Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. (John Schultz / Quad-City Times)

John Schultz

IOWA CITY — Earlier evaluations. Earlier visits. Earlier commitments.

Iowa is among collegiate football programs experiencing an accelerated recruiting calendar, with high school players making college choices earlier and earlier.

A year ago at this time, Riverdale senior Mitch Keppy was the only high school junior who had made a verbal commitment to be part of the Hawkeyes’ 2012 recruiting class.

Today, seven scholarships for Iowa’s 2013 recruiting class have been filled.

It’s a trend nationally — Big Ten rivals Michigan and Ohio State already have commitments from 17 and 13 players, respectively, for 2013 — and Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz doesn’t see things changing.

“It seems to be the direction we’re heading,” Ferentz said. “I think it is a sign of the times. A couple of years back, it became commonplace for prospects to be out visiting places in June and July. Now, those visits are taking place in March and April.”

Prospective players are using spring breaks from their high schools to tour multiple campuses in a short time. Iowa welcomed a number of recruits on unofficial visits in late March and early April as Midwestern high schools took a break in their academic calendar.

David Kenney, a defensive end from Indianapolis, committed to Iowa after making a campus visit with his family.

“It was good to see how everything works,” Kenney said. “It would be tough to come out in the fall with the season going on and get the same type of experience.”

For the prospects, earlier visits provide an opportunity to not only tour facilities and institutions, but also to take in a spring practice and experience what life is like at the next level.

“We’re not doing anything differently other than hosting more prospects than we used to at this time of year,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz believes some of the push is external, driven by social media and recruiting websites.

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“It’s become a real industry. A lot of people are doing it for a business and I think that has heightened awareness,” Ferentz said. “… The face of recruiting has changed so dramatically.”

He believes that may be encouraging prospects to make college decisions earlier.

“There’s no question that players are deciding sooner and you have to be on top of that,” Ferentz said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Iowa is changing the way it evaluates players.

“We still really encourage our (assistants) to not offer scholarships unless we’re sure,” Ferentz said. “That’s hard. You offer up a tape, you talk to people on the phone, coaches, people in the school, and you think you know, you hope you know. But, it’s not the same as getting to know.”

Ferentz said the shorter recruiting timeframe leads all coaches to offer scholarships to players that they’ve barely met.

“That’s a little bit scary,” Ferentz said. “It’s a little bit like mail-order recruiting. That’s the phrase I use with our staff. If you’ve ever bought anything from a mail order or online, the box gets there, you open it up and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m not sure,’ but you can return that stuff. This is not quite the same, so it’s a little scary.”