On Sunday morning, readers of the state’s largest newspaper awoke to a bombshell on the front page of the sports section: Iowa State had definitively proven itself on par with the defending national champion by getting a guy from Mississippi with a handful of SEC offers to remain interested. The phrase “Alabama of the Midwest” was used. Twice.
A few hours later, Iowa actually landed a commitment from a guy from Mississippi, confirming their apparent status as the...well, the Iowa of the Big Ten. Because recruiting is a crapshoot, and getting one guy to be interested doesn’t much matter in the grand scheme of things.
Nevertheless, Brandon Smith is a consensus three-star wide receiver out of Lake Cormorant, Mississippi. He chose Iowa over a boatload of mid-major offers (Southern Miss, Toledo, MTSU, etc.) and reported interest from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and, yes, Alabama. By Greg Davis standards, he’s a big receiver — 6’3 and 200 pounds already — and flashes some speed and elusiveness in the portions of his highlight video in which the cameraman isn’t looking at a wall.
Smith also high jumped 6’8 this spring. That’s high.
Iowa landed Smith through Kelvin Bell, Iowa’s new recruiting coordinator, who grew up in Olive Branch, Mississippi and has focused the Hawkeyes’ nascent efforts in the southeast. Both Bell and his predecessor, Seth Wallace, have refocused Iowa in the South. Bell has gone so far as to send Iowa coaches to a satellite camp with Georgia, Georgia Tech and Alabama (“The Iowa State of the South” as Bear Bryant always said). Smith is the first real example of that strategy paying off, and he certainly won’t be the last.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a social media maven already in the class. Eno Benjamin, the four-star halfback who committed to Iowa this spring, has spent the last few months actively recruiting the rest of the country on Iowa’s behalf, culminating this weekend with the greatest picture ever taken.
We perpetually say that long-term recruiting success is about longstanding relationships. After years of those relationships shrinking, both geographically and numerically, the new Iowa staff has methodically expanded Iowa’s net. There are problems associated with that — keeping them on campus is more difficult and attrition is high; just ask Nebraska — but the slow build that snowballs into something like momentum is the only way to get better. The Energizer Bunny can keep sending tchotchkes. Iowa is too busy building something.