(Wednesday note: I made an update to this item near the bottom, showing what other Big Ten programs are doing in the state of Florida over the past four years)
Iowa Hawkeyes Recruiting Coordinator Eric Johnson and former Iowa Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker paid a visit to Des Moines on Tuesday night for the Polk County I-Club’s annual Recruiting gathering.
Johnson led things off with some comments related to how a handful of recruits asked about the status of Iowa’s indoor practice facility, as a factor in their recruitment. Iowa is about a year away from their new football complex being totally completed and the new indoor practice facility was completed last August.
Fans in attendance were able to ask Johnson some recruiting questions and one fan in attendance asked why Iowa didn’t sign anyone from Florida in this class, which I believe is the first time that has happened during the Ferentz era.
Johnson said that as a staff, the Iowa coaches would rather spend the time and resources recruiting players who live in a closer proximity to the Iowa campus, most of them being no more than six to eight hours away from their homes. That means less emphasis on Florida.
On the surface, that might make some people question the logic given that a lot of good football players come from Florida. It certainly blew up my twitter timeline when I tweeted it on Tuesday night and even the BTN’s Gerry Dinardo chimed in.
Here are the number of players Iowa signed from Florida in recent classes followed by the number of players who are either still in the program or stayed at Iowa for their entire careers:
2012: 2/2 (Greg Mabin, Daumantas Venckus both still at Iowa)
2011: 2/2 (Jake Rudock, Torrey Campbell both still at Iowa)
2010: 1/0 (De’Andre Johnson transfer)
2009: 1/0 (Josh Brown transfer)
2008: 3/1 (Jeff Brinson transfer, David Blackwell grades, Jack Swanson grad in four years no two deep impact)
2007: 1/0 (Jevon Pugh transfer)
2006: 2/2* (*Lance Tillison left, then came back and finished, Troy Johnson neither two-deep impact)
2005: 2/0 (Vernon Jackson transfer, Calvin Bailey grades)
2004: 1/1 (Damien Sims was a ‘hit’)
2003: 0/1 (Chris Brevi transfer)
2002: 3/2 (Marcus Paschal, Ed Miles, Larry Thomas transfer)
Looking over that list, one might suggest that Iowa hasn’t really actively targeting Florida for a decade now, or at least there in lies quite a bit of evidence as to whatever their modus operandi has been down there has been broken. Rick Kaczenski recruited Florida for Iowa from 2007-2011. Before him I believe Phil Parker spent some time in the Sunshine State, though I think it was a joint effort.
The truth of the matter is that the Florida talent that Iowa landed in the early days of the Ferentz era (Colin Cole, Fred Barr, Antwan Allen, Mo Brown, CJ Jones, Brad Banks, Abdul Hodge etc) had a huge helping hand from Bret Bielema, Iowa’s best recruiter and the assistant coach in charge of Florida. While Bielema and Iowa struck out on a lot of the players they signed from Florida, the hits were pretty darned good.
There are a great many great players who play in the Sunshine State each year. For whatever the reasons, Iowa has chosen a different recruiting strategy since their early years and Johnson’s statement on Tuesday night about Iowa not focusing as much on Florida isn’t actually a surprise at all, as you can tell.
Is Florida THE answer? Not necessarily. The starting lineup for Iowa’s 2010 Orange Bowl champs didn’t include a Florida native and did include five Iowans. Conversely, the starting lineup for the 2002 Big Ten Champs included at least seven Florida natives. If not Florida, then you have to mine another talent rich state and Iowa has been shifting their attention to Ohio, which is roughly eight hours away from Iowa City.
Why has Florida been a problem for Iowa? One I think is personnel; those who have gone there to recruit haven’t done the job that Bielema did . That said, Iowa had plenty of misses during that time; you just don’t remember them. The ‘margin for error’ is more slim when you bring a kid from Florida up to Iowa, or Illinois, or Minnesota or any cold weather state. It;s a big, big difference from a weather standpoint as well as culturally. I’ve spent a great deal of time in Florida as I have family in the St. Petersburg area. These are different worlds. They are not alien worlds and both offer good things. However, when homesickness creeps in and the wind chill is below zero? That can be a tough thing to overcome.
Other notes from Tuesday:
-Johnson said that Derrick Willies might be the best receiver they have ever had in one of their summer camps
-Norm Parker said he feels this year’s defense will be better at each position grouping than they were one year ago
After sleeping on this item, I took a look at what other Big Ten schools have been doing in the state of Florida the past four years. I did not go into each school’s roster to see which kids from Florida were still there, what type of impact they have had, etc. I used the Scout.com recruiting database and looked at the commitments lists for each program for the past four years. Here are the raw numbers:
A few things to note. Illinois had a lot of Floria flavor 2010-2012 likely due to Ron Zook’s Sunshine State connections. Tim Beckman did sign three from Florida this year, however and he was the head coach on signing day last year when they signed five. Illinois has struggled the better part of the last decade (or three of them).
Purdue has been on a Florida binge the last four years, especially in 2010 when they signed nine Florida preps. However the Boilermakers are struggling to be relevant on the field. Minnesota has landed 14 Florida natives, third most in the league and they did make it to a bowl game this year and were more competitive.
Wisconsin checks in at #4 over the past four years as Bret Bielema kept mining Florida talent. Indiana went heavy this year as did Nebraska. You can’t read too much into Nebraska’s numbers in the past as they have focused more on Texas as a member of the Big 12. you see Iowa’s numbers and they join Michigan as the only two Big Ten schools to not sign a Florida prep in 2013. Penn State signed their first Florida prep this year since at least 2001. I went back through the Scout.com database and it stops at 2002, so who knows who long it had been since Penn State signed a Florida player.
Michigan hasn’t signed any these past two years as Brady Hoke has focused elsewhere. It is interesting to note that the Wolverines have signed 8, 8, 7 and 11 players from the state of Ohio over the course of the last four recruiting classes. That is a total of 34 signees out of 98 total signees over that four year period, or 35 percent.
On its face, this data doesn’t tell a complete story. It doesn’t speak to attrition trends, which Iowa certainly has dealt with when recruiting the state of Florida. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State don’t have to recruit Florida to be great, or at least they have not had to do that in the past because their home states and/or historic recruiting regions have a load of talent close to home. It’s interesting to see four of the top five programs on this list (excluding Wisconsin) have been four of the worst performers in the league over the last decade.