In the secondary, ISU bolsters its talent immensely with a pair of two-year kids that combined for 19 interceptions last fall.
A stellar group of five running backs grabbed much of the attention during McCarney's annual signing day press conference, but the head coach didn't hesitate to mention the size and strength of seven defensive backs added to the mix.
"We were way down in interceptions last year, and John Skladany and Chris Ash knew that," said McCarney during his annual signing day press conference. "We needed to get back up and signed the two defensive backs that led America in junior-college interceptions in Hargis and Gair. Those guys can play. Have they lined up and covered Oklahoma's, Texas', Kansas State's and Iowa's receivers? No. They've been in junior college. But these two almost had 20 interceptions, and we're ecstatic to get both of those kids."
As usual, the Cyclones put the wrap on a class heavy on instate prospects – 10 in all – including the likes of tailbacks Jason Scales and Greg Coleman, and three offensive linemen with loads of potential.
"There were nine states represented with this class, and speed was a major priority," said McCarney. "Before we ever step foot anywhere in the country to recruit and attract young men to this program, we're going to take care of business in the state of Iowa. There's no question we did that again. This class reminds me a lot of any of those classes we brought in with the postseason bowl teams that we had. I'm real excited about this group."
McCarney also likes the versatility demonstrated by a majority of the newcomers.
"One of the many things I like about this class is there are at least a dozen of these kids that we've seen on tape or we've talked about that can play more than one position in college," he said. "Not that they played more than one position in high school, because almost all of them did that, but when you project them in college at Iowa State – many of these kids can play more than one position. What you see in black and white now may not be what you see in September, because of the talent and versatility of these young guys."
Many would have thought a 2-10 record in 2003 could have been hindered ISU's recruiting efforts. But the recent past didn't play as big a part as some would think.
"This is a very balanced class," McCarney said. "We addressed our needs. A lot of seniors graduated, which means you have a lot of scholarships available. I'm really proud of my coaching staff.
"The young men that we signed today and recruited over the last few months chose Iowa State, not because we had a disappointing season but because of the program and people we have in place. There are a lot of things available and opportunities here. The future of this program is absolutely phenomenal. The young men and the families believed that."
The Cyclones scored big with five marquee tailbacks that garnered a lot of recruiting interest. McCarney's staff also broke new ground in the state of Mississippi by signing impact J.C. transfers Tim Dobbins (Co-Lin) and LaMarcus Hicks (Coahoma). The states of Texas and Florida continued to complement Mac's work in the state of Iowa, with eight natives signing on from the talent-rich areas.
"I feel we got a great response overall," McCarney said. "It's not easy going on the road at 2-10, but I've been told before that I can sell ice to the eskimos and I almost had to do that through the process. They want to hear winning and bowl games. We did it three years in a row and didn't last year."
Talk of next season became a popular topic Wednesday, too, as McCarney introduced two new assistants – Barney Cotton and Todd Fitch – and the lone mid-term addition in West Des Moines Valley's Jason Scales.
"Yes, we have some holes to fill with seniors that have graduated. Yes we aren't one bit satisfied with last year. We don't sleep a lot at night now because we anticipate and can't wait to get started on next season. We're not going to sit around and be the punching bag for the Big 12 two seasons in a row.
"That's the way it was for decades. We turned the program around and had major success. We took this program to the top 25 and top 10, and we have all intentions of going back to that. ‘If you want to be a part of that, you need to join this football family.' The payoff today was the signing of a good group of young men."
Although the impact Cotton and Fitch likely won't be felt until next season's class, Cotton was able to get the Cyclones in on a late addition for 2004. Rushville (Neb.) offensive lineman Brandon Johnson signed with the Cyclones just two weeks after the program started recruiting him. Johnson was a nice finishing touch on a class that already included five offensive linemen – three of whom reign from the state of Iowa.
McCarney considered Johnson to be one of this class' diamonds in the rough.
"With the hire of Todd and Barney late in the recruiting, they were able to still help us on a few kids," McCarney said. "We would not have signed Brandon Johnson without Barney coming to our program. He is a steal as far as we're concerned."
The countdown to Wednesday afternoon's press conference saw the Cyclones add a pair of others when Austin Jackson (Hawaii) and Tearrius George (Kansas State) looked elsewhere. Jason McGinty, a 6-foot-1, 300-pounder from Fort Worth (Texas) Calvary Academy, appeared on the board when Jackson made his announcement. Wide receiver R.J. Sumrall of Winter Park (Fla.) became the final piece to the puzzle an hour before McCarney's presser.
Mac summed his staff's recruiting efforts up well.
"It's an easy sell here at Iowa State," he said. "Recruiting is tough. It's not for everyone. That's why some guys go back to other walks of life, or try to get in the NFL. It's not easy. At this University, knowing the people we have and fans we have, you see the unbelievable success with our other programs. This is a special place. Did we get everyone we wanted? No. Did we use a lot of visits? Absolutely we did. But I think our batting average overall was outstanding."