IOWA CITY, Ia. — Like he did on Wednesday, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz met with members of the media in February of 2008 and 2009 and talked about the newest additions to his program on National Signing Day.
In 2008, after 24 signed letters of intent arrived, Ferentz said then: “This is our third year in a row where we really feel good about the chemistry that the group enjoys. I think they bring a lot of intangibles to the program.”
In 2009, 22 more players came aboard. Ferentz said then: “This is a good day. … We were able to address some needs we thought were important.”
Of the 46 players in those two classes, just 19 stuck around for their entire careers. The reasons for the attrition range from leaving early for the NFL to injuries to academics to legal and personal issues.
In a program like Iowa’s, where player development is part of the fabric more than restocking with five-star recruits, sizeable attrition can be fatal to winning. Look no further than the forgettable 4-8 season of 2012 for proof.
“Attrition is really our No. 1 enemy,” Ferentz said Wednesday.
Signing day is an annual trip to the land of hype and optimism. Attrition in college football is a reality slap.
“It’s a little bit of a crapshoot,” Ferentz said. “You’re projecting a lot in recruiting. But that’s the biggest thing we’re going to try to find out — is this guy going to have the kind of pride and work ethic and perseverance it takes to earn a degree at a Big Ten university and also play in a program that demands a lot of hard effort and work? And then you never know about the distractions that pop up in young people’s lives.”
Ferentz and his staff have made a living at taking lightly recruited players and turning them into Big Ten players. Four- and five-star recruits don’t dominate Iowa’s annual haul.
“We’re proud of who we are,” Ferentz said. “But to think we’re going to go head-to-head with some of the brand-name schools outside our region probably isn’t realistic. So we try to spend more time finding guys that remind us of some of the players who have had success here. If Tony Moeaki or Bryan Bulaga want to take a shot on us, that’s a great thing. But going after guys like Chad Greenway, Bob Sanders, Bradley Fletcher, guys like that … we’ve had a lot of success with players like that, too.”
That approach can work, unless attrition raises its ugly head like it did in 2008 and 2009 and throws a wrench in the assembly line.
Ferentz acknowledged Wednesday that his 2012 squad was the thinnest he’s coached since his first two seasons as Iowa’s coach.
The 2008 class decreased from 24 players to 19 after one year, then continued to shrink annually: to 16, then 12 and finally 11. Quarterback James Vandenberg and center James Ferentz were among the survivors.
The 2009 class went from 22 to 17 after one year, then 14, then 10. Eight made it to the finish line, including fifth-year senior starters Conor Boffeli, Brett Van Sloten and Dominic Alvis on this year’s Outback Bowl team.
Attrition has slowed down in the last four classes, one reason why Iowa was able to reboot player development, double its wins and go to a bowl game for the 11th time in Ferentz’s 15 seasons as coach.
The 2010 class included seven players who completed their eligibility in four seasons: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey, B.J. Lowery, Tanner Miller, James Morris and Don Shumpert. Back from the 2013 two-deep as fifth-year seniors will be Carl Davis, Andrew Donnal, Mike Hardy, Kevonte Martin-Manley and Brandon Scherff.
Seventeen members of the 24-man class of 2011 are still around, as are 19 of the 22-man class of 2012. And the 22-man class of 2013, which saw LeShun Daniels, Desmond King, Reggie Spearman and Matt VandeBerg play as true freshmen, remains intact.
“I don’t think you can judge a lot of big-picture things with less than a five-year snapshot,” Ferentz said. “But that doesn’t work in recruiting with prospects.”
Ferentz said there are hints whether a player will make it or not as soon as six months in, but two years provides a clearer picture. Which brings us to the freshly signed Class of 2014. Boom or bust?
“It’s really what they do when they get here,” Ferentz said. “Because I feel really confident, based on what I know, that all of them have the requisite ability to be very good players for us. It’s really how hard they want to push and how hard they want to compete here for the next four or five years.”
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeye football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football