For six players in Iowa’s 2019 football recruiting class, the future begins now.
A program-record six recruits who signed with the Hawkeyes in December are getting a head start on their collegiate careers.
They’ve said farewell to their Twitter accounts, have settled into their dorm rooms and are enrolled at Iowa for spring semester classes that begin today.
They’ll also join their new teammates for the start of offseason work this week.
While Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has repeatedly said his preference is for high school recruits to enjoy their high school experience, the Hawkeyes have joined their peers from across the country in welcoming a growing number of incoming freshmen onto campus in time to participate in spring practices before they’ve ever taken the field for a collegiate game.
“It’s something I’ve been working toward since my sophomore year of high school,’’ quarterback Alex Padilla said. “I worked to get ahead academically so I could put myself in a position to graduate in December and start college early.’’
Padilla, who earned all-state honors the past two seasons at Cherry Creek High School in suburban Denver, believes the extra spring on campus will help prepare him for what lies ahead.
“Going through offseason conditioning and spring practices, I feel like I’ll have a good handle on what the routine is like and be better prepared in the fall,’’ Padilla said. “I’ve been talking with (Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken) O’Keefe on a regular basis since I committed and I’m anxious to get to work with him.’’
Like Ferentz, O’Keefe said it's his preference for high school seniors to enjoy everything they can at the high school level, but he understands the urgency today’s players feel about the need to get a jump on their college careers.
“Play multiple sports, go to prom, do all the things that you’re supposed to do in high school as a senior,’’ O’Keefe said. “But, I get it. It gives them a chance to adjust to the routine and expectations. Last year with Spencer (Petras), he joined for the spring semester but he was still able to get home to enjoy a few things with his senior class.’’
The 6-foot-1 Padilla’s roommate is another incoming freshman, linebacker Jestin Jacobs.
The 6-4, 210-pound Englewood, Ohio, native arrived in Iowa City last week after competing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this month.
He had a team-leading four tackles in the prep all-star game in San Antonio and feels like he is ready to begin the next chapter in his football career.
“It’s the next step and I’m more than anxious about getting things started,’’ Jacobs said. “I’ve been working toward this, playing college football, my whole life and it’s here. I’m ready to put everything I have into it. I don’t expect it to be easy, but this is what I want to do.’’
Like Padilla, Jacobs said enrolling early has been a long-term objective.
“To get on campus and have a chance to work with (strength and conditioning coordinator Chris) Doyle and his staff, that’s only going to help get me ready for the season,’’ Jacobs said. “My goal all along has been to put myself in a position to start as a freshman and that begins with being ready to do that. I’m excited to get there and get to work.’’
For Jacobs and the other incoming freshmen, that means plenty of time immersing themselves into Iowa’s strength and conditioning program and beginning to learn the nuances of the Hawkeye playbook that will help them compete when spring practices begin in a couple of months.
Padilla and Jacobs will be joined on campus this spring by four other members of an Iowa 2019 recruiting class that currently numbers 20 scholarship freshmen but will likely see several additions during the February signing period.
The group of early enrollees includes 6-6, 310-pound offensive lineman Ezra Miller of Holstein, Iowa, the first player to commit to the Hawkeyes’ 2019 class, and one of the last players to commit to Iowa, 5-11, 185-pound defensive back Daraun McKinney of River Rouge, Michigan.
McKinney flipped his initial verbal commitment from Northern Illinois to the Hawkeyes after visiting the Iowa campus the weekend before the Dec. 19 signing date.
“It was an interesting couple of weeks, finding out that Iowa was interested in me and taking a visit that really convinced me that being at Iowa was where I want to be,’’ McKinney said. “I had planned to enroll in the spring wherever I ended up and to get out there this month and get started, I’m looking forward to it.’’
He believes the opportunity will help position him for a chance to compete for playing time next fall as a true freshman.
“That’s the goal. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have that chance and by being there for practices in the spring, that can only help me,’’ McKinney said.
McKinney will room with another incoming freshman who committed to Iowa in the hours leading up to signing day, 5-10, 210-pound running back Shadrick Byrd of Alabaster, Alabama.
The other incoming freshman to arrive in Iowa City over the weekend is offensive lineman Justin Britt, a 6-4, 290-pound Indianapolis native who underwent surgery in October to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will continue his rehab work in Iowa City.
“All of us, not just the guys who are coming in early, we’re tight already,’’ Padilla said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I haven’t been exchanging messages with one of the other guys in the class. It’s a good group and we’re going to do good things together. We’re anxious to get it started.’’