There is a reason why Iowa State only has three bowl wins in the history of its football program. When you are the head coach of the Cyclones, you have a difficult job.
Over the course of his coaching career that dates back to 1989, Paul Rhoads has worked in the Big Ten, the Big East, the SEC and the Big 12. From the standpoint of geography and recruiting, Iowa State’s head coach has seen it all.
“There are challenges everywhere you go in recruiting,” Rhoads said on Tuesday at the Big 12 media days in Dallas.“ We have more of them in Ames, Iowa and Iowa State than most folks. We are in a state that produces 8-10 Division I player per year on a good year. Very rarely are there any defensive linemen who are a part of that recruiting process. There is not a ton of speed in our state. Now you have to spread out your fingers and start going elsewhere.”
This is where Rhoads’ staff targets areas that are traditionally rich with D-1 football prospects – Florida and Texas.
“You get to Florida or Texas or places like that and they can’t necessarily find Iowa on a national Atlas,” Rhoads said. “You’ve got to educate them and get as much in front of them as you can and work hard to get them on your campus. That’s the hardest job of the whole process, getting the young man (on campus). Once we do that, then we’ve got a pretty good product to sell whether it be people or the product or facilities or whatever it is.”
The good news is that Iowa State, along with other more northern Big 12 schools, has received a decent bump in momentum when it comes to scouring the state of Texas. While some folks believe that location doesn’t matter in this day in age, Rhoads disagrees when it comes to the Longhorn State.
“You are guaranteed to come back here twice a year,” Rhoads said. “When you sign a kid, you are playing in the state of Texas twice a year, which means that families are going to see them. Chances are, he is playing against programs that overlooked him, which means he has a chip on his shoulder.”
Recruiting defensive linemen
It is July. Fall camp is around the corner. You know what that means? The chatter of Iowa State not having much depth on its defensive line for the upcoming season is beginning to surface. This is an annual tradition in central Iowa. That’s because there is no tougher position to recruit in the sport – especially in the middle.
“I think it’s not just our program, I think it’s historically true across the country,” Rhoads said about recruiting defensive linemen. “And it’s the simple answer to that question, you walk through the shopping mall, you don’t see a lot of 6’6", 290-pound guys that can run really fast nor anywhere else walking around the streets. The numbers of those guys, they just don’t exist and we all want them, and so every time you find those guys, the haves in this game of college football, the traditional college programs, they’ll get first crack at those guys.
So what should Iowa State do about this? How should Rhoads’ staff attack the issue at hand?
“We’re going to take guys that on occasion are 230 pounds and develop them to be that 290‑pound guy,” Rhoads said. “A name you might remember, and some others, Jordan Carstens, who I recruited as a walk‑on at Iowa State, had to talk Mack into bringing him in, and he goes on to the National Football League with Carolina. He was about 210 pounds coming out of high school and ended up being an All-Big 12 player. You gotta get lucky at places like ours that that high‑profile athlete doesn’t usually have a lot of interest in quite honestly.”
Hoping for help
As Rhoads noted, Iowa State’s toughest challenge when it comes to recruiting is getting a kid on campus for a visit. Rhoads believes that a potential NCAA rule change could help a program like Iowa State significantly.
“I am hopeful that the NCAA here in the next year or two will adopt a rule that the basketball program already has in place, where we can pay for parents and/or guardians to come on the trip with them,” Rhoads said. “Once we get that in place, we will get more people to Ames.”