All is fair in love and war. And in college football recruiting.
As the Iowa Hawkeyes prepared to host MAC opponent Kent State on Saturday (Iowa won, by the way, 30-7), Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz recalled many times in his career that Power Five and Mid-Major programs are often after the same guys, but not always at the same time.
“I’ve joked about that a lot of times with our staff that we waste a lot of time recruiting,” said Ferentz. “We should just wait until the MAC schools get their guys lined up, and then we should go poach before Signing Day.”
Ferentz said it was a similar process nailing diamond-in-the-rough — at the time — George Kittle. Hey, they call Iowa “Tight End U” for a reason, and Kittle is undoubtedly a product of that.
Kittle was a three-star recruit to some, two-star to others, weighing in at less than 200 pounds and even confiding to Bleacher Report at the time that he’d wear an oversized sweatshirt on visits to appear bigger. He had bites from Air Force, Navy, and FCS program Weber State. On paper, he didn’t look like he could become what he has now: one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
“That’s how fine the line is with recruiting,” said Ferentz. “What you can’t measure are the intangibles with players.”
As Signing Day approached in 2012, Kittle was close to taking his talents to Weber State until he got a phone call from his dad Bruce’s alma mater, Iowa. Holding outworked in his favor. A tough draw for Weber State, but that’s just how it goes, according to Ferentz.
“I coached at Maine for three years. If a Division I school offered one of our guys after they committed…big fish eat little fish,” said Ferentz. “That’s just how it works. And you know, we’ve had players taken by other universities that were more ‘noted.’”
Ferentz said sometimes it just takes longer to evaluate players, and well, find those diamonds in the rough.
“We’ve had a lot of guys...that we’ve offered in January and even in February at times, and they’ll be really good football players,” said Ferentz. “George Kittle. I mean, there’s just one that comes to mind. Going Weber State, and I’m sure Weber is not happy with us, but I think they understand [Iowa was] probably a better deal for George. It turned out really well, and then he kept getting better. So yeah, it’s interesting.”
Perhaps the bigger storyline was — and is — assigning players stars and ratings on metrics when they haven’t finished their high school careers.
“Watching guys through their senior year, which is really how recruiting should be done. Like it used to be 40 years ago,” said Ferentz. “Let guys play their whole careers and then evaluate them. That’s what the NFL does. And you know, you get a better picture of the guy after his senior year.”
As for Kittle, his picture keeps getting better and better.
**Of note, my ‘day job’ is covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for WQAD in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. Ferentz happened to bring George up during a routine game week press conference.