IOWA CITY | The quickest route to the field for members of the Iowa football program’s 2013 recruiting class may be the ability to run routes.
Coach Kirk Ferentz welcomed 21 newcomers to the Hawkeye program on Wednesday, a group which includes five wide receivers and a running back who could figure into Iowa’s passing plans as well.
“It’s an area we needed to fortify a little bit and improve on. That showed up a little bit last year, so it was something we were intent on,’’ Ferentz said.
Iowa signed three freshmen receivers in 2012 as well, something which should provided crowded competition once fall camp opens.
“There’s a little bit of variety in the group, certainly,’’ Ferentz said. “Some of the guys are bigger, some are on the smaller side, but all of them are guys who we felt could not only get open and catch the ball, but catch it and hopefully do something with it afterwards.’’
The group includes the lone Quad-City area recruit in Iowa’s class, 6-foot-4 Derrick Willies of Rock Island.
He was among the first players to commit to the Hawkeyes last spring.
As much as anything, Ferentz appreciates the journey which led Willies to the scholarship opportunity, acknowledging that the defending Illinois 300-meter state hurdles champion earned second-team all-state honors for Burlington in the Mississippi Athletic Conference before catching 56 passes for 877 yards last season for Rock Island.
“I had an image of him before I met him, that this guy was pretty well traveled and had been here and there, but I’ll never forget the first time he came to our offices and how impressed all of us were with him,’’ Ferentz said. “He’s a really humble young guy with a great attitude.’’
Willies joins 6-3 A.J. Jones of Dallas in providing the Hawkeyes with size at the receiver position, while 6-0 Andre Harris of Kirkwood, Mo., 6-1 Derrick Mitchell of St. Louis and 5-11 junior college transfer Damond Powell were recruited with quickness in mind.
Ferentz said that running back Jonathan Parker, who selected Iowa over a previous commitment to Tulsa in an early-morning signing day announcement, also factors into the Hawkeyes’ plans at the position.
“He’s a guy we envision using outside a little bit, too,’’ Ferentz said. “He’s got great speed and he gives us a chance for some big plays not only on offense but on special teams.’’
Powell, who averaged 30 yards per catch last fall at Snow College in Utah, is expected to compete for immediate playing time.
“Typically if we bring a junior-college guy in, that is what we hope for,’’ Ferentz said.
Parker is one of three running backs to sign with Iowa and like the variety of receivers Iowa signed, there are different styles of backs among the players who signed with the Hawkeyes at the position.
Ferentz compares Parker’s game to that of Fred Russell, while LeShun Daniels is more of a power back cut in the same mold as former Hawkeye Shonn Greene. The Iowa coach said Parker and Akrum Wadley both remind him a bit of current Iowa back Damon Bullock.
Iowa added one quarterback to its roster in 6-4 Nic Shimonek of Corsicana, Texas, where he led Mildred High School to the Texas Class 2A-Division II state title game. Shimonek completed 160-of-252 passes for 2,714 yards and rushed for 850 more last fall and Ferentz likes more than his statistics.
“Great production on the field, but more importantly, his team’s winning,’’ Ferentz said. “That was the starting point, but everything we’ve learned since then has really impressed us.’’
Ferentz believes the Hawkeyes’ class addresses the program’s most-pressing needs following a 4-8 season.
He does not believe that Iowa’s record last fall, its first under .500 since 2006, had much of an impact on the Hawkeyes’ success in recruiting.
“The first phase was pretty much done before we had even played a game,’’ Ferentz said. “I do think players tend to look broader than one season or one game, typically. I think we have an awful lot to sell.’’
Ferentz said the only thing this recruiting class lacks is a defensive end.
“I would have liked to have signed another guy we felt could have played outside, but that didn’t work out. One thing we didn’t want to do was try to fabricate players or create players based on position needs,’’ Ferentz said. “We were looking, but we didn’t find anybody.’’