The bulk of Iowa’s 2021 recruiting class had committed before, or during the early stages of, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The restrictions placed by the NCAA — no official visits to homes, coaches couldn’t visit recruits or watch them play in person — didn’t really impact the class.
“In some strange way, I feel like I know these prospects better than a normal year because we had so much time to dedicate to it back when we should have been having spring practice, should have been in a summer program, those kinds of things,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said on Wednesday, the second signing day for this recruiting class.
Iowa signed 19 players, 17 on the first signing day back in December.
It’s a high number considering what went on in the recruiting footprint for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa high schools played an 8-game schedule. Minnesota schools played a shorter schedule after the state association reversed course, going from fall to spring and then back to fall. Illinois schools will play a shortened spring schedule, but it may be too late for seniors trying to find a spot.
“In some strange way, I think it was almost a benefit -- not that we want to go through that again,” Ferentz said. “But where we are missing out right now is we didn't have a chance to evaluate last spring. We couldn't go out on the road and our coaches couldn't be out in schools. We couldn't have camps on campus where we are not only identifying prospects for this current year but years in advance. You learn things about people then. Couldn't go out during the fall, needless to say, and the last couple weeks, normally we'd be on the road in January and we're sitting here.”
It’s been a painful year for high school athletes during the pandemic. The spring season was completely shut down. Iowa played a summer baseball and softball season, got through a somewhat normal fall season, and is closing in on wrapping up a winter season.
But if coaches aren’t able to get out and scout, it’s hard to identify players.
It was a problem for Western Illinois, especially with Illinois high schools shut down. The Leathernecks signed 18 players, with only one from in the state, and a vast majority of the class were transfers from other NCAA Division I schools or junior colleges.
“It was definitely unique, in terms of recruiting,” coach Jared Elliott said Wednesday. “I think recruiting is all about relationships. It’s hard to kind of form and develop those kind of relationships with potential student-athletes and their families over Zooms or FaceTimes. You still can — thank God for the technology we have today, because it was obviously helpful. But you’ve got to rely on people you know, coaches you know across the country, to not only identify off of videotape the guys who can fit your program, not only with their skill set but also with the character component. Are they the right fit for what you believe in your locker room and all that?
“Yeah, you have to do your homework.”
That homework is going to continue with the 2022 class. The NCAA is expected to ease into a quiet period this spring, with athletes and their families being allowed on-campus visits, but coaches won’t be able to go out and scout yet.
“I do think we’re going to get back to normal in terms of high school recruiting and all of those things,” Elliott said.
“It's going to be a challenge for us,” Ferentz said. “You have to try to go on film. There are a lot of people that didn't play high school football this year. So you can imagine the challenges there, right.
“All that being said, everybody is facing the same challenge. So you've just got to try to figure out a way to do it as best you can and go from there. We don't have a particularly large class to recruit next year. I guess maybe that's a lucky break for us.”
For high school athletes looking to catch a coach’s eye, any break is needed.
John Bohnenkamp is an award-winning sports reporter and is a contributor to Pen City Current.
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