Get out your checkbooks and pay grandma for the rubdown, folks, it's another verbal commitment for Iowa football!
The twelfth (or dozenth, as spellcheck is letting me get away with saying) man aboard is Ben Niemann, a 6'3", 185-pound outside linebacker* from Sycamore, Illinois.
That's an odd place for an asterisk, isn't it? Ah, but it's warranted, because calling Niemann an outside linebacker is not particularly accurate; while he projects to that position in college, according to Iowa coaches, he has played WR and FS in high school thus far. And return specialist, if you're a completist.
Niemann played wide receiver for Sycamore and racked up 876 receiving yards with 11 touchdowns, told Rivals.com in February that he did remain open to offers, but only from "big-time schools."
"That's something that I do think about from time to time to be honest," Niemann said. "It would take a really big-time offer for me to consider any other school. You just don't get a chance to play for your dad at the college level everyday and that's also a big deal as well for me."
Niemann stuck to the plan of attending a handful of college camps. He went to Iowa's and came away with on offer June 23. He started the camp as a wide receiver, but he told HR.com that Iowa coaches liked his athleticism and wanted to see him at linebacker. Niemann showed up on a Wednesday and left on Friday with an offer.
If you saw the lineup of Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Illinois State, you'd probably think "oh, that's probably the other three non-conference teams Iowa's playing this year." You'd be close, too; it's actually NIU, Western Michigan and Missouri State joining Iowa State on the 2014 non-con docket. Like we said, close. But no, the NIU-EMU-IlSt triumvirate just so happens to be the only three schools to also offer Niemann, and all three project him as a wide receiver.
Niemann had been a Northern Illinois commit since several months ago, and that wasn't hard to understand; not only was NIU the best program to offer by a substantial margin, but Niemann's father Jay (a former Iowa State player, incidentally) is the current defensive coordinator at NIU. So while Jay wasn't likely to directly coach Ben, there was still enough of a family connection that it was worth Ben's time.
Ah, but the allure of playing in the Big Ten is hard to pass up, and while the Niemann family isn't going to discuss the details of this defection from NIU's class of verbal commits, there really isn't a whole lot that needs to be explained, is there? One team's in the MAC and the other's in the Big Ten.
As for Iowa's decision to offer Ben Niemann, well, it's something. Mr. Vint expressed his displeasure with Kirk Ferentz's low standards of midsummer offers with the last commitment a week ago, and this isn't going to change his mind any. Iowa's recruiting like the big dog of the MAC right now, and that's not a terribly good look for a program that just hit a major dip and has a long way to go before it gets back into the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
That being said, there's definitely value in making an upgrade in team speed, especially at pursuit positions, and Niemann would qualify here. His Hudl.com video lists a 4.58 40 time, which sounds right given the highlights available.
Like, he's clearly fast enough to dominate in a conference full of high schools that enroll about 1,000 kids per, but he doesn't look like the kind of guy who's going to run away from a Big Ten cornerback. Throw 40 pounds on him and try to keep his speed up, and you just might have something at OLB, though. And obviously Iowa liked the potential it saw with that scenario, hence the offer.
At any rate, welcome aboard, young Niemann. We eagerly anticipate seeing what you'll do with this opportunity. It's just that it's substantially easier to feel good about these types of sleeper hunches when Iowa's winning two-thirds of its games and not losing two-thirds. We'll see.