IOWA CITY — Cranes, wrecking balls and men in hard hats practically surround Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium.
On the east side of the stadium, the University of Iowa is rebuilding its Children’s Hospital. On the west, the Hawkeyes are finishing a facility upgrade that was long past due and finally reflects the giant salary paid to coach Kirk Ferentz and the desire to win the Big Ten.
Four years ago, Iowa still had a dusty, ancient tarp bubble for an indoor practice facility and a football building that is nice, but also cramped compared with the top palaces in the league, including Nebraska’s.
By August, Iowa’s upgrade will be complete.
The indoor football practice facility has been in use since 2012. The 72,000-square foot Jacobson Football Operations Building is scheduled to be finished just before fall camp. Kinnick Stadium, already one of the Big Ten’s better atmospheres, got $9 million in scoreboard upgrades last year.
Ferentz and the Iowa brass let facilities slide too long. But they cumulatively took advantage of the Orange Bowl season five years ago to raise the funds needed for upgrades. The Hawkeyes’ program has frankly settled into mediocrity since that year, but there’s a distinct inkling that the doldrums are ending. The new digs probably have something do with it.
The Hawkeyes’ new operations building features a much bigger weight and locker rooms, among other amenities.
“We had a chance to go through it during spring ball. And going through it last week, four or five weeks later, it’s just really fantastic,” Ferentz said. “We’re very, very excited about it. We’re looking forward to when our players get to go through it for the first time.”
The building smartly wraps around the south end of the indoor football practice field; while it isn’t connected to Kinnick Stadium, the two structures might be a few hundred yards apart. There isn’t anything revelatory contained in the operations building: a bigger players’ lounge, a snappy recruiting room, a press conference area, a giant meeting room that can be split up for the offense and defense. But it won’t take a big back seat to the best in the Big Ten, either.
They aren’t quite the facilities that Nebraska and Ohio State enjoy — NU’s Athletic Performance Lab, whatever gains it provides, now puts the Huskers on top — but they’re equal to Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State and better than everywhere else I’ve seen in the Big Ten. It’s another arrow in the recruiting quiver.
Ferentz talked a bit last week on a more intriguing recruiting nugget: New defensive assistant/recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace may at times hit the road during the week this season instead of being at practice.
“We’re trying to make sure he’s got the flexibility to get out on the road a bit, in season,” Ferentz said. “We haven’t utilized all our NCAA days during the fall. We’ve come close, but not all. So I think that’s one area we can improve, get a little bit more exposure. I think we’ve got a structure that will allow that freedom. If he has to get off campus early in the week or late in the week, he can do that.”
Where might Wallace go? He spent the last five years at Valdosta State in Georgia. Good program. Better training ground for knowing where to hunt for recruits in the southeast. All but four players on VSU’s roster are from Georgia and Florida.
Wallace came to Iowa in early June after previous recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson left to open a Culver’s, telling ESPN he’d grown tired of the time-consuming game recruiting had become. Johnson had said on signing day 2013 that Iowa would no longer focus on recruiting the state of Florida, which, for a league that plays a ton of bowl games in that state, was a baffling decision by Ferentz and Co.
It appears that decision, long-term, may be reversed. Iowa got a commitment over the weekend from a wide receiver — out of Leesburg, Florida.
NU recruiting update
With Damore’ea Stringfellow’s defection to Ole Miss, the Huskers have five free scholarships heading into the season, presumably going to five lucky senior walk-ons. Couple that with nine seniors on scholarship, and NU would have 14 open scholarships for the 2015 class. Tack on three to five more for the annual attrition that is typical in college football — transfers, Randy Gregory’s early entrance to the NFL draft — and I still think the Huskers have an outside shot to reach 18 signees in this class.
The positions left to fill:
» Offensive tackle: Nebraska already has Christian Gaylord of Baldwin City, Kansas, and the Huskers have made offers to two recent unofficial visitors — Evan Applegate of Shawnee, Kansas, and Mirko Jurkovic of Bradenton, Florida. NU has been choosy here. Three recent Husker camp attendees — Seward’s Adam Holtorf (Kansas State), Scott Frantz (Kansas State) and Brett Waechter (Iowa) — committed elsewhere after not getting Husker offers. Nebraska, likewise, never offered four-star prospect Grant Schmidt from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who committed to Ohio State. Gothenburg tackle Tanner Borchardt has offers from Colorado State and Wyoming, but not Nebraska. Borchardt is a giant — 6-foot-7, 270 pounds — who could develop into a fine player. Remember that CSU and Wyoming now run power offenses.
If being choosy helps the Huskers land Jurkovic — whose dad was an All-American at Notre Dame — that’s just fine. Based on highlight films alone, Gaylord is the best of the bunch.
» Wide receiver: NU could use at least two and perhaps three. One target — Charles Fessler from Erie, Pennsylvania — committed to Northwestern. Since NU lost two big, rangy receivers — Stringfellow and Milwaukee Brewers signee Monte Harrison — at least one commit would preferably have some height and heft to him. Bellevue West wideout CJ Johnson is still out there.
» Quarterback: With Kevin Dillman’s eligibility and injury issues lingering, Nebraska’s in the market for a second signal-caller. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck chose in the spring not to offer one of two guys who might have hopped aboard — Joe Burrow (Ohio State) and Alex Delton (Kansas State). That leaves the Huskers with fewer options now.
» Defensive end: NU pledge DaiShon Neal recently added an offer from Oregon — good thing Barney Cotton nailed the evaluation of this Omaha Central product back in the spring — so the Huskers will have to keep in consistent contact. But NU could use another end to pair with Neal. The most likely option appears to be Christian Rector, the Los Angeles product who plays for former Husker defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders.
» Defensive back: Nebraska could add a safety/corner hybrid. Two New Orleans-area prospects — Hunter Dale and Deshawn Raymond — are names to watch. Dale is the better player and bigger hitter, but he’s short.
Contact the writer: