When Caring Was Creepy: The Class of 2008

Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

BHGP looks back at the 2008 Iowa football recruiting class.

INITIAL NUMBERS

Number of players: 25
Number of Rivals 4-star players: 0
Number of Rivals 3-star players: 13
Number of Rivals 2-star players: 12

This was the nadir of Iowa recruiting in the Rivals era. This class had the lowest average rating of any Iowa class since 2002, the most two-stars, and -- for the first time since at least 2002 -- no four-star-rated recruits. Historically, the timing of this class makes sense. For one, Iowa was extremely young in 2007, and there weren't a ton of "need" positions to fill. For another, the Hawkeyes had just gone 6-6 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in seven seasons. Recruiting was a late-season endeavor for Iowa in 2008, so the disappointing season certainly had repercussions in the recruiting game.

FINAL NUMBERS
Number of players who left the program early: 13
Number of players who completed four years: 12
Number of multiple-year starters: 4
Number of one-year starters: 6

That right there? That's a massive recruiting whiff. At any program, losing half of a recruiting class before graduation is going to hurt. For a particularly developmental class at a developmental program like Iowa, it's disastrous. Equally bad: 8 of the 12 players who remained only contributed as a starter in one year or never consistently cracked the starting lineup. From the Class of 2008, Iowa got two NFL-level players, two three-year starters, two running backs who could have been great, and a handful of guys who either lost their starting jobs to younger players or didn't contribute significant minutes until their final seasons. In their final 2-3 seasons in the program, this class went 19-19, fading as the NFL guys left and the lower-tier players stayed.

THE PLAYERS (in order of Rivals projection)

John Wienke
Recruited as: Quarterback
Rivals projection: 5.7 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Placekick holder and backup/pooch punter

Wienke was a Michigan commitment who changed his mind when Rich Rodriguez took over in Ann Arbor; Carr pointed him toward Iowa, and Ferentz found him a scholarship. He was an Elite 11 quarterback (despite the three-star rating), and was a prohibitive favorite over unheralded classmate James Vandenberg. He never passed Vandenberg, though, and the writing was on the wall by his redshirt sophomore season. He spent his final season in one of the most oddball roles possible: Wienke held placekicks, as he had in previous seasons, and made a serious run at the starting punter position before settling in as a pooch punter.

Nate Guillory
Recruited as: Running back
Rivals projection: 5.7 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Left program in August 2008

When Kirk Ferentz talks about how junior college players don't work well at Iowa, Nate Guillory is who he is referencing. Guillory came out of Coffeyville (KS) Community College, and committed to both Kansas State and Michigan State before finally settling on Iowa. He said he did it because the depth chart was open. Shonn Greene showed up in August and shut that whole thing down, and Guillory left midway through camp and resurfaced at Northwestern Oklahoma State.

Riley Reiff
Recruited as: Defensive end
Rivals projection: 5.7 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Left tackle; left early for NFL

One of two unquestioned success stories in the Class of 2008, Reiff damn near didn't make it to camp after being arrested in July 2008 after being chased by cops who found him in some state of undress in downtown Iowa City. Reiff redshirted, then became the utility lineman on Iowa's stellar offensive front in 2009 and blossomed into the team's best blocker. He moved to left tackle when Bryan Bulaga left early for the NFL, then did the same following the 2011 season. He counts as a defection, but it's for the best of reasons: He was really good.

DeMarco Paine
Recruited as: Cornerback
Rivals projection: 5.6 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Grade issues; transfer

Paine came out of St. Louis and figured to contribute immediately; he actually played in his first game as a member of the program against Maine. Unfortunately, Paine's grades went in the tank, and he was out of the program and going to school at Iowa Central Community College on the Amari Spievey plan. Iowa eventually lost interest in bringing him back, and he had a solid two seasons at Miami (Ohio).

James Ferentz
Recruited as: Offensive lineman
Rivals projection: 5.6 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Starting center, mean ol' bastard

Obviously, there wasn't much of a recruiting fight over Ferentz, but he was far from a legacy choice. After some off-field issues that might well have sent a guy named James Smith home before he ever saw the field, Ferentz straightened himself out and became one hell of an interior lineman. He spent his senior season as leader of the offensive line, on-field coach for a bunch of young blockers, and overall badass. He probably won't get play from the NFL -- you have to be a monster to get an NFL team to pay attention to you as a center, and James isn't big enough -- but he had a good, solid career. Definitely the fourth-best player in this class.

Khalif Staten
Recruited as: Linebacker
Rivals projection: 5.6 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Gone baby gone

Staten was recruited by most schools as a wide receiver, but Iowa brought him in and built him up to a 240-pound terrormonster during a redshirt season. Staten got homesick, though, and the Brooklyn native transferred to New York City's ASA junior college after one semester in the program. Had some interest from Memphis after his junior college career ended, but never resurfaced.

Jeff Brinson
Recruited as: Running back
Rivals projection: 5.6 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Seriously, one of the saddest of the AIRBHG victims

The perpetual hype around Brinson is why recruiting coverage sucks. Brinson, who was recruited by Rick Kaczenski out of St. Petersburg, Florida, combined the vague hope of a Florida recruit with bona fide sleeper status as ordained by Rivals, who named him one of the nation's five best "sleeper" recruits. Most seriously expected him to break into the depth chart on the first day he arrived. Instead, Brinson simply broke. From a previous write-up of his career:

The video on Brinson was wonderful, mostly because he played in a Wing T offense in high school, so it was just pulling guards and Soviet-style deception. That was all we really saw of Brinson, though. Even with the dearth of halfbacks, Brinson redshirted. He rushed once for seven yards as a redshirt freshman, but never fully recovered from ankle injuries suffered in August camp. Then, before the 2009 season, he hurt his foot and never got back to the field. In the winter of 2010, Brinson transferred to Central Florida; by August 2011, he'd tore his ACL and quit football altogether. One carry, seven yards.

David Cato
Recruited as: Safety
Rivals projection: 5.5 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Stuck behind Sash, transfer

Cato was a rare Iowa safety recruit, but he didn't have whatever it was that Iowa wants in a free safety and got trapped behind Tyler Sash at strong safety, who had a redshirt season that Cato never got and whose excellent play made it almost impossible for Cato to see the field. He left after two seasons, played a couple of years at Stephen F. Austin, and called it a career.

James Vandenberg
Recruited as: Quarterback
Rivals projection: 5.5 (3 stars)
Final disposition: It's really hard to tell

I don't know what to say here. It's just too soon to judge James Vandenberg's career. He played one of the bravest games I've ever seen as a sophomore at Ohio State, was arguably the Big Ten's best passing quarterback as a junior and was widely considered one of the conference's best signalcallers before his senior season. He then imploded, for whatever reason: New coordinator? New system that didn't fit his skills? Terrible receivers? Massive regression? He was a multple-year starter who never questioned his coaches despite being turned into the new Jake Christensen. Regardless, he's one of the most successful players out of this class.

Shaun Prater
Recruited as: Cornerback
Rivals projection: 5.5 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Three-year starter, NFL Draftee

Prater stepped in on Day One and showed he could play at this level. He was the third cornerback through most of 2008, started all but two games (he was suspended for an offseason issue) as a sophomore on the excellent 2009 defense, became the top dog cornerback in 2010 and, after a brief dalliance with an early NFL entrance, returned for a difficult 2011 season where he was repeatedly blamed for Tanner Miller's constant improper placement. He made 35 starts and ended up in the NFL. Second-best player in this class.

Brad Herman
Recruited as: Tight end
Rivals projection: 5.5 (3 stars)
Final disposition: One year as a starter. Kinda.

Herman was the guy who coaches always volunteered as an example of a promising, hard-working kid who was going places in the Iowa program. And then he never really went anywhere. He skipped a redshirt despite being buried on the depth chart behind a bevy of future pros. He finally got his chance in 2011. The results: Eight catches, 95 yards, two touchdowns, passed by Polish Hat. He ended up on the Patriots last year, but didn't play.

David Blackwell
Recruited as: Quarterback, ostensibly
Rivals projection: 5.5 (3 stars)
Final disposition: Never made it

Blackwell was the diamond in the rough of Iowa's class: A moderate three-star prospect who had initial interest from the likes of LSU and Ole Miss but tore his ACL before his senior season. Iowa stayed, and the Hawkeyes got his LOI. Unfortunately, he did not qualify, and ended up at Iowa Western, where he spent one year focused on grades and played quarterback in the second year. Ended up at Bethune-Cookman.

Jonathan Gimm
Recruited as: Tight end
Rivals projection: 5.5 (3 stars)
Final disposition: An H-back on a team with no need for an H-back

Gimm wasn't just a block-first tight end when Iowa landed him out of Texas; he was a block-only tight end. If there's a program that could theoretically use that, it's Iowa. Yet, Gimm never really broke through in a loaded tight end depth chart, and his attempts at playing fullback fell short. Gimm finished his four years having caught one pass for five yards and returning a squib kick.

Willie Lowe
Recruited as: Running back or defensive back
Rivals projection: 5.4 (2 stars)
Final disposition: The only mass transfer

WIllie Lowe played as a freshman. Willie got rhabdo as a junior. Willie asked for a transfer as a senior. There's no sign of him resurfacing anywhere else, as far as I know. Willie is a sad story.

Trent Mossbrucker
Recruited as: Placekicker
Rivals projection: 5.4 (2 star)
Final disposition: A man, broken, a shadow of his former glory

There was a while there, in 2008, where Trent Mossbrucker looked like a poor man's Nate Keading, or at least a rich man's Kyle Schlicher. As a freshman, he made 13 of 15 field goal attempts and was a perfect 33/33 on extra points. His leg wasn't the strongest, and his kickoff skills were lacking, but as an accurate placekicker there were few better. And then, for some reason, with Iowa needing a field goal to finish off #3 Penn State one blustery November evening, Kirk Ferentz looked down his bench and motioned for Daniel Murray. And then this happened:

Daniel-murray_medium

And Mossbrucker never again attempted a field goal at Iowa. He redshirted in 2009 -- the confidence gained by Murray from one 31-yard field goal was kind of staggering -- but appeared to win the starting job in 2010. When Mossbrucker's final extra point attempt against Arizona, an extra point needed to take the lead, was blocked, Mossbrucker's career was over. He never again kicked a ball in a competitive football game, though he did finish out his five-year scholarship.

Jack Swanson
Recruited as: Defensive back
Rivals projection: 5.3 (2 star)
Final disposition: Swenson, Swenson, Swanson, Samsonite.

Another Florida bust from Kaz, Swanson never really progressed past larval stage. He played in every game as a redshirt freshman and sophomore on special teams, but never seriously broke through at safety despite a lack of serious talent in his way. Swanson played in six games as a senior, recorded two tackles, and was otherwise neither seen nor heard.

Greg Castillo
Recruited as: Cornerback
Rivals projection: 5.3 (2 star)
Final disposition: Nickleback

We have Castillo classified as a one-year starter, which isn't exactly correct. Castillo won the starting job in August twice and lost it both times. A last-second addition to the class who had previously committed to Villanova and whose dad was a longtime Philadelphia Eagles assistant, Castillo took a late offer and parlayed it into four years in the depth chart. Once lamented as the epitome of what is usually wrong with the Iowa secondary -- technically sound and athletically overmatched -- Castillo seemed to find a niche as the third cornerback as a senior, lining up against slot receivers and capably ushering them around the field.

Casey McMillan
Recruited as: Offensive guard
Rivals projection: 5.2 (2 star)
Final disposition: An effective tour guide

We loved Casey McMillan. We loved him for his size and his story (he's from somewhere in Montana and basically got an offer by having a friend send some film to Iowa) and his high school highlight film where his team ran a "pull Casey outside on sweeps and let him light up some fools" offense. We even loved his parents' license plates. But Casey never really panned out. He never started, he bounced around from offensive to defensive line positions, and I'm fairly certain I never saw him in a two-deep. Did a great job of wearing a cowboy hat and telling ladies about football, though.

Shane Prater
Recruited as: Wide receiver
Rivals projection: 5.2 (2 star)
Final disposition: Grades-related casualty

The other Prater brother was not nearly as coveted, and always seemed like he was unhappy with his decision to go to Iowa. He redshirted, got through one semester without incident, then tanked in the second semester of his first year. He was gone from the program before ever playing a down and, despite mild interest from Iowa while he attended Iowa Western Community College, never again materialized in the roster.

Jewel Hampton
Recruited as: Running back
Rivals projection: 5.2 (2 star)
Final disposition: AIRBHG, transfer, FCS superstar, San Francisco 49er

Hampton emerged from the big bunch of running backs to win a role as Shonn Greene's understudy in 2008, and was expected to replace Greene in 2009 when he blew out his knee in July. When he returned as part of a running back trio in 2010, it was all systems go...until his second ACL tear ended his season. He was also in some off-field trouble related to a bar fight, and the rumors surrounding his other activities made him an easy target. In December 2010, he left the program for Southern Illinois, where he won Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year and ran for like a billion yards, came out of college to go pro, and ended up in San Francisco. He was promoted to the 49ers active roster late last season.

Joe Gaglione
Recruited as: Defensive end
Rivals projection: 5.2 (2 star)
Final disposition: Super-senior defensive end, source of what little pass rush Iowa had in 2012

Joey Gags was a project, but a productive one: He recorded 22 sacks as a high school senior in Ohio, and looked like a raw athlete who could help Iowa quickly. He redshirted, then suffered a series of injuries -- torn labrum, sports hernia -- and was unable to play or train. He finally jumped to the top of the depth chart last season, and had a decent senior season.

J.D Griggs
Recruited as: Defensive end
Rivals projection: 5.1 (2 star)
Final disposition: Transferred closer to home

Griggs was another project that never got off the ground. At 6'5 and 220 pounds, he was an ideal candidate for the Chris Doyle program, but a move to tight end never took root, homesickness took hold and, two years later, he was not in August camp. Resurfaced on the defensive line at Akron, where he finished his career this November.

Jason Semmes
Recruited as: Defensive end
Rivals projection: 5.1 (2 star)
Final disposition: Redshirt, transfer, decent MAC defensive lineman

Semmes, like Griggs, redshirted and ran out of time. He transferred to Miami (Ohio), where he earned three varsity letters while racking up 136 career tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. It's rare that a transfer ends up with a career that good.

Steve Bigach
Recruited as: Defensive end
Rivals projection: 5.1 (2 star)
Final disposition: Chris Farley look alike contest winner and one-year utility defensive lineman

I will give Steve Bigach this: He got every ounce of production out of his talents. He didn't see action until 2010, when injuries forced him into four games. He started a handful of games in 2011 and 2012, rotating between defensive end and tackle as needed as one of the most important cogs in the post-2010 Defensive Line Rotation of Doom. He played when hurt. He played when exhausted. He just didn't have the athletic ability needed to move forward. With that star rating, it's about all you can ask.

Adam Robinson
Recruited as: A four-star kid's friend
Rivals projection: 5.1 (2 star)
Final disposition: What might have been...

In a star-crossed group of halfbacks, Robinson's story is one of the saddest. A throw-in final offer meant to benefit four-star cornerback Jordan Bernstine, Robinson suddenly materialized as the starting halfback in 2009 when Hampton tore an ACL. We watched, first with horror and then delight, as he somehow shirked off tacklers left and right. He wasn't fast, but he was quick enough to make guys miss and strong enough to run through them when they didn't. When Brandon Wegher lost his marbles and Hampton tore the other ACL in 2010, Robinson became The Guy, and embraced the role wholeheartedly. As he was tearing apart Michigan State in the game's first series, the announcers talked of how Ferentz loved Robinson for his determination and toughness, and we did, too.

Then he got a concussion. And then his grades suffered, and he was suspended for Iowa's bowl game against Missouri. And then he was picked up back home riding shotgun in a car with a buddy and a bag of weed, and as soon as Iowa's plane landed in Cedar Rapids, Robinson's career at Iowa was over. He tried to beg for his spot, but he did it through his lawyer, and that shit didn't fly with Ferentz. He spent a season at Minnesota-Duluth, but reportedly tore his Achilles tendon, and never played a game. In retrospect, he probably fit in only at Iowa.

And that's what makes his story all the sadder: He never hurt anyone. He never did anything that could have threatened to hurt anyone. He had a grade slip-up, maybe because he took about 500 hits to the head over a three-month period and was clinically diagnosed with a concussion, and got in a car with some drugs. In a purely legal sense, his crimes were less severe than those committed by a handful of Iowa guys who were allowed to stay (including Ferentz, by the way). He was desperate to be here, but went about showing that desperation in entirely the wrong way.

The Adam Robinson story is, in many ways, the story of this class. What talent there was -- and it was limited here, to be sure -- had mostly left before it had been effectively harnessed. The few that broke through ran into difficulties of their own, whether it be academics or systems or off-field issues. There were Reiff and Prater, who got out for the pros but not without the scars of the 2011 mess to show for it. Hampton and Robinson and Brinson and the other halfbacks were struck down. Vandenberg went from a legitimate pro-style quarterback to a shocking addition to the NFL combine. Other guys who showed early promised never capitalized, or capitalized elsewhere. 2008 was a bad class on paper that turned out worse than expected. It's no coincidence that, five years later, the program is facing the same problem.

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