IOWA CITY — Bags packed and ready to run the homestretch of the 2017 recruiting race, Iowa football coaches hit the road today.
The Hawkeye staff will join their peers across the country in trying to put together the final pieces of recruiting classes which will be eligible to sign binding letters of intent for the first time on Feb. 1.
Today is the first day since the Dec. 12 start of a dead period in this year’s recruiting calendar that contact with recruits is allowed and over the next 17 days, coaches will crisscross the country looking to lock down the players who will be the future of their programs.
It will be an active time period for Iowa, which currently has 14 verbal commitments in its 2017 recruiting class but ultimately expects to sign 20-22 players next month.
“We’re hoping we can finish well,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Monday. “We’ve got two-and-a-half weeks of hard work in front of us, and hopefully it all goes well.’’
Ferentz likes the collection of players who have committed to the Hawkeye program, a group which includes Bettendorf offensive lineman Mark Kallenberger, but views the next two-plus weeks as significant.
“Like every year, certainly like last year, what happens in January really helps shape and mold the recruiting class and I think we’re off to a good start,’’ Ferentz said.
“We have a good core group of guys right now that are committed to us. This class, thus far at least, feels like the one we had last year which after having them on campus for six, eight months, I think they have a chance to be a really good group."
Iowa’s only commitment since the start of the season came last month when Wisconsin receiver Max Cooper joined a class which once numbered 17 but has had four one-time commitments opt to re-open their recruitment.
The Hawkeyes begin their search this week with needs to fill.
The Iowa wish list includes players from close to home — starting with highly-recruited Iowa City West receiver Oliver Martin — and from across the country.
Martin has offers from seven Big Ten programs and his list of possibilities includes Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Oregon and Auburn.
The Hawkeyes have offered Georgia cornerback Trey Creamer, a one-time Minnesota commitment, and are recruiting a pair of New Jersey preps, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and John Lovett. Smith-Marsette is a receiver and Lovett is being recruited as an athlete.
Ferentz used the word “opportunity’’ to describe the Hawkeyes’ sales pitch over the final weeks of the recruiting season.
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Ten true freshmen saw game action for Iowa in 2016 and Ferentz, suggesting opportunities at receiver and secondary positions, used the emergence of Manny Rugamba at cornerback to illustrate the impact a first-year player can have.
“You’re a perimeter guy, offense or defense guy right now, you create opportunity,’’ he said. “Manny is a great example. He jumped in there and played in the biggest game of the year (against Michigan) and did a heck of a job. He could probably do the same thing on offense.’’
Ferentz said Rugamba’s make-up far outweighed any recruiting accolades he received as a prep.
“The guy is a football player,’’ he said. “I wish we had three like that, so we are trying to recruit a couple guys like that and that’s what we tell them, ‘Hey, come on, the door is wide open for right now.’’’
Iowa’s newly-named offensive coordinator, Brian Ferentz, echoed that notion in describing what the Hawkeye program has to offer to recruits.
“I’d say they have a tremendous opportunity, I’d start there,’’ he said. “Certainly offensively we didn’t execute to the standard we hoped to this year at all times. There was some good mixed in with the bad. It’s hard to win eight games with all bad, but as far as getting guys excited, I think you sell them on opportunity and what we intend to do moving forward.’’