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Northeast's Luke Empen, center, is part of a group of 18 players who Iowa announced Wednesday as the program's walk-on class for 2018, among 40 newcomers who will join the Hawkeyes in the fall.

Bobby Metcalf, Quad-City Times

IOWA CITY — Not every player Iowa introduced Wednesday as the final members of its 2018 football recruiting class will arrive on campus with four-star accolades or three-star hype from scouting services.

Some just want a chance to be Hawkeyes.

The number of players Iowa announced as the newest members of the program totals an eye-opening 40 — a collection of 22 scholarship athletes and 18 players who will join the program as walk-ons as part of a renewed emphasis in that area.

Beyond building needed depth, coach Kirk Ferentz hopes Iowa will uncover a gem or two along the way.

He pointed out that two of the three Hawkeyes who are part of the Patriots organization and played in Sunday’s Super Bowl — Cole Croston and Riley McCarron — initially walked on at Iowa. The third, James Ferentz, took the only scholarship offer he had and signed with the Hawkeyes.

"Traditionally, we’ve had success with guys come here looking for an opportunity," Ferentz said. "We went out and recruited a walk-on class really hard, and a number of the 18 guys that have committed turned down scholarship offers from other programs."

Collectively, the group, which includes Northeast tight end and offensive line prospect Luke Empen, helps the Hawkeyes address needs.

Ferentz said that need became apparent as Iowa practiced last fall.

"There are a lot of guys who never make it into a game but do so much for us in terms of preparation, help us practice better," he said. "We got caught short this year with linemen, had an unprecedented number of injuries up front."

That led to younger linemen moving from one side of the ball to the other on the scout team.

Ferentz labeled the efforts "unselfish," but said it also illustrated to coaches the need to beef up walk-on numbers.

"It will better enable us to practice better, and anytime you bring good guys like that in, you have a chance to have a good story," Ferentz said.

Iowa will be looking for a few good stories to emerge at linebacker, where the graduation of Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann and Bo Bower has coaches not only looking for three new starters but for depth.

The Hawkeyes signed four linebackers in this class, with Jayden McDonald of Suwanee, Georgia, picking Iowa over Mississippi earlier this week and Logan Klemp of South Hamilton High School in Jewell, Iowa, committing last weekend.

McDonald, a one-time Rutgers commitment, re-emerged as an Iowa possibility after he went unsigned during the December signing period, and Ferentz said Klemp "fits the mold" of a number of players who have been among the last ones over the years to receive an Iowa offer.

"I couldn’t walk 10 feet down the hall in his high school without someone saying something nice about him," Ferentz said. "He has the make-up of a lot of players who have come here and have had success."

The pair, along with December signings Dillon Doyle of Iowa City West and Seth Benson of Sioux Falls Washington in South Dakota, will be joined by six walk-on linebackers in this year’s class of recruits.

"All the guys, we’re excited about them," Ferentz said. "We think they’re good players, good prospects. I think it’s fair to say that a couple guys will be involved next year on special teams. We’ll get them on the field, probably redshirt another guy or two. We have an open mind. It’s a position where there is opportunity."

Ferentz said Klemp and another player who signed Wednesday after committing late last week, Detroit area defensive back Kaevon Merriweather, had quietly been on Iowa’s radar for some time.

Collectively, they are part of a class that scouting services rank as the Hawkeyes’ best in nearly a decade.

Rivals ranks it as the 37th-best class in the country, Iowa’s highest rating since 2011, and 247Sports rates it as the Hawkeyes’ best recruiting haul since 2007.

Both rank the class seventh among Iowa’s Big Ten peers and second only to Nebraska among West Division programs.

Ferentz said this year’s group mirrors the previous 19 recruiting classes he has signed as Iowa’s head coach, built around a core of skill and character.

"Bottom line, it’s great to have a player that’s skilled, but if they don’t have the character to be successful it won’t mean much," Ferentz said. "We try to be mindful of that whenever we go out."

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