Below is a complete transcript of Paul Rhoads’ National Signing Day press conference. Check out CycloneFanatic.com over the next day for move coverage of the big day.
Paul Rhoads’ opening statement: Let me start by offering many thanks to all involved in the recruiting process. Starting with our families, a lot of sacrifice. A lot of time not just in the recruiting season but year round, but especially the months of December and January. When we are gone, we are gone seven days a week. When we are back, we are not here. Miss a lot of wrestling matches, basketball games and gymnastics opportunities. So many thanks to our families, as a staff, for what you put up with. Thanks to the recruits and their families.
Really enjoyed the process with this class. My favorite time of recruiting is in the home, and in the schools, and getting a chance to sit down and break bread, share a story or confirm a commitment. It has been a real joy to recruit this class. Give them a good picture of what’s to come.
To our staff, first of all the in-house people, mainly Nick Uhlenhopp and Garrit Chernhoff and everybody else that surrounds them right here in the Bergstrom Football Complex. These guys can’t go off campus, but countless hours spent here preparing things and making sure everything flows so very well. And then the guys out on the road, our coaching staff we had some change over, we had some adversity we had to overcome, and our graduate assistants really jumped in with both feet. I like to name Derek Day, Pete Brown, Mike Conrad, and Mitchell Moore all got out on the road as young coaches just did a professional job representing Iowa State, very appreciative of the work that they put in.
With that in mind it is with great excitement that I announce the class of 2014 here at Iowa State. That is Allen Lazard’s national letter of intent. Let me talk about Allen Lazard a little bit before I get to the rest of the class. Mature, high character, integrity, accountable, trustworthy, true to his word of 14-months. Fourteen months. Allen Lazard sent in his official letter of intent today. He’s not going to a school in northern Indiana. Boy, they wasted a lot of time and money. He’s not going to another school in this state, who feverishly called him about a half a dozen times in the past week. Much to the dismay of people in this room who have wasted a lot of space and time challenging his word of commitment. He is going right here to Iowa State University. And true to his word, he will become the second top-rated player in the state, two years in a row, to become a Cyclone, and I’m very thrilled with Allen Lazard joining this program. As a bonus to Allen, I’m going to keep him off limits to the media for his freshman year. I think he’s earned that after what he’s been through the last 14 months.
Allen highlights a class that includes 25 total signees, 18 high school players, seven junior college players, and 13 on defense, 11 on offense, and a punter. It represents 11 states and a province, this class, tops is the state of Texas where we signed eight. We have the son of an ISU captain. We have the son of an astronaut who spent five months in space. We have a participant on the TV show Extreme Makeover. We have, maybe, a distant family member to one of our coaches; we haven’t identified that for sure yet. We have a hockey enforcer. We have a linebacker that led the country in tackles. We have a U.S. Army All-American. We have a high school All-American. We have a Florida-Georgia All-Star participant. We have a Houston Touchdown Club finalist. We have two JC All-Americans. We have a two time state champion. We have a 2,500-yard rusher. We have, at least, five guys that run a sub-11 flat 100-meter dash. Three of those players in the class of 25 are here today. I’d like to introduce them now. Gabe Luna, a defensive end from Garden City, Kan. Played at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan. Next to him is Devron Moore, who is from Carthage, MO played his junior college ball at Northeast Oklahoma and next to me is Jordan Harris, from Clarksdale, Miss. Who played at Copiah-Lincoln down in southern Mississippi, Jordan is the linebacker that led the country in tackles.
Finally, I would like to announce some staff hires and assignments to go along with that. Mark Mangino, as well as, being our offensive coordinator will coach our tight ends, Todd Sturdy will move to quarterbacks, Brandon Blaney will join us and coach the offensive line, he comes from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tommy Mangino will join us from Arkansas and coach our wide receivers.
Q: What recruits will come in and contribute significantly immediately?
PR: Well, I think the seven junior college players are certainly recruited for that purpose, six on defense, we needed depth there, we needed some experience injected with those guys. So I think that all six of those guys will have an opportunity to compete. I think Wendell Taiese, even though he is coming later now, did not enroll in this January class, didn’t meet some academic requirements, I think he’ll have an opportunity on the offensive line, as well. I think I have to name two high school guys out of the 18, then tell you the other 16 will get an opportunity to compete. As I always say, I think it is harder closer to the ball than it is further away to play right away as a true freshman. Allen with his ability, with his physical stature, I think has an opportunity to come in and compete right away. Then Colin Downing, the punter, was recruited with the starting position in mind.
Q: Coach was there a specific area you wanted to address this time around?
PR: No, I think there were areas where we took a few more guys. We needed that for depth reasons. There’s two ways, always, that I’m approaching it, one is just simple math, I like to have a three and a half deep at all positions. We have two safeties on the field, I like to have seven safeties on scholarship, same with defensive tackles, with two on the field, I like to have seven defensive tackles on scholarship. Then beyond the numbers, you just have to look strategically at where we are maybe a little deficient right now, and then go after those position group players. Defensive back we were a little bit low in numbers, so we went after that particular group. Defensive end we have dropped off and maybe some changes from within, but we went with those junior college kids to sure up the defensive end position on the roster.
Q: Paul, being able to land a guy like Allen, what does that mean for this program?
PR: This is our sixth recruiting class. I think the progression of where we are at right now, I don’t know if saying we are on schedule is accurate or appropriate, but we are right where I expect to be now. With that development I think a player with the talent of Allen Lazard realizes that. With the early commitment, coming off a third bowl game in four years, the family background, you can understand that a little bit. Having a dip in the road and only winning three games and holding on to him, that’s a showcase of where we have come and that he knows the internal workings of what is in place, he sees the vision and completely buys into it.
Q: The two running backs flew under the radar. Do you consider yourself fortunate to be able to land both of them in very competitive states?
PR: That’s the unique thing about recruiting, the fun thing within our walls. These guys didn’t fly under the radar to us. They’re great players, great players. You’re talking about 3,800-yards between the two of them and one missed significant games because of an ankle injury. One is bigger and more physical, yet has good speed, the other one has great speed and game-breaking ability and, Mike Warren that I’m speaking of, had 11 40-plus yard runs called back, and still ran for 2,500-yards in the season. On some people’s radar they are underneath it, on ours we see them clear as can be.
Q: Paul, referring back to your opening statement and you having to replace those coaches in the middle of the recruiting process. Did that change the way that you had to do your job over the last month of recruiting, did you have to go on the road more than you have in recent years?
PR: No, in our program it’s my commitment to the recruits, the staff, the program, and the families, I’m going to see every single player that we sign. If it is at all possible I’m going to see every single player that we sign and their families. In addition to that, I’ve got to see some of the guys that we are competing to get, that we lose in the process. Two things, the NCAA changed the rules this year in the middle of the stream, right in the middle of the season they decided to change the rules and we lost recruiting days. That hampered our abilities to get this done to an extent. Sadly, with Curtis’ passing, we lost some days there on the recruiting trail. So what happened in the end, the last 14 days were a blur, I worked three time zones last week, started in the middle of Texas, went to the east coast, came back to the middle of Texas, then finished up on the west coast. That’s our commitment to the kids that we are bringing in, that’s the culture that we want them to understand.
Q: Paul, in terms of the JUCOS coming in, particularly on defense, what’s more important generally speaking from a JUCO, the added physical maturity or the mental maturity they possess?
PR: I don’t think you tip the scale either way with that. There’s mental toughness and then there is mental understanding, these three are going to be ahead, certainly from a mental understanding point, because they are going to get coached in the winter and they are going to get coached all spring-ball long. These seven guys we have identified physical traits that we think immediately help our football team. Now we have to bring them along with the mental piece to go along with it.
Q: The stigma with junior college guys, it wasn’t very good, that has changed over the years. Do you believe that has changed? Why has it changed?
PR: I think the quality of coaching and the development within those programs, I don’t know if I could tell you that there is more or less of them, but there is more players in those junior college programs, I think the players are developing more. More guys are ending up in those programs with access to be recruited. We’re always going to identify character and integrity and things like that in those kids, whether in high school or junior college, that we want to continue to add to our program. These three young men, as well as, the other four, hit on all those criteria.
Q: Is there anything different this time around that you were selling to recruits that everybody seemed to be buying into?
PR: This thing (Bergstrom Football Complex) has been standing for a year, so we fully got a chance to utilize. It wasn’t blueprints, it wasn’t concrete and steel, it was carpet and cabinets. I think they appreciate this building very much. We have the addition to the stadium that’s going to take place with the great generosity of the Reiman family. That’s exciting to them. Anytime that you can show growth, especially that extends to our loyal fan base and Cyclone Nation, this enclosure of Jack Trice Stadium does. Recruits get excited about that. We still continue to bring a number of players on campus for games. We had seven that were here officially for the Kansas game. They could tell you when you ask them, cause they were here, the crowd that showed up for the game and the passion that they cheered with, as well as, the passion that our guys played with had a big impact on their decision.
Q: When you bring in a slew of guys that you expect to play right away, does that change what you’re looking for out of the player compared to when you’re just normally recruiting someone?
PR: I think I can better answer that with examples, Devron Moore, he possesses both coverage skills and physical skills. If we’re going to advance our defensive play at a higher level in 2014 we can’t put cover defensive backs on the field. We have to put guys out there that are going to bring the wood and tackle, as well as, cover and intercept the ball and break passes up. Devron does that. Jordan Harris, linebacker, first to arrive, last to leave, wearing out the machine watching video tape, suggesting to coaches things in the game plan because of what he has learned, calling out plays before they happen on the game field, that’s a guy that can play mike linebacker for us. Gabe Luna, two words in comparison, Cory Morrissey, that’s who he is and I think our fan base will appreciate and understand that comparison. He is blue-collar. He’s no nonsense. He had a vision to play four-year college ball, graduated from high school early without opportunities and went to a junior-college to get started earlier on that path, fundamentally sound, plays with his shoulders square, plays with a low base, so that’s what I saw on these three guys and that’s what excited us about these three guys.
Q: Paul, it’s well documented how successful you have been with fake punts over the years. Downing I know is a hockey player, is that athleticism something you evaluate with the punter, or is it when you get them here, then you burn that bridge?
PR: I’m looking for it. I looked for it in Cole Netten when we signed him. I had some great fake field goals late in the year that I never got to use. I looked for it in Colin. I said to him in the process, “Are you athletic enough? Can we call some fakes with you?” He sort of tilted his head at me and said, “Coach, I’m a hockey player.” He is pretty confident that he can get the job done.
Q: You had the three high school cornerbacks, Ruth, Peavy, and Johnson, what excites you about them?
PR: Athleticism and speed. Don’t know if Mike (Johnson) can eclipse the 11-flat mark but the other two can. Damien Lowery, who is already on our campus, is a Wilmer-Hutchins graduate where (De’Monte) Ruth is from, everybody, including De’Monte, would tell you that he is faster than Damian and that he can flat out fly. Brian Peavy, a player that I coached in college, has coached him at Westfield High School. The Houston Touchdown Club award is a very elite group; you’re talking about a small group of nominees for the top player in the greater Houston area, nine interceptions and multiple other plays that he is making. You’re always in the end looking for playmakers. Size, speed is one thing but when you put the film on they better make plays and they do. Mike Johnson, a very versatile player, runs the ball well on offense, good with the ball in his hands, as well as a cover guy and physical in nature also.
Q: Coach, Jeremiah (George) graduating leaves a void at linebacker. What specifically are you expecting from Jordan (Harris)?
PR: A guy that will knock people’s fillings loose. That’s how he played, Robert McFarland, who is on the staff at Copiah-Lincoln and is a former offensive coordinator at Iowa State who helped make us aware of Jordan’s presence down there, his sons on the team, plays receiver, and the first time Jordan went after him, his mother just about removed him from the roster out of shear fear. He’s productive. He led the country in tackles at the junior college level. He shows up and plays very physical and he’s got that mental approach to the game, he is very smart and Wally (Burnham) is very much looking forward to working with him.
Q: Paul, what do you do with five scholarship quarterbacks?
PR: Quarterbacks and running backs are the positions where the numbers are higher. We’ve got six running backs on scholarship right now and we are always going to be above that three and a half deep level at those positions, because they get nicked up, because of durability and because of development. Darius Lee-Campbell was too good to turn down in the class and we were fortunate enough to get him. If we didn’t get him we were not going to sign a quarterback in this class. You want to recruit players that love to compete. Whether you end up with five at one position, or whatever it is at other positions, now let the competition begin this spring and rolling on towards August.
Q: Coach did last year’s win loss record have any effect on how recruits perceived you or how you made your sales pitch to them?
PR: The 2013 season got worse because of injuries on the offensive line and injuries to our quarterback, that were far worse than I would have ever relayed to the media or even my friends. We knew we were going to be a very young football team. We knew there was an opportunity for a hiccup in the 2013 season. Those were the kinds of things that we had to emulate to the players we were recruiting so that they understood. They did understand, as we closed the season with two magnificent victories. That comes back around and there is trust and accountability that goes along with the statements that you’ve made. I think in the end the class felt that.
Q: What was it about Darius Lee-Campbell that made you take a quarterback in a year you weren’t looking for one?
PR: Way too good of a dual-threat. I wouldn’t have called it a piece of his re-recruitment but anytime you undergo a coordinator change, as well as some position coaches changes, you’ve got some work to do. With Mark joining the staff and being able to talk about guys like Michael Bishop and Elle Roberson, guys that have effectively ran components of the offense that we could run, and compare those guys to Darius, who recognizes those guys, Houston area guys. He gets excited about that and we get excited about that. He is the true dual threat guy, he ran for 1,000-yards in a season, he throws an accurate ball, he gets good velocity on his ball, his ball doesn’t get much air on it. All of those qualities were too good to turn down.
Q: Paul what impressed you about Terry (Ayeni), Gabe (Luna), and Dale (Pierson) as far as defensive line recruits?
PR: Athleticism, both Terry and Dale are both 260 or over and are playing on the edge with the ability to move inside and make plays in there, whether it be a substitution package or whatever it is. They’re physical enough and explosive enough that even at that size they can keep offensive linemen off their bodies and be able to go make plays. With Gabe it is just that blue-collar approach, he is always hammering he is always advancing and is always putting himself in a position to make plays and taking care of his responsibilities first and foremost.
Q: Of your six recruiting classes can you categorize this best, upper, middle?
PR: No, I’m the realist approach to it, let’s see three or four years from now how well they are playing. Whether they have three bananas or golden apples by their names or not, I don’t know what they are going to become. I think it is a doggone good class, I don’t think we have had a bad class in six years, and I think the trend from 2014 and beyond is going to reflect that.