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Iowa Football Recruiting: National Signing Day Primer

National Signing Day is a week away, but don’t expect a lot of noise from the Iowa Hawkeyes next Wednesday.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Southern California vs Iowa
Will Kirk Ferentz be bringing in any more hardware on national signing day?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’re a week away from college football’s national signing day for the 2020 recruiting class. That may come as a bit of a surprise for Iowa fans given there is virtually no buzz surrounding the day in Hawkeye circles. That isn’t a bad thing.

Quite the contrary. There’s no buzz for Iowa fans because there’s likely to be very little activity for the Iowa coaching staff. Instead, the Hawkeyes inked 20 of their 22 commitments in the class of 2020 back during the early signing period in December.

The two remaining commitments refrained from signing due to two entirely different reasons.

Defensive back Keylen Gulley, a 3-star prospect from Largo, Florida, has not wavered in his commitment to Iowa since he gave it back in June of 2019. He has, however, had some academic challenges which left his qualifying in question. That caused him to hold off on signing his national letter of intent in December.

Since then, Gulley has been putting in additional work and improving his grades. He is now on track to qualify academically and therefore is expected to sign with the Hawkeyes during the final signing period which opens one week from today.

The other 2020 Iowa commit not already signed is defensive lineman Michael Lois. Lois, you’ll recall, is still recovering from a neck injury sustained over a year ago when he jumped off a trampoline into a pool and broke several vertebrae. His recovery has been remarkable and gone from regaining mobility to walking to full on working out.

What hasn’t yet occurred is getting clearance to participate in football. While Lois has been cleared by doctors to participate in “non-contact” sports and thus decided not to enroll at Iowa for the spring semester and instead participate in baseball during his senior year of high school, it’s unclear when or if he’ll be cleared to get back to the gridiron.

That lingering questions raises some uncertainty about Lois’ future with the Hawkeyes and the legal course of action for both his family and the University of Iowa. There’s no doubt the Hawkeyes will honor his scholarship offer, the issue is how that will be treated by the NCAA.

The NCAA grants medical scholarships to athletes who were granted an athletic scholarship and sustain a career-ending injury. In those instances, the athletic department continues to pay for the scholarship, but that scholarship doesn’t count against the 85 the NCAA limits each school to when they enter fall camp.

Seems straight forward. The issue here is Michael Lois wasn’t on a scholarship when he sustained his injury. He was not a student athlete at the University of Iowa. So the Hawkeyes and the Lois family have been working together to cross all the Ts and dot all the Is to ensure Michael Lois is able to attend the University of Iowa at no cost regardless of his ability to ever play football again.

Lois, for his part, remains optimistic he will eventually be able to play again. If that’s the case, there’s no question the staff would simply keep him on his current scholarship, give him a redshirt year and push forward with recovery. But there is a very real risk he will not be able to play again. And if that injury sustained before he was at Iowa is the cause of his medical inability to play, it doesn’t seem possible for him to receive a medical scholarship (i.e. not count against the 85 limit).

It’s also not possible for the coaching staff to have Lois participate with the football team without a football scholarship because he was recruited to play football. So, if they were to find another way to get him a scholarship, he would be prevented from participating with the football team.

It’s a tricky situation and it remains unclear whether it will be resolved before next week. If Lois does not sign during this period, it still seems unlikely the staff gives his spot to another prospect. This recruiting class was notably heavy on defensive linemen thanks to early departures for the NFL the last two years from Anthony Nelson and A.J. Epenesa, as well as the graduations of Brady Rieff and Cedric Lattimore. It’s unlikely Iowa will add another to the class in the next week.

However, that doesn’t mean the staff will be completely silent on signing day. The Hawkeyes are currently at 85 scholarship players between those already on the roster and the 22 commits in the class (including Lois and Gulley). However, there are typically a handful of departures following spring practice for various reasons. The Iowa staff has the flexibility to add a couple more commits in this class without ultimately being over the limit.

Where would those go? The most likely outcome is Iowa sneaks in and adds another punter at the last minute. The Hawkeyes again lose their starting punter this offseason and their lone scholarship punter on roster, Ryan Gersonde, is reeling from ongoing injuries to both his back and his groin. His availability for the 2020 season is unclear.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Iowa
Will the Hawkeyes look for another Aussie with the departure of Michael Sleep-Dalton?
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawkeyes have been supplementing the punter position with graduate transfers from time to time, including with Michael Sleep-Dalton this past season. That’s been effective and may be an avenue they take again this year. But there have also been rumblings the staff could be looking down under for answers.

Kirk Ferentz joked in his recent press conference that America has a punting crisis with all the Australians taking our jobs. While it was a simple joke, it points to the fact Ferentz is certainly aware of the prowess possessed by the Aussies (including the aforementioned Sleep-Dalton). Keep an eye out for Iowa adding a punter, potentially from Australia, a week from now.

Beyond that, any other late addition would be a true surprise. It is much more likely the staff looks to supplement the defensive line with a graduate transfer or two rather than adding more scholarship players in the class of 2020. There are a number of talented linemen in the portal who the Hawkeyes recruited at one point and the staff has shown they are willing to dip their toes in the water for the right guys.

That leaves national signing day both quiet, and frankly a bit boring for Hawkeye fans. That should be seen as a positive. The staff has gotten into a recruiting rhythm, locking up the vast majority of their classes in the summer before the early signing period. They ink almost all of those commits early and are able to focus on 1-2 key needs through winter break and turn their attention to the next year early.

Rinse and repeat.