I have been waiting for the ink to dry on the letters of intent to write this column, and since all of the letters of intent were signed and faxed yesterday, it's time.
Recruiting is a team effort. It takes a great amount of coordination by the coaching staff, the support staff, the student athletes, the students and the faculty.
Hundreds of people are involved in the process…so many moving parts.
There is another important segment of the recruiting process that exists, an aspect that should never be overlooked or understated in the future; the committed athlete and their parent(s).
I have been covering Iowa recruiting since the Class of 2000, or the last six recruiting classes. I have gotten to ‘know' many of the Hawkeye players and their families before they ever attended a class at Iowa. I have interviewed hundreds of prospects as well as their parents.
Though six years of covering recruiting is not an eternity, it does cover the rise of the recruiting industry. I was hired into the genre by Jim Heckman, CEO of Scout.com, creator of the world's first college sports network and recruiting database. I have seen a lot in this business.
But I have never seen a recruiting class come together the way that this year's Hawkeye class came together.
And I believe that a portion of this year's success has to do with Jake and Jeff Christensen.
Jake is one of the nation's best quarterbacks and Jeff is his father. Jeff played quarterback for the NFL's Eagles, Browns and Bengals. He helped mold his son into a gifted and cerebral signal caller.
Jake committed to Iowa back in mid June. One of the reasons for that is because he knew he wanted to play for Kirk Ferentz and his father knew that he wanted his son to play for Kirk Ferentz.
Another reason is that the Christensen's knew that a relatively early commitment from a big time quarterback can give a school a better chance for recruiting success in a given year.
Ferentz talked about Jake at yesterday's press conference:
"I think Jake had a major role (in this class). The fact that he committed early helped give us more credibility in the Chicago area. Jake and his dad were very aggressive. Quarterbacks are smart; it helps to have good teammates on both sides of the ball, so they were aggressive to help us recruit a good class."
THE FIRST STEPS
The Christensen's then made a ‘pitch' to Stross over some dinner that evening. Trey knew that Jake was likely headed to Iowa, and he knew the kind of arm that Jake had. Trey told me back in June that he had never caught passes from anyone with the kind of arm that Jake Christensen had, and the Christensen's let Stross know that they wanted him to join Jake at Iowa.
So Stross was the first to ‘get in the truck'.
I need to back up for a moment to say that Jake and Dan Doering became friends at the 2004 US Army All American Junior Combine event. Doering and his family made several trips to Iowa, and Dan's sister attends the University. I don't know to what level the Christensen's played a part in Dan's eventual commitment to Iowa, but I do know that there were more than a few car rides to and from Iowa City shared by the families. On one occasion, Jake and Dan drove one car out of Iowa City while Jeff and Rick Doering rode in another vehicle. The fathers talked and the boys talked.
Later on in the 2004 season, it seemed that when you would see Dan and Rick Doering, you would also see Jake and Jeff Christensen.
During the summer and fall of 2004, the Christensen's were full fledged recruiters for the University of Iowa. They were calling other prospects and their parents and talking to them about Iowa. Tony Moeaki, Dace Richardson, Ryan Bain, Rafael Eubanks and others would hear from the Christensen's from time to time.
When the Christensen's made visits to Iowa football games, Jake and Jeff would talk to some of the other visitors in attendance, always pitching the Iowa football program.
Here are some examples of their ‘work':
Jake and Jeff drive to Iowa's home game against Ohio State game knowing they can only stay one quarter because they must get home, but they knew that Iowa was entertaining Chase Coffman, Rafael Eubanks and Raymond Henderson that day, and they wanted to help Iowa's cause. So they drive six hours to stay for a couple of hours.
The week after Jake's official visit to Iowa in December, Jake and Jeff drove the three hours to Iowa City to meet with David Nelson for maybe an hour of his visit before flying to New York for Jake's Ball Park National Player of the Year week. They were going to fly out of Cedar Rapids instead of just flying out of Chicago. Nelson misses his plane, yet Jeff and Jake say ‘don't worry about it, we'll get together with you some other time.' That other time came down in San Antonio, where I personally saw Jake and other members of Iowa's All American contingent working on Nelson every chance they could, making him feel like he was a part of the gang. I spoke with Nelson a few times in San Antonio, and you could tell that he DID feel like a part of the gang.
Jeff had numerous talks with the Moeaki family and Tony caught a hundred passes from Jake while in San Antonio.
Rafael Eubanks was more impressed with his January visit to Notre Dame than he thought he would be, and after committing to Iowa in December, he was unsure as to where he wanted to go. Jeff and Rick Doering spoke with Rafael during the US Army All American weekend, telling him about how things were going well for the other boys down in San Antonio, and reminding Rafael that they were all thinking about him and wished he were there with them. The first call that Jake and Dan Doering made after the All American game was to Rafael, on their way to dinner.
The first person that Dace Richardson hugged after leaving Kirk Ferentz's office as he silently committed to Iowa back in December was Jake.
After Jake and Ryan Bain squared off on the football field this past fall, they were making small talk on the field, and Jake point blank says to Ryan, ‘So are you coming to Iowa with me?'.
I personally witnessed the strong rapport that the Iowa US Army All American contingent had while covering the event in San Antonio. When I interviewed Jake and Dan before the game, interviews that were conducted three days before the event and with them talking openly about all of the upcoming commitments on National TV, they were like little kids on Christmas day. They were talking about helping Iowa to compete for national titles. Jake and Dan are big time leaders, and they really pulled a large portion of this recruiting class together, at least on the player-to-player basis.
One thing needs to be reiterated and always understood; the Iowa coaching staff did a phenomenal job with this recruiting class, and especially with the contingent from Illinois. Lester Erb's work in the state of Illinois has been outstanding. Matt Roth, Mike Jones, Jake, Dan, Ryan, Dace and Tony are all on his watch.
Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson has done yeoman's work as well. Ken O'Keefe has been knocking them down out east, Ron Aiken has been a consistent work horse in the south, Phil Parker's relationships in Florida paid off in a big way with Kalvin Bailey, Darrell Wilson's connections in New Jersey are reaping incredible dividends, and Reese Morgan is keeping the borders safe back home in Iowa.
Chris Doyle's influence is felt by every recruit that has a sincere interest in Iowa, Jon McGlaughlin does a great job as the on campus recruiting coordinator. The Hawkeye players have been fantastic emissaries as they host these prospects on campus.
It takes a team effort, and the Iowa coaching staff is flat out the best in the nation at identifying talent and then developing that talent.
Dan and Rick Doering have done an amazing job, for Iowa, as have the Christsensen's and other families.
When I contacted Jeff Christensen to get some quotes for this piece, and after telling him what I was writing about, he seemed a bit uncomfortable with the spotlight shining his direction.
He was appreciative of the kind thoughts, but with very little meditation, he said the following:
"Since I was a kid going up in the Midwest, there have been four schools; Notre Dame, Michigan & Bo, Ohio State & Woody and Penn State & Joe. I firmly believe in my heart that what we are witnessing is a complete changing of the guard in the Midwest and Big Ten. I feel very lucky and blessed that my son has been invited to be a part of the Iowa football family and community."
"Iowa plays football as I believe it should be played. With great character, pride, and the love of your teammate. At that point, when your talent is equal to that of your opponent, you will win 90 percent of the time."
"So the thanks is very humbling to me."
Then he offered one last salvo, with a good natured chuckle:
"Now let's throw it early and throw it often."