Feb. 18, 2011
Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa’s Darrell Wilson recently belted a home run in the hit-and-miss world of college football recruiting.
Wilson, who is entering his 10th season as linebackers and special teams coach for the Hawkeyes, was the lead recruiter for seven of the 24 players that signed Feb. 2. Wilson’s recruiting zone is New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and a portion of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“It could be zero or it could be seven, you just don’t know,” Wilson says of signing high school seniors to National Letters of Intent. “Although I’m the lead recruiter and I’m out there initially, many others play a major role in the process — the position coaches, parents, high school coach and coach (Kirk) Ferentz.”
The players that will attend the UI from Wilson’s recruiting turf are linebacker Quinton Alston (New Jersey), running back Damon Bullock (Texas), linebacker Marcus Collins (Pennsylvania), defensive tackle Darian Cooper (Maryland), cornerback Jordan Lomax (Maryland), defensive back Nico Law (Maryland) and defensive end John Raymon (Pennsylvania).
Iowa lured three players from Maryland in 2011, one season after inking three others from “The Old Line State” — including record-setting running back Marcus Coker.
“The state of Maryland is a very fertile recruiting area,” Wilson says. “Penn State made in-roads there for a long time, but since then everyone — the Big Ten, the Big East, ACC — have come in and really worked hard to recruit there.”
None harder than Wilson and the Hawkeyes: Cooper and Lomax were high school teammates of Coker’s.
“A lot of interest generated in Iowa, especially in that Maryland area, had a lot to do with Marcus Coker,” Wilson says. “If a young man has a good experience he can be an ambassador for your program. Marcus is very well-respected in that area — not only by his peers, but by adults as well. He is having a good experience here, the game he had in the Insight Bowl, which a lot of the guys in that area watched, had a major impact on their decision.”
A true freshman, Coker rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns during Iowa’s 27-24 win over No. 12 Missouri on Dec. 28.
Wilson’s efforts caught the attention of rivals.com, a network of college football recruiting sites, which named him one of the nation’s top 25 recruiters. That was news to Wilson.
“To be honest, someone called me and told me about it,” Wilson says with a laugh. “It’s all good and well, but it’s my job and I really enjoy doing it.”
Wilson was an All-American defensive back for Connecticut, graduating in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. After playing one season for the New England Patriots and five for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, he began his coaching career at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, N.J. (1988-95). Wilson coached running backs and defensive backs at Rhode Island from 1996-98, running backs at Rutgers in 1999 and outside linebackers and special teams at Wisconsin from 2000-01. He has been at Iowa since 2002.
Developing and maintaining relationships with high school coaches, prospects and their families in his territory is what Wilson enjoys most about recruiting.
“They are good men,” he says. “They really like football and they truly care about their young men. They work hard to place their young men into schools. I like their honesty. They’ll let me know if they have a player or not. They will always make me aware of any other prospects in the area, but what I like the most about these men is they’re up front about the academics and about the character of their players. Getting to know more about a prospect and his family is very enjoyable. Throughout the process you can become close to the people involved. With all that said, when the smoke clears, where that young man decides to go to school has a lot to do with the trust factor.”
Many of the athletes Wilson recruits end up playing a position he does not coach for the Hawkeyes. But he makes it a point to remain in that player’s life while he is at the UI.
“I sat in that young man’s home and told him and his parents I would look out for him and be there for him,” Wilson says. “Anybody I’ve recruited I want to make sure they’re doing well and staying on top of things.”
During the recruiting season, Wilson answers questions about distance from home and the demographics of Iowa City — all fair queries, he says, since many of the prospects are from metropolitan cities and will be attending school up to a 1,000 miles from home.
“Parents want to make sure everything is OK,” he says.
And as fans in these parts know, the Iowa program is one of the most steady and respected in the country. Wilson’s common recruiting theme focuses on the stability of the Hawkeye coaching staff and how well-respected Ferentz is at all levels of the game.
And those stars that recruiting “experts” place by the names of the high school student-athletes? Iowa’s staff pays no attention.
“To us, their rating doesn’t matter,” Wilson says. “We have our criteria and know what we’re looking for as a staff. We’ve been together long enough that we know what each position coach is looking for. So as we go out on the road, we focus on those prospects that fit those criteria.”