The best recruiter on Iowa’s coaching staff? I think it ebbs and flows. In my experience, it seems like a really good, balanced basketball team. There are four or five staffers who average double figures year in, year out.
Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com’s Big Ten blogger, opined that offensive line coach Reese Morgan is Iowa’s top recruiter.
Here’s a link to his thoughts on the Big Ten’s most influential recruiters: http://myespn.go.com/blogs/bigten/0-2-1210/Identifying-the-Big-Ten-s-best-recruiters.html
I think you can make a pretty good argument for Morgan.
Here’s a story I wrote in 2oo4 (sorry, no link):
IOWA CITY – Reese Morgan’s search for the next great Iowa walk-on took him to a garage in north-central Iowa last spring.
Three hours of conversation and the Iowa Hawkeyes had a player who may or may not show up on the field in five years.
Success comes in a lot of ways for Iowa’s walk-ons. They can be the next Dallas Clark, who went from walk-on to first-round NFL draft choice. Or they can be the next Sam Brownlee, a sophomore walk-on who, because of injuries, has gone from No.-5 to No.-1 running back this fall. Or they can be Chigozie Ejiasi, a fifth-year senior who plays on special teams.
It’s Morgan’s job to sort through a couple thousand videotapes in search of walk-ons.
He isn’t necessarily looking for the next walk-on/NFL success story. He’s looking for solid kids who are the Iowa staff’s kind of players.
“Tough, intelligent, doesn’t think about himself, thinks about the team,” said Morgan, who coached Iowa City West to three Class 4A state football titles before joining the Iowa staff in 2000. “He’s worked all his life, he’s never been pampered. His values are very similar to what we’re about.”
Morgan, Iowa’s offensive line coach, recruits in Iowa. The majority of walk-ons are Iowa natives, so Morgan is the man who goes into garages with an eye toward players who could be players.
“We don’t have a term preferred or invited walk-on. We’re always recruiting athletes,” Morgan said. “For our program to be successful, I don’t want to say lifeblood, but a high percentage of our core players have been kids who’ve come in on a non-scholarship basis.”
When Morgan says “lifeblood,” he’s not far off.
Iowa has about 140 players this fall, with 85 on scholarship. That means walk-ons are 40 percent of Iowa’s roster.
The stakes aren’t as high as for scholarship players, but Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz sees the real value in walk-ons.
“Maybe you’re not bringing in someone who is better than your first two strings, but somebody who is really serious about it and really wants to make the contributions in some way,” Ferentz said. “Those guys can add an awful lot if they have the right attitudes.
“We’re not just filling spots. We have to feel that they can really add something, be it special teams, offense, defense, it doesn’t really matter.”
First and foremost with walk-ons, they have to be admitted to school. They need a healthy admissions index – a formula that includes class rank and ACT score.
Then, Iowa’s coaches will do much of the same research they put into scholarship players. They’ll check out his highlight tape, try to build a relationship in camps and talk to coaching contacts.
There’s also some amount of competition for walk-ons.
“A lot of these kids who come here have choices,” Morgan said. “Maybe they don’t match what a guy higher up on our recruiting list has. But we love his heart and there’s something special we feel good about and, for some guys, that’s enough.”
Scholarship athletes have advantages, ranging from academic support to training table. And there’s always the cache of the scholarship, being a chosen one.
On the field, everyone is equal, Ferentz said.
“The one thing we do is if they come out for the team, they’re going to be Hawkeyes,” Ferentz said. “We don’t have a crummy locker room down the hall where we cram them all in there and give them equipment from the Evashevski era or something.
“The promise that we make them is that they’re going to be coached like everybody else, in the weight room, on the field. If they give us the effort, then we’re going to give them the effort. That’s really the only deal that’s made with anybody.”
This Saturday against Purdue, four walk-ons, former and current, will start for the Hawkeyes.
Offensive tackle Pete McMahon, defensive tackle Tyler Luebke and free safety Sean Considine
started as walk-ons. Brownlee, who’s started the last two games, still is.
“If you want to come in, be dedicated, show good character, follow what (strength and
conditioning coach) Chris Doyle tells you to do, you’re going to get a shot,” said Considine, a two-year starter. “The whole walk-on thing gave me some internal motivation.”
Rob Bruggeman is feeling that internal motivation now.
The former Cedar Rapids Washington all-stater is trying to make a name for himself on the practice fields as an offensive lineman. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound freshman said he picked Iowa because the coaches didn’t make any promises. He knows he has to earn his shot.
“You see some of the success stories around here and you can see yourself in the same position,” said Bruggeman, whose left hand was in a cast. “Some of these guys come from nowhere and make something out of themselves. That’s what we’re all in this to do.”
Bruggeman is waiting for his shot. Considine took his and sprinted off. Brownlee is living
“Some of the (walk-ons) are doing this to run out on the field,” Morgan said. “Some of them are doing it because they know they can play. And all of them are doing it because they know they can help the team.”
On Morgan’s desk is a stack of videotapes. One has a small, round blue sticker with the number 636 written in pen. That’s tape No.-636.
That’s a lot of conversations in a lot of Iowa garages. They’re not just giving practice jerseys to anyone.