Iowa Football Adjusts Recruiting During COVID-19 Pandemic
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tyler Barnes rises each morning hoping to help the Hawkeyes add talent. These days Iowa’s director of recruiting’s prospect pursuits could be sidetracked by changing a diaper or reading a book of nursery rhymes.
It’s life in the COVID-19 quarantine. Barnes is working from home like the rest of the coaching staff. That office includes his wife, Joanne, a school teacher, a toddler and a baby.
The Barnes family faces daily challenges and adjustments like many other people around the world. It’s adjusting from the norm of the parents being at work and the children in childcare.
“You split your time,” Barnes told HN. “I don’t want to just go down to our basement and leave her upstairs with our kids all day. You find a balance between the two. We kind of have a good rhythm going with our jobs and being with the kids.”
Alterations at home are coinciding with changes at work. Barnes normally can poke his head in the office of other assistants or head coach Kirk Ferentz in coordinating recruiting. Now the staff utilizes Zoom meetings, Face-Time, text, email and other electronic communication to stay on the same page in looking for future Hawkeyes.
Since the recruiting dead period took hold during the middle of last month, Iowa has moved in stages. Some of those steps followed the lead of the general philosophy put forth by Kirk Ferentz, Barnes’ father-in-law.
Physical and mental well-being of the Hawkeye players and coaches moved to the front of the line. That trickled down to signees in the 2020 recruiting class, verbal commitments in future cycles and top uncommitted targets.
“The priority is putting some of the recruiting to the side and making sure all the prospects and their families are safe and everybody’s doing well. We want to make sure they’re adjusting well to on-line classes and their parents’ work situations are OK and things like that,” Barnes said.
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Iowa has secured eight verbal commitments already in the junior class, forming a strong foundation for the rest of the group. Six of those pledges came from in-state, another bonus for a program navigating some uncharted waters through the pandemic.
The class of in-state juniors ranks as one of the best groups in recent memory.
“Any team in the country that’s got an influx of talent locally, they’re in a good situation right now. It might be different if we were sitting at one or two or three commits right now. You might have some panic set in that we might get behind, but our coaching staff has done a great job with some of these guys for two or three years now,” Barnes said.
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The Hawkeyes’ in-state junior haul includes West Branch’s Jeff Bowie, Connor Colby of Cedar Rapids, Urbandale’s Jaden Harrell, Griffin Liddle of Bettendorf, Story City’s Zach Twedt and Cooper DeJean of Ida Grove. They made the final two along with Iowa State for Ankeny receiver Brody Brecht and remained in the hunt for standout Council Bluffs tight end Thomas Fidone.
The 247 network ranks Iowa’s ’21 recruiting class 10th in the country and fourth in the Big Ten. Rivals pegs it at 13th and fifth in the conference.
Iowa lost a key period of recruiting with spring practice’s cancellation. The program has used that time for bringing a lot of prospects to campus, which led to offers and commitments.
It was announced last week that the dead period would be extended through May, a month when coaches normally get out on the road for face-to-face contact with recruits. The staff spent time at spring practices in states like Texas and Florida as well as watching athletes compete in different sports around the country.
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That makes June prospect camps and official summer visits even more important than usual for Iowa. Those events remain in jeopardy as well, however.
The Hawkeyes still are evaluating film and handing out scholarship offers. A program committed to a specific culture isn’t willing to compromise in that area. The coaches are vetting prospects virtually, digging into their backgrounds, talking to teachers and others in the community.
“You still have to have familiarity with the kids you’re recruiting, the programs they’re in, the regions they come from. And if you’re not sure, then let’s hold off. The worst thing we can do is moving forward with a prospect if we don’t have all the questions answered we need answered,” Barnes said.
“It might be tough to stay patient in times like this when you know you’re losing time on the road and you’re losing interactions on campus, but if we’re not sure of it, let’s move on.”