Nearly every signing day works the same. Coaches stand at a podium, thump their chest a little and proclaim the latest set of recruits to be the greatest the program has ever hauled in.
With the early signing period, Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell felt some relief in knowing 18 of his 21 recruits already signed their letters of intent in December and he didn’t have to engage in the “hype train” that is college recruiting.
Sure, Campbell loves recruiting. And yes, this latest group of Cyclones has the highest composite rating in program history according to 247Sports — as of Wednesday night, ISU ranks 52nd nationally and seventh in the Big 12. But as the third-year coach has said many times through his ISU tenure, games aren’t won on the recruiting trail.
“I appreciate what it means to a young man to be recruited and earn a Division I scholarship,” Campbell said Wednesday during his news conference. “I think it’s a powerful moment in a young man’s life. What he does with that opportunity is what’s really powerful, right?
“I think sometimes this hype train of what it is; what coach is going to say they had a bad recruiting class? Nobody is, right? So I think sometimes it’s a little overboard, but I’m glad we don’t have to do that anymore.”
What Campbell and his staff aimed to do with this latest class is build depth, particularly along the offensive line, secondary and quarterback positions. Five players enrolled early — offensive lineman Trevor Downing, punter Corey Dunn, safety Greg Eisworth, quarterback Re-al Mitchell and kicker Brayden Narveson — with 13 others signing during the early signing period.
What the early signing period allowed ISU to do was target specific needs through the month of January, and get an earlier jump on 2019 recruiting. Recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Alex Golesh said this is the first time in this staff’s tenure that it didn’t feel like they were playing catch-up in recruiting.
“It’s way different,” Golesh said. “What was cool was you know going into January, you knew exactly what you needed and where you wanted to attack. I can sincerely say we attacked every need and got the guys we wanted. In that point, it is different. It is cool. Do we still have needs? Yes, but we feel like we addressed a bunch heading into today.”
ISU added three more members to finalize its 2018 class Wednesday by signing quarterback three-star Brock Purdy, three-star wide receiver Tayvonn Kyle and four-star wideout Joseph Scates, who is the highest-ranked signee in Campbell’s ISU tenure.
Kyle and Scates replenish numbers left by Allen Lazard, Marchie Murdock and Trever Ryen, but Purdy was the highest-profile commitment of the last month. Purdy, a Gilbert, Ariz. native who played at Perry, ultimately chose ISU over late offers from Texas A&M and Alabama on signing day.
“I think the thing we did a really good job of is we are who we are,” Campbell said. “We try not to be somebody we’re not. In Brock’s situation, still in a short amount of time, we were able to develop a really good relationship. We didn’t sell him on flash or promise him the world. We just were who we were. I think sometimes people don’t realize that’s enough.
“There was a real investment and real relationship and really, at the end of it, that might have been the difference.”
Purdy, 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, was the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior and threw for 4,405 yards and 57 touchdowns against nine interceptions as a senior. He also rushed for 1,016 yards and 10 scores.
Because of the departures of Jacob Park and Joel Lanning, and Kyle Kempt’s uncertain situation with an NCAA waiver for another year of eligibility, building depth at the position, especially in January, was a necessity. Zeb Noland, Devon Moore and Mitchell are in the fold, but adding Purdy gives the Cyclones further insurance heading into 2018.
“The past month has been crazy making a decision and things like that,” Purdy said during a signing day ceremony at his high school. “I’m very thankful for everything. My family and I thought hard. My heart is in one place. From the bottom of my heart, I know it’s the right place.
“There’s a vision to win conference championships, to win national championships and to do whatever it takes to reach my goals and to glorify my Lord and Savior through all of it.
“For the next four years, I’ll be continuing my academic and athletic career at Iowa State University.”