"We won't be nationally ranked, because half of this class is from the state of Iowa," said McCarney during his annual signing day press conference Wednesday afternoon. "As most of you know, nationally, with the high school kids and coaches in the state of Iowa it's a constant problem of trying to earn respect from people.
"Every one of those Iowa kids in our camp can play. This is as fine a group of Iowa kids as I've ever been around or recruited into a class. I know a lot more about the state of Iowa than any college recruiter, coach or recruiting analyst. I know what we're getting in this class. It is a fantastic bunch of kids."
Dubuque Wahlert offensive lineman Aaron Brant is a prime example of what McCarney was referring to. The mammoth 6-foot-7, 297-pounder, who is already on campus after graduating early from high school, committed to the Cyclones before taking an official visit anywhere.
While he was widely regarded as the state's top player in the '03 class, Brant didn't get the name recognition outside the state's borders because his name was virtually off the board before his reputation could build.
But the ISU coaches know all about Brant and are prepared to give him every chance at winning a starting job this fall. A bonus session of spring ball, rarely afforded to many true freshmen, should pay dividends.
"When he first came into our camp he had just finished his sophomore year at Dubuque Wahlert High School," McCarney said. "He came into camp and did a fabulous job. There was no doubt he had Big 12 and Division I written all over him. We made an early offer and through time we got an early commitment.
There isn't any place in the country Aaron Brant could go and not play. He could play at any place in the country eventually. He weighed in at 297 pounds on Monday on our scales. He's one of the best offensive linemen in the country."
Many of the others who signed on Wednesday follow a similar path as Brant's. Future offensive line mates Brandon Cook, Anthony Walker, John Tjaden and Tom Schmeling all showed they were capable of playing Division I ball in padded camp.
Quarterbacks Bret Meyer and Nate Mechaelsen, wide receivers Milan Moses and Todd Blythe, and tight end Ben Barkema also made their way to Ames during the summer, as did defensive lineman Matthew Scherbring, linebackers Taylor Schrage and Kurtis Taylor, safety Caleb Berg, and place-kicker Josh Griebahn.
"We upgraded our football team with this class," McCarney said. "One of the most significant things about this class is 15 of the 26 we signed today have all been in our camps. Many of those 15 kids were here two years in a row. Every one of those Iowa kids we signed were in our summer camps.
"Anthony Walker out of Oklahoma and Caleb Berg out of Nebraska were also here. It's not just videotape and recommendations from coaches. We had them here. We got to coach them and put them through our drills. It cuts down on the margin of error and makes for an accurate evaluation."
Another highlight of ISU's recruiting class is that it packed some much-needed beef. Ten of the 26 signees came from the offensive and defensive lines, with just one of those players – Houston (Texas) Kashmere rush end Jason Berryman – weighing in under 265 pounds.
In addition to the five offensive linemen to sign from padded camp, the Cyclones also added Granbury (Texas) and German exchange student Bastian Schober. On the defensive side of the ball, Brent Curvey of Houston Westfield, Nick Davidson of Hurst (Texas) Bell and Scherbring all are expected to be interior linemen.
"Every week it seems like every team has those giants in the offensive and defensive lines," McCarney said. "It started in the state of Iowa. That's as good a group of offensive linemen as I've been around in the state of Iowa. All of the kids we offered, we got in the state of Iowa along with Bastian Schober. He'll fit in with all the rest of these guys. These kids are big, strong and physical.
"Two of those kids in the defensive line that Nelly brought in were really good athletes. A kid like Curvey is only 6-feet, but so is James Reed and he's playing in the NFL. He's got really good feet and is a good athlete. He's 288 pounds and he doesn't look it."
Although the mood was optimistic, ISU's final 24 hours leading up to signing day did not come without some disappointment. Arlington (Texas) linebacker Nick Moore de-committed to sign with Georgia Tech, while Plantation (Fla.) linebacker H.B. Blades decided on and signed at Pittsburgh Wednesday morning. This came on the heels of high-profile strong safety Brandon Owens' de-commitment two weeks ago.
McCarney thought the staff was prepared for all scenarios and have still signed on an ample amount of players at the affected positions. Delray Beach (Fla.) product Steve Allen and Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson standout Ron Prelow, along with Iowans Schrage and Taylor make up a signing class of four linebackers.
"It's a matter of being thorough," McCarney said. "When we say a back-up, that doesn't mean he can't play and is a guy that's a I-AA player and we're going to grab him for Division I. It's a matter of keeping good numbers and making sure we have good kids at each position. That way if something does happen and a mind changes, you have your next guy in line. That could have happened a month ago or last night, which it did. Things happen and you've got to have your next guy in line."
ISU ended up with at least one more scholarship in hand for a prospect that might not have signed with a program Wednesday, but McCarney didn't guarantee it would be used either.
"There are always guys that slip under the radar and don't qualify until later," he said. "If we've got a scholarship left, which we do, then we can hang onto it for later on. They don't have to all sign today. Unfortunately for some of those kids out there, some have not qualified yet with a test score.
"Maybe they can play at this level, but people are waiting to see what happens. When you only lose seven kids that played in this class, the rest of the kids are all back and we're signing another class of 26 kids. The future is bright."
For complete coverage of the 2003 signing class, check out our much-awaited March recruiting yearbook. The cut-off for subscriptions if February 11, so act now. Click on this link for more information: http://iowastate.theinsiders.com/2/82841.html
Juco transfer tight end James Wright (left) and freshman offensive lineman Aaron Brant were excited to be at the signing day press conference. (Photo/CISteve)