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The Missing: How Recent Recruiting And Retention (Or Lack Thereof) Is Hurting Iowa Football

"Next man in" is a familiar mantra, both for college football in general and Iowa football in specific.  The essential nature of college football demands a certain amount of recycling; players are only around for 4-5 years (unless they're the football equivalent of Jess Settles), so there's always a certain number of new faces getting worked into the mix each year.  Of course, there are also any number of other issues that expedite the recycling process and force coaches and teams to work in new blood more quickly -- persistent injury problems, transfers, dismissals, etc.  Most programs will suffer if there's too much turnover in the ranks too quickly -- teaching and training are still fundamental tools since relatively few players walk on to campus ready to play at a high level. 

The importance of that teaching and training is only heightened at a program like Iowa, which has built the foundation of its success on finding diamonds in the recruiting rough and coaching them up into not just productive, capable players but future all-conference selections and NFL draft picks.  So when Iowa hits a snag in the recruiting process (and the accompanying retention process; getting them to campus is only half the battle -- if they don't stay you not only have a present hole on the roster but you've wasted past resources that could have been better allocated elsewhere), the results can be fairly dire. 

Shaky recruiting and retention in the early-mid part of the '00s came home to roost in 2006-2007, leading to Iowa's two worst season since Ferentz pulled the program out of the cellar.  The late-blooming development of the 2005 recruiting class, coupled with talented classes in 2006 and 2007, pulled Iowa out of that hole and led to the success Iowa had in 2008 and 2009.  Unfortunately, now we're starting to see the effects of some more classes that, in hindsight, haven't yet panned out.  Let's break down the last few Iowa recruiting classes (minus the just-arrived 2011 class).


The 2007 class was largely a feast or famine class; fortunately, its successes have been very good to Iowa football.  14/22 members of the class made it either four or five years at Iowa.  11/22 members became starters.  8/22 were/are/will be multi-year starters at Iowa by the time their careers end this year.  6/22 members failed to make it past their second year in the program. 

Bryan Bulaga was a three-year starter at Iowa who garnered multiple all-Big Ten and all-America nods before becoming Iowa's best lineman since Robert Gallery and a first round NFL draft pick.  He was not one of the 14/22 who made it to years 4-5 at Iowa, but the three years he gave the program were an unqualified success.  Marvin McNutt is on his way to being a three-year starter at Iowa; he should wind up being a multiple all-Big Ten selection and the holder of a handful of Iowa career receiving records.  Markus Zusevics should wind up being a two-year starter at Iowa.  Colin Sandeman was never a regular starter at wide receiver, but he provided quality depth and was Iowa's regular punt returner for two years.  Allen Reisner was a fairly productive one-year starter at tight end who also provided quality depth.  And Adam Gettis should wind up being a one-year starter on the offensive line.

Jevon Pugh transferred Upper Iowa after one year at Iowa.  Zach Furlong stayed at Iowa for four years but never cracked the two-deeps and rarely saw game action.  All in all, there was a small group of offensive recruits in 2008 (just 8 players), but they wound up being quite productive.

Christian Ballard was a three-year starter who earned a little all-Big Ten love and was a fourth round NFL draft pick.  He also provided excellent depth as an impact sub during his true freshman year.  Tyler Sash was a three-year starter for Iowa who earned numerous all-Big Ten and all-America nods, became a fourth round NFL draft pick, and was hugely productive in an Iowa uniform.  Broderick Binns, Mike Daniels, and Tyler Nielsen are on pace to be two-year starters for the Iowa defense.

Jordan Bernstine is entering his fifth and final year in the program; thus far, numerous injuries have prevented him from making much of an impact for Iowa.  Lebron Daniel and Bruce Davis are fellow fifth-year seniors who have also struggled to make an impact at Iowa.  Daniel is on pace to be a one-year starter at defensive end, while Davis has been a regular back-up at MLB and a fixture on special teams when healthy.  Diauntae Morrow transferred to Toledo in search of more playing time after spending two years at Iowa entrenched behind Sash and Brett Greenwood.  He had 40 tackles and 2 INT last year and was listed as their starting strong safety this year.  Dezman Moses transferred to Tulane and became a defensive end; last year he had 51 tackles (11.5 TFL), 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 INT.  Jacody Coleman filled in at MLB in 2007 when Mike Klinkenborg was injured, but lost out the MLB derby to Pat Angerer in 2009 and transferred to Lamar University and also became a defensive end; last year he had 40 tackles (11.5 TFL).  Persistent injuries forced Cody Hundertmark to quit football and leave the team.  And the sordid saga of Everson and Satterfield is well-known.

The 2008 defensive class was a mixed bag: it produced a pair of genuine stars (Sash, Ballard) and a handful of productive contributors (Daniels, Binns, Nielsen), but it also produced some high-profile flameouts and cost Iowa depth that it could badly use in the defensive secondary (Morrow) or along the defensive line (Moses, Coleman, Hundertmark).  It would help if Bernstine and Daniel could have big senior seasons.


Here's where the trouble starts.  Only 13/25 members of this class have made it to a fourth year.  Just 8/25 have become starters, with 4/25 becoming multi-year starters.  9/25 members of the class failed to even make it past year two and overall 12/25 members of this class are already gone.

Riley Reiff and James Ferentz are on pace to be three (or four, if Reiff unexpectedly returns to Iowa next fall)-year starters on the offensive line.  Reiff has already earned all-Big Ten honors and he and Ferentz stand a good bet of earning more in the future.  Vandenberg is on pace to be a two-year starter at Iowa, while Herman is on pace to be a one-year starter at tight end.  Gimm is listed as the starter at fullback on the two-deeps, but has struggled to make an impact.  Mossbrucker started most of his true freshman season in 2008, but lost his job to Daniel Murray (and then Mike Meyer) and has barely been seen since.  Despite being a BHGP favorite, Big Casey has never cracked the two-deeps during the season and has seen scant playing time.  John Weinke has never been able to move past QB3 status.

But at least those guys are still on the team.  David Blackwell never even made it to Iowa City; poor grades forced him to go the JUCO route at Iowa Western before landing at Bethune-Cookman.  Jeff Brinson survived two injury-plagued years at Iowa, then transferred to Central Florida where still more injuries ultimately forced him to quit football.  Nate Guillory ended up transferring to Northwestern Oklahoma State University when it became apparent he was just going to be Shonn Greene's valet; he had 1259 yards rushing and 14 TD in 2010.  Jewel Hampton served as Shonn Greene's understudy in 2008 and was on pace to be Iowa's starting running back, but injuries prematurely ended his season in 2009 and 2010.  He ultimately transferred to Southern Illinois.  DeMarco Paine left Iowa after one year due to bad grades and transferred to Miami (OH) after a stint at Iowa Central Community College; he had over 1000 all-purpose yards for the RedHawks last year.  Shane Prater also left Iowa after one year due to poor grades, went to Iowa Western, and finally landed at Texas A&M Kingsville.  Adam Robinson fell into the starting running back job after Jewel Hampton's ACL went splodey and Paki O'Meara proved ineffective and had two very productive years at Iowa before a drug arrest and "academic indigestion" led to his dismissal last December; he wound up transferring to University of Minnesota-Duluth.  Khalif Staten was another academic casualty, although I don't know where he wound up landing.

If you want to know why Iowa has no experienced running backs, point to this class.  In all, Reiff is a gem and Ferentz and Vandenberg look like they could have very productive Iowa careers.  Beyond that, though, it doesn't look like this class is going to offer Iowa much on the offensive side of the ball. 

Shaun Prater is on pace to be a three-year starter at Iowa and should earn multiple all-Big Ten nods and be a future NFL draft pick.  Greg Castillo has started sporadically over the last two years, but could be a regular starter this season (for good or ill).  Bigach and Gaglione have struggled to stay healthy and/or crack the two deeps along the defensive line, let alone actually see the field and make an impact.  They're currently listed as second-string defensive tackles on the two-deeps.  Swanson has likewise struggled to crack the two-deeps in the secondary and seems destined to be a special teams player at best.

Cato had a promising future as Tyler Sash's understudy at strong safety but wound up transferring to Stephen F. Austin in search of more playing time; he had 62 tackles last year.  Willie Lowe appeared sporadically in the two-deeps at cornerback, but played rarely; he remains at Iowa but has left the football team while he recovers from the rhabdo.  Semmes never even made it to Iowa and transferred to Miami (OH); in 2010 he led the team with 6 sacks.  J.D. Griggs transferred after two years at Iowa in which he saw the field only once (against Iowa State in 2009); I'm not sure where he landed.

This was a small defensive class, but outside of Prater it hasn't produced any players of note unless Gaglione, Castillo, and/or Bigach turn things on in a hurry.


Another problematic class.  Thus far, only 3/20 players have become starters at Iowa and only one is currently on pace to be a multi-year starter (Micah Hyde).  Admittedly, it's not necessarily fair to condemn these players too much for not becoming starters -- they should be either juniors or redshirt sophomores -- so it's perhaps more instructive to look at how many of them are in (or have appeared in) the two-deeps.  Unfortunately, the numbers there are still grim: just 5/20 players.  8/20 players in this class didn't even make it past their second year at Iowa and half the class (10/20) is already gone.

Keenan Davis is entrenched as a starter at wide receiver and, barring injury, should be a two-year starter there.  Nolan MacMillan started at offensive guard last season and would again this year if he was healthy; injuries have severely limited his productivity thus far.  Boffeli and Van Sloten are currently second-string on the depth chart (at C and RT, respectively).  Clark, Reisen, and Cotton are not in the two-deeps and are rarely (if ever) discussed as potential options for playing time.

The most high-profile loss to the offensive portion of this recruiting class was Wegher; he split time with Adam Robinson in 2009, set an Iowa true freshman record for rushing touchdowns, and scored the game-clinching touchdown for Iowa in the Orange Bowl that year.  Since then, he's had a rocky road: personal issues led him to sit out at Iowa last fall, then he transferred to Oklahoma, before transferring to Iowa Western a few weeks after that.  He's currently out of football.  Brad Rogers is still with the team and would be the starting fullback if healthy, but so far efforts to resolve his heart condition have been unsuccessful.  Fellow fullback Scott Covert just announced plans to transfer a few weeks ago.  Stephane Ngoumou never made it to Iowa City (allegedly because of grades) and landed at Ohio.  Anthony Schiavone left Iowa City after one semester; I'm not sure where he landed.  Offensive linemen Matt Murphy also transferred out at some point, to parts unknown.

Micah Hyde is the obvious shining star here; he's currently in his second year of starting in the defensive backfield (cornerback last year, free safety this year) and is on pace to be a three-year starter overall.  He earned all-Big Ten honors last year (honorable mention) and has already been hugely productive for Iowa.  Dominic Alvis cracked the two-deeps this year and emerged as the starter at defensive tackle; thus far the results have been inconsistent, but he has potential and could be a multi-year starter on the defensive line.  Shane DiBona saw action last year after the LBocalypse that afflicted Iowa's LB corps took out multiple player, but multiple injuries (and a bout of rhabdo) have kept him out of the two-deeps this year.  Dakota Getz was set to be a reserve LB and special teamer this year, but those plans got trashed when he suffered a serious knee injury on the opening kickoff against Iowa State last Saturday.

Josh Brown spent a year at Iowa before transferring to Murray State.  Tyler Harrell never made it to Iowa and wound up going to Louisville instead.  Martin Hopkins spent a year at Iowa before transferring to parts unknown.  Brown was a S/LB prospect, while both Harrell and Hopkins were projected to be defensive lineman (and, indeed, Harrell is a defensive lineman for Louisville).

The returns on this class do not look promising.  Half of the class is no longer even present and only half of those remaining are in the two-deeps (although Getz and DiBona have the potential to add depth at LB when they get healthy again).


Thankfully, this is looking like Iowa's most fruitful class since 2006-2007.  Already 3/22 players are starters (Marcus Coker, Christian Kirksey, and James Morris) and three others might be if they were healthy (Brandon Scherff, Carl Davis, B.J. Lowery).  10/22 players are in the current two-deeps and three others easily could be by season's end (De'Andre Johnson, Davis, Lowery).  And while it must just be because the thrill of the new hasn't entirely worn off with this group yet, even guys who haven't yet cracked the two-deeps (like Shumpert, Hardy, and Trinca-Pasat) have generated more positive buzz than some of the older players who are trying to crack the two-deeps.

Coker is entrenched as the starter at running back and looks set to be a multi-year starter there, barring injury, illness, or other AIRBHG-induced plague.  Derby is Vandenberg's understudy at quarterback, while Donnal is listed as Reiff's replacement at left tackle.  Fiedorowicz is pushing Brad Herman for playing time and Martin-Manley seems entrenched as Iowa's WR3 and primary slot receiver.  Scherff would probably be the starting left guard today if he'd been healthy through training camp and De'Andre Johnson is primed to battle Jason White for carries at the RB2 spot.  Shumpert has seen a few snaps on offense but is likely no better than the fourth or fifth option at wide receiver.

This group did suffer a departure, though: tight end Austin Vier was forced to retire before even playing a snap at Iowa due to a back condition.

Kirksey and Morris are entrenched as two of Iowa's starters at the linebacker positions and look poised to be multi-year starters there.  As noted above, if healthy, Carl Davis and B.J. Lowery would be pushing for playing time (if not starting jobs) at DT and CB, respectively.  Hitchens has been installed as Kirksey's back-up and Tanner Miller is currently listed as Micah Hyde's back-up at free safety.  There was some buzz over the summer that Hardy and LTP were poised to break into the two-deeps, but thus far that seems premature.  They may still be in the developmental phase that envelops so many Iowa players.  Where Poggi fits into the picture is a bit of a mystery right now: so far, his Iowa career has been plagued by injuries (and the rhabdo); he'll need to get healthy in order to push for a spot at linebacker.  Punter (and Aussie heartthrob) Jonny Mullings is still with the team, but it doesn't sound like there will be a happy ending to this story: he failed to beat out fifth-year senior Eric Guthrie for the starting punter job this year, then failed to even get invited to fall training camp, and currently isn't even listed as the back-up punter (that would be John Wienke).  The fact that Iowa received a verbal commitment from a punter for their 2012 class doesn't bode well for his future at Iowa, either.

If Mullings does leave, he would become the fourth player from the defensive side of the ball in the 2010 class to depart.  Anthony Ferguson and Austin Gray transferred away for personal reasons (supposedly homesickness in Ferguson's case) and Donavan Johnson has also transferred away (allegedly for academic reasons).

This class has immense potential and its members are doing a pretty fair job of living up to it already with so many of them cracking the two-deeps and generating positive reviews from observers.

* * *

As always, you can't close the book on a recruiting class until five years have passed and all of its members have come and gone.  Iowa's 2005 class never lived up to its lofty expectations, but a core of players from that class were instrumental to leading Iowa to success in 2008 and 2009, so it certainly wasn't a total bust.  Likewise, the 2008 and 2009 classes won't be total busts for Iowa, either -- each has a handful of upper-echelon talent that should star for Iowa -- but the departures from those classes (a staggering 20/45 members of those classes are no longer at Iowa) have also left gaping holes in Iowa's depth.  If you wonder why the two-deeps at RB, DL, LB, and DB are littered with freshmen and sophomores, it's because that's where the transfer bug has been localized.  In the 2007-2010 recruiting classes, Iowa lost eight (!) running backs (including fullbacks), six defensive linemen, four linebackers, and six defensive backs.  Would that depth be helpful?  Absolutely. 

It's been a longstanding tradition of the Iowa program for previously-unheralded players to shine when they finally get a chance to shine as seniors.  The 2003 season goes a lot differently if Ramon Ochoa doesn't emerge as a very capable receiver (and excellent punt returner) as a senior.  There's no The Catch if Warren Holloway doesn't hang around for a chance as a fifth year senior.  It's one of the reasons we were so excited about Bernstine; the stars seemed aligned to make him Iowa's latest fifth-year senior success story.  (Unfortunately, the stars also apparently want him to suffer further, as evidenced by the strep throat that kept him out of the Iowa State game last weekend.)  It's unclear exactly how good most of the players who've transferred away were -- in most cases, they left before they could make much of an impact on the field at Iowa (some notable exceptions being Hampton, Robinson, and Wegher -- we know what we're missing there) -- so it's hard to say how many of them would have pushed for starting jobs or spots in the two-deeps.  Certainly, the depatures of the two most recent players (Covert and Vier) caused nary a ripple, largely because they were at positions where Iowa has a cornucopia of options (fullback and tight end).  But once a guy's gone, he's gone and he can't contribute to the program any longer, whether as a one-year starter down the road, a bit player, or even just a quality practice player. 

Thus far, the early results paint a promising picture for the freshmen and sophomores of the 2010 and 2011 classes, which is encouraging.  No doubt some of those players would have pushed for playing time no matter what -- they're just that good.  But one of the key reasons there are so many of them littering the two-deeps now is because of the lack of depth (and, to an extent, quality) of the 2008 and 2009 classes.  No recruiting class is perfect, but those classes have seen far too many strikeouts already -- and that's something a program like Iowa can ill afford if they want to make rebuilding years as smooth as possible.