The last two weeks have been touch and go between Iowa and John Waggoner. Tuesday, it became a go.
The West Des Moines Dowling Catholic senior defensive end committed to the Hawkeyes. The state’s top-ranked player became the 15th known pledge in the Hawkeyes 2018 recruiting class.
“Go Hawks!” Waggoner said when asked by HN what he would like to say to Iowa fans following his announcement.
Iowa assistant coach Reese Morgan visited Dowling early Tuesday afternoon. Shortly thereafter, Waggoner announced his intentions.
“We talked about the last few weeks and made sure we were on the same page with everything. Then we talked about making my official this weekend. It was good to talk to him,” Waggoner said.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz visited the school last week. At that point, the Hawkeyes were evaluating if defensive end was a need in the class. Waggoner still was wanting to check out some other schools. It was up in the air whether the timing would work out for the two sides.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders. It feels really good to be set in with a school, one that I’ve liked for a long time. I’m excited to get to work,” Waggoner said.
The Hawkeyes were the second program to offer Waggoner a scholarship, their September of ’16 opportunity coming just several months after Iowa State. He then went on to report offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, UCLA and others.
Iowa stood out as one of Waggoner’s top schools since it offered. He visited the in-state campus more than any other.
Waggoner (6-5, 245) announced he would be verbally committing in July in order to could concentrate on his senior season. He then backed away from that timeline.
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Waggoner put recruiting on the back burner as he focused on the Maroons and their pursuit of a fifth state title in row, which they captured last month. While he was doing that, some college programs that offered filled up their classes or changed their needs. His options decreased.
The recruiting cycle is sped up this year with a new early signing period (Dec. 20-22). Previously, high school seniors could concentrate on their seasons and then work out their recruitment up until the February signing day.
“At the end of the summer, my advice to him was that he make the right decision for him. He pumped the breaks a little bit and focused on our team. The recruiting world kept moving and he was focused on the here and now,” Dowling coach Tom Wilson said.
That timeline has worked well in the past at a school that pumps out Division I prospects. It became stressful this year with the earlier signing period.
“As I look back, I probably would have talked more about recruiting with him during the season and maybe speeding things up a little bit, but the December date is new to all of us,” Wilson said. “That part is tough. In the end, it worked out but I’ve certainly learned a few things as it comes to this early signing period.”
Wilson understood Iowa’s stance as the new earlier signing period approached. The Hawkeyes have been looking to fill out a roster.
“With recruiting, people don’t realize that it’s not that they don’t want certain kids, it’s that they have to take care of themselves, too. They have positions of need. They continued to fill their needs. When it came down to John, a lot of their needs had been filled,” Wilson said.
“But I think as they looked at it, John was an important person for them and in the end they were going to take him.”
In the end, the bond Iowa and Waggoner built carried the recruitment through to commitment from both parties. Other schools moved on. The Hawkeyes stayed the course even though they were adding to a position they already felt good about.
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“I learned that you can’t take for granted how many relationships you build throughout this process and how many people you meet along the way. It definitely was an enjoyable process. It’s a blessing. Sure, it can be stressful at times, but that’s just kind of part of life. But I would not trade this process for the world. I’m happy how it turned out,” Waggoner said.
Waggoner said the relationship he fostered with Morgan proved very important. Morgan not only led the way for Iowa here, but he also coaches Waggoner’s position.
“That was big,” Waggoner said. “Reese definitely knows what he’s doing. I’ve seen him coach guys up and I like what I see there. I’m looking forward to getting in right away and rolling up my sleeves and joining that hard-working, blue-collar culture. I’m excited about that.”
By all accounts, Waggoner is a high-character kid. That’s something the Hawkeyes covet in the recruiting process.
“First off, as a person, he’s somebody that’s very humble. He’s not worried about him getting any notoriety. It’s just more about the success of the team,” Wilson said. “As a player, you get somebody that’s fundamentally sound. He’s just going to come in and roll up his sleeves and go to work and try to earn his spot.”
The recruiting sites all ranked Waggoner as the No. 1 prospect in Iowa for the ’18 Class. The 247 composite shows him as the No. 347 best player regardless of position nationally and the No. 20 weak-side defensive end. Rivals rates him as the No. 17 strong-side defensive end in the country.
Despite facing double teams and being the focus of opponent game plans this season, Waggoner still managed 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a senior.