'Fall Back' Not A Bad Term

This is the time of year where a dirty label begins to make it's way into our day to day vernacular: Fall Back recruit. While that term may have some merit, the Iowa coaching staff has shown time and again in recent years that just because a player did not receive an offer from them in the spring or fall, that does not mean the player is someone that they are not pleased as punch to land. Jon Miller takes a look at Iowa's recent 'fall back' history in this column.

In recruiting vernacular, there is a term that gets bandied about at this point of the year:

'Fall back recruit'.

It has a negative connotation, in that if a kid commits to Iowa at this point of the year and if you have been following recruiting closely for the past several months and have never heard of the kid, then that means he has to be someone that Iowa didn't want a while ago but ‘fell back' to him as their higher priorities were no longer available to them.

I know that some people try to argue this fact every year about this time.

I guess you could say that there is some truth to it, but it's not 100-percent accurate.

Let's take Iowa's latest commitment Lucas Cox, for instance.

This kid literally came out of nowhere to many of us that follow Iowa football recruiting on a day to day, and in some cases, hour to hour basis.

The defensive lineman from a small school in Pennsylvania committed to Iowa late last week and we learned of the commitment over the weekend.

Many people were asking a simple question: Who is this guy?

Not many of us had heard of him before this weekend and those that had heard of him are people that rate kids from all across the nation. We certainly were not aware that Iowa was looking at him.

But Josh Clark told us last night through his interview with Cox that the Iowa coaching staff had been actively recruiting Cox since December.

In December, Iowa still had some of their ‘bigger fish' in the mix, namely DE Dwayne Hendricks of New Jersey.

But recruiting is all about staying in the game until the very end. You don't put all of your eggs in just a few baskets. Iowa's coaches keep evaluating film, scouring the nation, calling high school coaches, etc, until Signing Day or shortly before.

Their work on the recruiting trail never, ever stops.

Iowa's coaches do not have the luxury of having 12 to 20 million residents in their state. The more residents you have, the more high-major D1 prospects you are going to have to choose from. Iowa has the smallest population base of any state in the Big Ten. It's just a fact.

Due to that simple demographic fact, Iowa's coaches have to work harder than any of the other coaching staff's at league's public universities.

So they are always working.

In the case of Cox, he sent some tape to Iowa in December, Iowa took a look at it and wound up offering him last week.

Some will call Cox a fall back recruit.

If you do, then you might want to call Seth Olsen a fall back recruit. Olsen is considered one of the best run blocking linemen in the country. Iowa did not offer him a scholarship until around Christmas.

Part of the reason was due to his early commitment to Nebraska. Iowa stopped recruiting him when he committed, but when Frank Solich was fired, the door opened up for Olsen. Olsen visited Iowa City in December without an offer from the Hawkeyes.

Iowa told him on his visit that they needed to evaluate his tapes and they would get back with him. They did that, and he is now a Hawkeye, as he committed to Iowa nine days ago.

Jovon Johnson would have to be considered a ‘fall back' commitment, as he committed to Iowa just days before the February signing day two years ago. Iowa had targeted his teammate Levonne Rowan early on in the process. When the Iowa coaching staff visited Mercyhurst High School to meet with Rowan, Johnson took the opportunity to get his tape in to the hands of the Iowa coaching staff.

Rowan would later commit to Wisconsin, but the Hawkeye liked what they saw from Mercyhurst's ‘Mr. Everything', Jovon Johnson.

Johnson played quarterback and defensive back for his team and also returned punts and kicks. At the time of his commitment' Johnson's high school coach told me that he felt that Jovon would be the better cornerback of the two players.

Thus far, that prediction looks pretty solid.

Johnson played some as a true freshman in 2002 and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. This year, as a full-time starter, he led the team with six INT's. He is on pace to surpass the great Nile Kinnick's record of 18 career interceptions, a record also shared by Devon Mitchell.

Safety Marcus Paschal visited Iowa in late January of that year and he was not one of the early names that we read about. He was a solid special teams player this year and will fight it out with Miguel Merrick at strong safety next fall to earn the right to fill that void on a defense that looks to be every bit as special in 2004 as it has been for the past two years.

Though Clinton Solomon could not stay eligible at Iowa, he showed flashes of brilliance during his true freshman season last year. He was an early February commit.

Kenny Iwebema has not yet played for Iowa, but his future seems bright based on what we hear. He came out of nowhere in December of last year before committing to Iowa late in the recruiting process.

Eric McCollom will be battling for the starting quarterback position this spring, and he did not receive an offer from Iowa until late November and he committed in January of last year.

Drew Tate will battle McCollom for that spot, and Iowa did not get in on him until very late in the process last year after he de-committed from Texas A&M.

One of the best football players in Hawkeye history was a ‘fall back' and lightly regarded player; Bob Sanders.

Chuck Long was a high on the list of the Northern Illinois' of the world, but he got nary a sniff from high-major schools.

Robert Gallery was lightly regarded. Dallas Clark and Derek Pagel were walk ons.

Iowa also stumbled onto Brad Banks nearly by accident. He was not one of their early QB targets during that recruiting season and Iowa visited his Juco to take a look at a lineman.

The same can be said of Fred Russell. Iowa visited his prep school to take a look at Niko Koutouvides. They found Russell, and he became one of the best running backs in school history.

Chances are that you are going to learn of a few more names this month that were not on Iowa's original recruiting radar screen last spring and fall.

The fact of the matter is that Iowa will offer several players early in the process and will get very few of them. That can be said of every school. You miss more than you hit in recruiting.

But the Iowa coaching staff has proven one thing over the course of the past five years, and that is that they have a great eye for talent and do a great job of developing the talent once they get to Iowa City.

Chad Greenway was a January commitment and played nine-man football in South Dakota. No high-major colleges offered him a scholarship. But after arriving on the Iowa campus his freshman year, Norm Parker told all that would listen that Greenway was going to be a monster.

That is how it has worked for Iowa.

You should also consider that there are other colleges that keep one eye on what the Hawkeyes are doing on the recruiting trails. If word gets out that Iowa has their sights set on some lightly regarded prospect in the eyes of the ‘experts' and the Hawkeyes have extended an offer, some schools (Kansas State) are taking notice.

Last year, the Hawkeyes wanted Miami-area product Teraz McCray. McCray was waiting for an offer from the hometown Miami Hurricanes, as is often the case with kids from the Sunshine State, but he signed a letter of intent with Iowa the morning of signing day.

The Hurricanes then came through with an offer that morning. Iowa let McCray out of his letter of intent so he could be near his infant child.

Thankfully, Iowa Hawkeye fans have some exceptional evaluators and teachers in charge of their football program.

So when Iowa lands a Lucas Cox, maybe your first reaction should not be ‘did we miss out on other targets and fall back to this player?'

Instead, enjoy the previously unknowns that pledge their allegiance to Iowa and think of what might happen after some time spent in the Iowa program with one of the best coaching staffs in college football.

Instead of ‘fall back', it might be ‘look at what has fallen into Iowa's lap.'


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