Remember when Illinois hired Lovie Smith as its next future failed head coach, and the Illinternet went nuts because Lovie immediately followed Iowa commit A.J. Epenesa on Twitter? The thought was that a guy who had not coached in college football in twenty years and had previously led the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl back when most recruits were in second grade would hold enough sway with Illinois recruits that his mere follow on Twitter would change their minds.
A day after Lovie followed Epenesa (who remains committed to Iowa, at last check), he followed a handful of other Illinois recruits. Among them was three-star halfback Ivory Kelly-Martin, a junior out of La Grange Park. Kelly-Martin was important enough to be the eighth recruit followed by Smith, and for good reason: He's the consensus choice as best halfback in Illinois, having run for 1,972 yards and 33 touchdowns on an Illinois Class 5A state champion last season. It looked like Kelly-Martin could be the first big in-state recruit of Smith's tenure.
That's probably not happening, now that Kelly-Martin has shunned Lovie's Twitter love and committed to Iowa.
Kelly-Martin also held offers from Wisconsin, Arizona and a bunch of mid-majors. He becomes the eighth commitment in Iowa's 2017 class, joining Epenesa, Kansas defensive back Djimon Colbert and a handful of in-state prospects to form what is currently ranked as the No. 8 recruiting class in the nation, according to 247 Sports. He is the first halfback in this class, though not likely the last. Iowa expects to bring in less than twenty players this season, a goal that may be attained before the first snap of the 2016 season if this pace continues.
In the last four months, two would-be Iowa rivals have announced their intentions to compete with the Hawkeyes in important parts of their recruiting footprint: Smith is trying to build a wall around Illinois, while Matt Campbell pursued Iowa in-state commits for 2016 and has aggressively recruited in-state for his first full class. And yet, neither Smith's resume nor Campbell's bravado has done much of anything to Iowa's recruiting so far. Iowa has verbal commitments from four of the five best players in Iowa (the fifth, West Des Moines Valley quarterback Rocky Lombardi, committed to Michigan State earlier this week; he's a Michigan native, for what it's worth). And after a five-year period with minimal returns, Iowa's slant-drilling oil rig across the Mississippi has returned the best overall player and the best halfback in Illinois. Aside from Wisconsin, there isn't a program on a border with Iowa that can replicate its stability and recent success, and Iowa is capitalizing on those to the detriment of the clowns to the left and jokers to the right.