Are Hawkeye Football fans on cloud nine right now or what? After an improbable ending to the credit card bowl game, Iowa fans were treated to an impressive showing at the Scout.com All American game. In one hour's time, Dan Doering, Dace Richardson Tony Moeaki and Ryan Bain expressed their intentions to matriculate at the University of Iowa and to play football for the Hawkeyes. The game also featured prior commits Jake Christensen, Tyler Blum and Trey Stross. All seven of these men will show up on our campus with impressive athletic ability, strong accolades and household names. However, these gentleman will also face the burden of adjusting to college life while trying to live up to the great expectations of Iowa fans who have already reserved hotel rooms in Pasadena, Tempe, Miami and New Orleans for the next four Januaries.
Sure, recruiting rankings don't mean everything, but they do mean something. It is no coincidence that perennial powerhouse teams like Michigan, Miami and Oklahoma boast annual classes of incoming freshman who are rated among the best in the country. But is it an indicator of guaranteed success? Absolutely not.
The University of Texas has won the mythical recruiting national championship on a number of occasions, but for years they finished outside the top ten in the final AP poll. In that same time period, dozens of other teams with lower rated talent finished in the top ten. Only recently has Texas been able to capitalize on its talent on a larger scale.
One need not look further than the University of Iowa to observe this trend. While we have finished 8th in the Nation over the last three years, the Hawkeyes have done so using recruiting classes which were ranked outside the top 20. How did the Hawks get it done? Great coaching, talent evaluation and Coach Doyle. Lightly recruited or walk on players became All-Americans and First Round draft picks. Sure, our classes were punctuated with the occasional "blue chip" player like Matt Roth, but paled in comparison to the boys in Blue and Maize who fill their roster with stud players on a yearly basis. At Michigan, if a player should not pan out, there will be 2-3 blue chip kids at the same position that stand to excel.
Iowa's margin of error has not been so great. In the past, the occasional highly rated player came to school facing unrealistic expectations few could satisfy. The most recent example of this phenomenon is Blake Larsen. Mr. Larsen was widely touted as the top offensive lineman in the country in 2000. He turned down Oklahoma and about every other school to stay in the home state and play for an Iowa team that frankly wasn't setting the world on fire at the time. Unfortunately, the talent and potential that the "experts" saw did not translate to a collegiate football career that some would consider a success. In fact, many have labeled him a bust.
I would take issue with anyone who would speak so disparagingly of Larsen. Injuries slowed his development, and he never became the dominant starter that many envisioned. However, during the recruiting process, he befriended Matt Roth and no doubt played a significant role in Roth's coming to the University. He brought positive attention to the football team and all accounts list him as a very nice guy and good teammate. I had the opportunity to meet him following the Wisconsin game this year, and speak with him for about a half hour. He was proudly wearing his Big Ten Championship t-shirt. One of my friends complimented him on his shirt, and Mr. Larsen gave it to him. He gave the shirt off his back to a guy he didn't know just because that guy was a devoted Iowa fan. Larsen will leave the University with a degree, a fiancé, and two Big Ten Championship rings. To me, that makes him a success.
As we are now a few weeks from signing day, we anticipate the highest rated class in Iowa history. It's great to be excited. The higher percentage of highly rated talent will likely translate into many top performers for the Hawks. I have absolute faith in this coaching staff to cultivate its talent and select high character individuals. But we must be mindful that our championship hopes are placed squarely upon the shoulders of 18-year-old kids.
The increased attention placed on recruiting turns these high school kids into stars and celebrities before they step on campus. Their every action is judged and graded. On Saturday, Ryan Bain announced his intentions to play for the Hawks, and anonymous people on the Internet immediately took malicious shots at him for his brief comments. Are we to expect every high school kid to have served time on the debate team? Is it inexcusable for one to be nervous while giving an address before 40,000 people and a national television audience? In failing to give a soliloquy weighing the merits of being a Hawkeye, is he unfit to attend college? I should say not.
A couple months ago, I was watching the finale of "The Apprentice." Donald Trump was asking a number of his highly respected business peers their opinions as to whether Kelly or Jen should be hired as apprentice. When Trump and finale host Regis Philbin put Trump's Chief Operating Officer Matthew Calamari on the spot about who should be hired, the following exchange occurred on live television:
Calamari: "Donald, you know I don't care for Jen very much, to be honest with you, um, because..." (stares at the ceiling). "Wow, Because, uh...well. I'm not doing too good," (looks nervously at Regis).
Regis: "Why are you looking at me?"
Calamari: "I don't know." (long pause).
Trump: "Who do you like, of the two?"
Calamari: "I like Kelly. I think that, um..." (long pause)
Trump: "Hey, Regis! People think this stuff is easy, right?" (Trump laughs).
So all in all, Bain and the other recruits acquitted themselves quite nicely. Let them take Rhetoric I and II, get used to having a camera and microphone in their faces, and I'm sure they will all handle themselves quite nicely. They will outshine the COO of a multi-billion dollar corporation in no time.
In the end we, as Iowa fans have great reason to feel good about the recruiting class Ferentz and Co. have assembled, but we need to temper our enthusiasm and avoid placing unnecessary expectations upon the shoulders of these prospective student-athletes.