AMES — Walk down the halls of the Iowa State football complex during the winter months and there is a good chance you will find Matt Campbell beaming at the idea of piecing together his best possible roster, spots 1-115.
From December until now, this is his favorite time of year. Campbell is heading up a Big 12 program but Iowa State’s head coach fancies himself as an NFL GM – in Ames. Well, kind of.
“I am fascinated by that aspect of putting teams together,” Campbell told CF after his National Signing Day press conference. “It is something that I have always researched and studied. The Patriots and ‘Parcellisms’ of how you build a team. That’s really helped me early on in my career. I say this is this same thing although it is different because we don’t have free agency. It’s still really as good as your roster is not exactly with talent, but fit.”
Iowa State’s situation at kicker for next year is a great example. Campbell was able to secure a fifth-year graduate transfer out of Oregon State named Garrett Owens to walk on and compete with other non-scholarship players to replace Cole Netten. Of course, not having a scholarship kicker could absolutely come back to haunt Iowa State at some point. That is still to be determined.
What that did though was free up another scholarship for say, a JUCO defensive lineman and if you’ve watched any Iowa State football at over the last 10 years, you know how important depth is at that position.
NFL general managers have the NFL Draft. College coaches (who are more like CEOs) have recruiting and their own form of “free agency” these days via graduate transfers. Campbell snagged two of them at a desperate position, Dave Dawson (Michigan) and Khaliel Rodgers (USC) for the offensive line.
“Sometimes the fourth year players have a chip on their shoulders,” Campbell said. “They want to prove themselves and they are diligent in the process.
Just imagine that offensive line last year without another graduate transfer, Brian Bobek…
Campbell, who referenced his admiration for the front offices of the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, approaches building his roster differently than any coach I have ever covered at Iowa State. That was the first thing that stood out to me about National Signing Day, 2017.
Now, on with the annual NSD recap/awards column for the casual fan who isn’t immersed in recruiting.
The other four takeaways from National Signing Day, 2017
No Texas prospects: In Matt Campbell’s two recruiting classes at Iowa State, he has only signed two prospects from the state of Texas. For the sake of comparison, over the course of Paul Rhoads’ time in Ames, Iowa State averaged six Texas products per year.
This 2017 class did not have one single player from the Lonestar State.
For a Big 12 team, that is some weird and wild stuff.
“I think for us it was more where is our focus and foundation? Then we kind of branch out from there,” Campbell said. “We are going to recruit Texas. We will. But I don’t think that was a situation where there where there was anything deliberate to it. A lot of it was just circumstantial this year in this recruiting class for us.”
I love this approach. For a decade now I have watched Iowa State pass over driven kids from the Midwest who really wanted to be in Ames for a tweener, just because he was from Texas or Florida.
Get the best kids and fits possible. Period. That’s Campbell’s approach – to not force it.
Two best classes ever: Campbell put things into perspective when he said that he wouldn’t know how good this class was until three years from now. However, according to 247 Composite, the two highest ranked classes in the history of Iowa State football have been put together in the first two years of the Campbell era. That’s exciting.
Why is making fun of Signing Day cool all of the sudden?: There is no doubt about the fact that National Signing Day used to be a bigger deal than it is in the present day. Ten years ago, only one or two media outlets covered Iowa State football recruiting. The first Wednesday in February was a huge deal because the majority of the fan base was learning about these prospects for the first time. Now, within the 24/7 news cycle that we are immersed in, every outlet covers recruiting and there are very few signing day surprises.
Still, I’ve noticed a condescending tone from many who look down on recruiting and National Signing Day in general.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. It is a vitally important day. Sure, development is equally as important, but developing a good player gives a program a hell of a lot higher ceiling than developing one who doesn’t belong in the Big 12 to begin with.
Class breakdown: From the inside out…
Iowa State signed 26 players on Wednesday and 14 of them were lineman – seven on offense and seven on defense.
Think getting better up front is a priority to the new staff?
Annual National Signing Day Awards
The “Instant Impact” Award
This is what you all care about the most and the best news about signing day is that I have a six guys to put on this list.
Graduate transfer offensive linemen Dave Dawson (Michigan) and Khaliel Rodgers (USC) should both push for starting spots in 2017. In fact, I’ll add that it will be disappointing if they aren’t in that top unit.
Let’s jump to the other side of the ball where the defensive line received reinforcements in a big way as well.
Starting with Ray Lima, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound sophomore defensive end.
Then there is a guy who some consider to be the gem of the class, defensive tackle Kamilo Tongamoa, who stands at 6-foot-5, 290-pounds.
Don’t forget about Matt Leo, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound JUCO defensive end who chose Iowa State over Oklahoma.
Notice the size of all three of those defensive line prospects.
Let me add Matthew Eaton, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound JUCO wide receiver to this list too.
All immediate contributors. Mostly starters.
The “Future Fan favorite” Award
I’ll go with the younger brother of last year’s freshman standout wide receiver Deshaunte Jones, defensive back Keontae Jones. He’s a top 50 safety who chose Iowa State earlier this week. Fans will love everything about this young man out of Cincinnati, Ohio. Just like his big brother, there is a good chance the younger Jones will also play as a true freshman.
The “He’s a Sleeper” Award
An Iowa kid, O’Rien Vance out of Cedar Rapids (Washington). Vance is a 6-foot-1, 232-pound linebacker who was thought to have academic issues early on and probably scared away some big time offers. Iowa State loves him and expects big things from the two-time Des Moines Register Elite pick.
The “Most Likely to be a Future President” Award
This one is a no-brainer and it’s Charlie Kolar, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound tight end out of Norman, Okla. Kolar, who received a last minute offer from Oklahoma State over the weekend, is a 4.0 student and scored a 35 on his ACT. That’s a good guy to have in your program.
The “Meanest Dude” Award
I’m told that the pride of Johnstown, Ohio, Jeff Nogaj is a bad, bad dude. Nogaj, a 6-foot-4, 324-pound offensive lineman, brings an outstanding frame to Iowa State that offensive line coach Tom Manning is licking his chops to develop.