We are in a new era of college sports. In the world of college football it is adapt or die when it comes to the transfer portal. You are either working hard to keep your key players out of the portal, while at the same time trying to bring in talent to enhance your own roster.
It’s a delicate and sometimes challenging dance and perhaps unexpectedly, the surprise out of all this is Kirk Ferentz and his staff have proven to be very nimble in this regard. In fact, it wouldn’t be too crazy to say that Ferentz proven to be skilled when it comes to navigating the sometimes murky waters of the transfer portal.
This week, the Hawkeye football team added what could be the last and perhaps one of the most significant pieces to this roster enhancement project that started back in late December by landing prized portal wide receiver Kaleb Brown to the Iowa squad for the 2023 season.
Brown, who was a four star wide receiver and Top 100 prospect in the Class of 2022, exited the Ohio State program and quickly landed in Iowa City as his new college home. It was huge get for the Hawkeyes to land a talent like Brown at a position that desperately needed it.
But, as we said, this all began back in late December with the help of the Iowa Swarm Collective, which was founded just about a year ago by Brad Heinrichs. He’s a former Iowa student-athlete who wanted to get involved with the start of a collective and when others who were initially heading the effort stepped aside, he took control of the project.
Heinrichs created a non-profit 501(c)3 arm of the Iowa Swarm where student-athletes would earn money by helping out not for profit organizations in the Iowa City community. He also created an Iowa Swarm LLC, which partners up local businesses with student-athletes.
KEEPING THE ROSTER TOGETHER
The first step for Iowa really began back in late December. The Hawkeye coaches had to begin to figure out what they needs were going to be in the transfer portal and that meant starting to have conversations with some players about sticking around for another year. Those were players like wide receiver Nico Ragaini, defensive end Joe Evans, and defensive tackle Noah Shannon. All three of those players could have opted to move on as seniors, but they all had the opportunity to return for one more season in black and gold because of their Covid year.
It’s safe to say that without the help of the Iowa Swarm, all three would have likely moved on to chase professional opportunities or wrapped up their playing career.
There’s also the balancing act of keeping returning players happy. In this day and age, you can bet that the back channels are always working with contacts being made and yes, sometimes offers being discussed. The Iowa coaches did their part to help keep players on board and the Iowa Swarm also helped a great deal.
CADE McNAMARA SHAKES UP THE WORLD
Around that same time in December, the Iowa coaches have already secured their future at the quarterback position. The Hawkeyes had identified Cade McNamara as a potential target. Everyone assumed that once the Michigan season ended that McNamara would enter the transfer portal and he did just that. Iowa was ready and made their pitch.
It has proven to be a terrific fit and since arriving in January, McNamara has become one of the unquestioned team leaders for the Hawkeyes. And he’s also become a key recruiter for the Iowa offense.
One of his first targets was his Michigan teammate Erick All. After seeing his season end after three games, All was looking for a fresh start and the tight end rich tradition of Iowa was offering that to him. It also helped that All and McNamara were close friends and the deal was done, he would be a Hawkeye.
THE REST OF THE WORK IN THE PORTAL
Landing McNamara was the key, but there were other important pieces that needed to be put in place. The Iowa defense was looking to replace All American Jack Campbell. Those are some massive shoes to fill from a production and leadership perspective and once again, the Hawekye coaches identified the perfect match in Nick Jackson.
Jackson was a standout and three year starter at linebacker for Virginia and he could potentially an impact on the Iowa defense that is similar to the one we suspect McNamara will have on the Hawkeye offense.
The rest of the work that was done was on the offensive side of the ball. Rusty Feth, who was coached by Iowa OL coach George Barnett at Miami (OH) entered the transfer portal and found a new home with his old coach. Feth will help at guard or center this year.
Also along the offensive line, Iowa added Daijon Parker, a 6-foot-5 and 300 pound offensive tackle from Saginaw Valley State. He was ticketed to head to Virginia as a transfer before Iowa swooped in to land him. Parker injured his knee in March and missed spring ball, but he should contend for playing time this fall at the right tackle position.
Iowa also landed wide receiver Seth Anderson. He is the son of former NFL standout “Flipper” Anderson and arrived in Iowa City from Charleston Southern, where he was the offensive freshman of the year in the Big South Conference. Anderson battled a hamstring issue this spring, but the Hawkeye coaches are confident he can help this fall.
In addition to McNamara, Iowa added depth at the quarterback position when they landed Deacon Hill. He had left Wisconsin and was headed to Fordham before Brian Ferentz reached out after Carson May hit the portal and he quickly accepted the opportunity in Iowa City. Hill may end up being Iowa’s back-up quarterback this fall.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?
Then there was the final piece of the puzzle, landing Kaleb Brown. He gives Iowa a legitimate playmaking threat down the field this fall and that is exactly what they needed. While it is fair to point out that Brown has not played much at the college level, he’s still a big time talent that normally doesn’t give the Hawkeyes a long look.
PORTAL KING KIRK FERENTZ
To say it’s been an interesting off-season for Kirk Ferentz would be an understatement. He’s had to deal with a lawsuit brought against him settled against his wishes. He’s had the contract of his son, Brian Ferentz, who happens to be his offensive coordinator, reworked by Iowa athletic director Gary Barta. The result of that is that the Hawkeyes must win seven games and average 25 points per game or the younger Ferentz is out as the OC.
Ferentz has also had to navigate this new world of the transfer portal and acquiring players in an essentially free agent atmosphere. Most coaches who have been at it for 25 years and in the mid-60’s would have a tough time adapting to change, especially a drastic one like this. We have seen some veteran coaches in the world of college basketball opt to retire because of the rapidly changing landscape of recruiting and roster retention and acquisitions.
While others get driven out, Ferentz simply adjusts, trusts, and plows ahead. Things may be changing around him and he’s adjusting to those alterations, but Ferentz won’t waver from his core principles and that’s likely why he was a big winner this spring in the transfer portal.