It's not often that a four-star defensive lineman pops up in the state of Iowa. Oregon defensive end Christian French was a four-star recruit out of Cedar Rapids in 2011, but he was considered an athlete at the time and wanted to play wide receiver. At least as far as the 247Sports composite rankings are concerned, that's the entire list for the 17 years between 1999 and 2016.
So when 2017 West Union High defensive tackle Juan Harris got a preliminary four-star grade, he immediately became a priority for the program. Iowa showed early interest starting this summer, despite the fact that Harris was just entering his sophomore season, and last week the early interest paid off with a verbal commitment on the day that Iowa made a formal offer. Harris becomes the first player in Iowa's 2017 recruiting class and first consensus four-star recruit to pick Iowa since 2012.
Harris is the 10th-best defensive tackle prospect in the Class of 2017 and an overall Top 100 recruit, according to 247. He held offers from Virginia, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Utah. Harris spent most of last season in limbo: He transferred from Notre Dame Prep in suburban Chicago to Janesville, Wisconsin last summer, and then hopped to North Fayette (where his dad has lived for some time, reportedly) in September. The two moves left him ineligible for most of the year, though he did play the state semifinals and finals for the 2A state champion.
Harris is already a mammoth 365 pounds, but his frame (he's also already 6'3), his bloodlines (he's the nephew of former Oklahoma All-American and Chicago Bear Tommie Harris), and his athleticism (he reportedly benches more than 400 pounds, squats 700, and runs a 40 yard dash faster than you) apparently won over the Iowa staff. Iowa might well be able to use a gargantuan nose tackle by 2017, but it doesn't much need one in its current system. It's just a hunch, but the Carl Davis rebuild has probably convinced the staff that it can take a guy with Juan's size and make him a serious 4-3 defensive tackle.
The most intriguing part of Harris' early commitment is how it was accomplished. Harris was already making unofficial visits to Ohio State and fielding scholarship offers from across the country when Iowa got in the pool, but it was the hard work of two coaches -- longtime Iowa recruiting zen master Reese Morgan and newly-minted recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace -- that made this happen. That mix of Morgan's old-school connections and Wallace's aggressive attitude bode well for the future. Iowa has thrown more offers at top recruits for the 2016 and 2017 cycles than it ever had in the past. Gone are the days of waiting for senior year film to make a decision, and it looks like Iowa has figured it out. It certainly paid off here.
There's a long way to go, to be sure. Among teams showing interest in Harris but not yet offering were Florida State, Auburn, Texas, Georgia, and LSU. There is also interest from two big potential candidates: his uncle's alma mater, Oklahoma, and recruit whisperer Nick Saban at Alabama. We don't have to go back too far to find an early Iowa commit changing his mind once the big boys got involved, and they look poised to jump in at some point. There's still two years of work to do. But if recruiting provides hope for the future of a football program, Juan Harris has given us a small ray of warm sunshine in this winter of discontent.