IOWA CITY — In the sprint to the signing day finish line, Kirk Ferentz wouldn’t be surprised if Iowa coaches may have uncovered a January gem or two.
In the final 72 hours leading up to Wednesday’s letter of intent signing days, seven players committed and then signed with the Hawkeyes to grow Iowa’s recruiting class to a total of 22 players.
Six of those players had previously committed to other programs, including the two who announced their college choice Wednesday.
Iowa’s last-minute rush ended with two players — defensive end Daviyon Nixon of Kenosha, Wisconsin and receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette of Newark, New Jersey — selecting the Hawkeyes after previously committing to Northern Illinois and Minnesota, respectively.
Both had options. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound Nixon was also considering Purdue and Smith-Marsette, a product of the Weequahic High School program that also sent Akrum Wadley to Iowa, weighed an offer from Rutgers.
Both put the finishing touches on a typically-Iowa recruiting class.
It’s not overly flashy, although college-ready five-star defensive end A.J. Epenesa and four-star offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs make it somewhat unique compared to the other recruiting classes Ferentz has signed.
Mostly, it’s filled with the type of players Ferentz and his staff believes are ready to “run the whole race.’’
Ferentz labeled attrition one of Iowa’s biggest opponents. A lack of depth at receiver that Iowa addressed Wednesday by signing five potential players in that area is an example.
“It’s a hard race, college football anywhere is tough, it’s a challenge and competing in any sport in the Big Ten is a challenge,’’ Ferentz said. “You just try to identify as best you can people that have the capability to meet the demands that go with being an athlete, graduating from a Big Ten school and doing things socially that people will respect for the way you live.’’
Those standards weren’t compromised as Iowa searched for the final players in this year’s class, a group that includes January finds in athlete Trey Creamer, running back Kyshaun Bryan, punter Ryan Gersonde, defensive back Geno Stone, receiver Henry Marhese and linebacker Nate Wieland.
They’re as significant as the commitment that lineman Coy Kirkpatrick gave Iowa on June 9, 2015 when he became the first member of this year’s recruiting class.
History illustrates that.
Ferentz pointed to three players on the field in a recent NFL playoff game, 12-year veteran Jonathan Babineaux of Atlanta and two Green Bay defenders, Micah Hyde and Mike Daniels, as examples of players who Iowa recruited and landed in the January weeks before signing day.
Desmond King and Josey Jewell of last year’s Hawkeye team fit the same description.
“There are a lot of good players in the summer and springtime of their junior years that have a realistic chance to be successful in college. There’s another group that improves over the summer and the course of their senior season,’’ Ferentz said.
“If you’re patient and evaluate those guys as they grow, you might find some really good players. There are good players still out there in January to be found if you are patient and keep looking hard.’’
The decisions by Derrick Mitchell and Jonathan Parker to leave Iowa as graduate transfers and the medical situation which ended the football career of Jay Scheel created additional opportunities as Iowa searched in January.
Those opportunities, combined with the work of a staff shorthanded because of three coaching vacancies, allowed the Hawkeyes to finish the recruiting season with a strong push.
“I think our staff did a great job over the last two-plus weeks. We went to the bullpen and Tyler Barnes and Scott Southmayd went out on the road and did a great job filling in where we short and their work and the leadership of Kelvin Bell all working together made a difference,’’ Ferentz said. “That’s how it all came together.’’