to the recruiting rankings. And why should they since they know way more about evaluating prospects than any so-called recruiting guru?