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Hansen: Why did recruit drop ISU for Iowa?

[ 13 ] February 1, 2012 |

Kirk Ferentz took a step toward replenishing his shrunken backfield Wednesday by signing brave souls Barkley Hill and Greg Garmon to national letters of intent.

How big a step we won’t know for months, maybe even years. But unlike the behemoths who block for them, talented young running backs don’t usually sit around long waiting for someone to send them onto the field.

If anybody in the class of 2012 is called upon to reverse the cycle of sorrow in the Iowa backfield, it might as well be these two. Garmon had a reported 45 scholarship offers — many as a defensive back — and was widely proclaimed one of the nation’s top prospects.

A few days ago, the Register’s Randy Peterson wrote a nice feature on Garmon and his recovery from childhood cancer. He seems like a good catch, but at this point who knows.

Hill had 43 fewer offers. Nebraska and Michigan State took a look, and he made some visits but committed to Iowa State in April before the recruiting process picked up speed. Hill likely would have entertained more offers had he not committed to Iowa so early. 

In Paul Rhoads’ news conference Wednesday, the Iowa State coach said running back was his team’s deepest position. Reading between the lines, is Rhoads implying losing Hill isn’t such a blow?

Iowa State deep. Iowa shallow. Does that explain Hill’s change of heart?

Neither he nor his father gets into too many specifics when asked why Barkley switched his allegiance from the Cyclones to the Hawkeyes a few weeks ago.

Common sense tells you some of it had to do with the vacancies in Iowa City or the Hawkeyes’ pro-style offense, which seems more suitable to Hill’s talents.

“People think that’s the major reason we made the decision,” said father John Hill, who played football for Northern Iowa, “but it’s more than that.”

Yet it’s the natural assumption.

“Iowa’s offense does fit Barkley’s skill set,” John Hill said. “They like to grind the defense down running the ball, and he’s pretty durable.”

He also said Barkley was fine with Iowa State’s spread offense. When the Cyclones offered him a scholarship, the coaches thought he was versatile enough to make it work. He catches the ball. He’s good in the open field.

Hill and his family also understand that tough competition at running back, at any NCAA bowl subdivision school, is part of the job description. Rather than run away from great competition, the great player embraces it.

How does Iowa State feel about the Hawkeyes swooping in on one of their commits?

Not so great, obviously. It won’t bring the schools or the coaching staffs closer, but it’s part of the game. An Iowa State coach once told me if a kid commits to another school and tells you to stop calling, you stop.

But if he leaves the door open just a crack or seems to be making the decision for the wrong reason, you try to open it a little more.

Eventually, you either squeeze through the door or get it slammed in your face.

“Barkley had been down to Ames several times,” John Hill said. “Been to several games, met the academic people. … He didn’t have as many opportunities to learn about Iowa then.”

Barkley Hill visited Iowa State on Dec.9 and Iowa on Jan.20 and changed his mind.

“The most important thing for us as parents,” John Hill said, “was Barkley being comfortable. And we know he’s comfortable with Iowa.”

Hill is an honor student who plans on majoring in math or science. He did all kinds of volunteer work in his spare time. Lest you get the idea Barkley Hill is the perfect teenager, his father makes a good point when he says even good kids sometimes use bad judgment. Sometimes they don’t know how to handle success.

“When you’re playing for Iowa, you’re held to a higher standard. You’re like a celebrity. You can’t afford to make mistakes.”

Barkley Hill isn’t setting off alarms on the recruiting Richter Scale like classmate Garmon, but in some respects he sounds like the Marcus Coker we once knew. Strong straight-ahead runner who follows his blockers, good student, conscientious citizen.

Coker lasted two years in Iowa City, finishing second in the Big Ten in rushing two months before transferring to Stony Brook, which doesn’t play Nebraska next season.

Once Barkley Hill puts on more muscle and gets his strained knee back in shape, the hope in Iowa City is he carries the ball like Coker, too.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Marc Hansen: Marc Hansen is a sports columnist for The Des Moines Register. View author profile.

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