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February 6, 2014

The Rhoads Report: Signing Day Q&A

Another National Signing Day is in the books. Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads held the traditional NSD afternoon press conference Wednesday in Ames. Here is the transcript.

Opening comments:

Let me start by offering many thanks to all involved in the recruiting process, starting with our families. A lot of sacrifice, a lot of time, not just in the recruiting season, but year round. But especially the months of December and January when we're gone. We're gone seven days a week. When we're back, we're not here, missing a lot of wrestling matches, basketball games, gymnastics opportunities and things like that. So many thanks to our families as a staff for what you put up with.

Thanks to the recruits and their families. Really enjoyed the process with this class. My favorite time of recruiting is in the home and in the schools and getting the chance to sit down and break bread or share a story or confirm a commitment. It's been a joy to recruit this class giving a good picture of what's to come.

To our staff, first of all the in-house people, namely Nick Uhlenhopp and Gerrit Chernoff, and then everybody else that surrounds them right here in the Bergstrom Football Complex. These guys can't go off campus, but countless hours spent here preparing things and making sure everything flows so very well. And then the guys out on the road, our coaching staff. We had some changeover, we had some adversity, we had some things we had to overcome. And our graduate assistants really jumped in with both feet and I'd like to name Derek Day, Pete Brown, Mike Conrad and Mitchell Moore. All got out on the road as young coaches and just did a professional job representing Iowa State. Very appreciative for the work they put in.

With that in mind it's with great excitement that I announce the Class of 2014 here at Iowa State.

(holds up sheet of paper) That's Allen Lazard's national letter of intent. Let me talk about Allen Lazard a little bit before I get to the rest of the class. Mature. High character. Integrity. Accountable. Trustworthy. True to his word of 14 months, 14 months, Allen Lazard sent in his official National Letter of Intent today. He's not going to a school in Northern Indiana. Boy they wasted a lot of time and money. He's not going to another school in this state who feverishly tried to call him about a half a dozen times in the last week.

Much to the dismay of people in this room who've wasted a lot of space and time challenging his words of commitment, he's going right here to Iowa State University. And true to his word, okay, he will become the second top-rated player in the state - two years in a row - to become a Cyclone. And I'm very thrilled with Allen Lazard joining this program. As a bonus to Allen, I'm going to keep him off limits to the media for his freshman year. I think he's earned that after what he's been through the last 14 months.

Allen highlights a class that includes 25 total signees. Eighteen high school players, seven junior college players, thirteen on defense, eleven on offense and a punter. It represents eleven states and a province, this class. Tops are from the state of Texas where we signed eight. We have the son of an ISU captain; we have the son of an astronaut who spent five months in space. We have a participant on the TV show Extreme Makeovers. We have maybe a distant family member to one of our coaches; we haven't identified that for sure yet. We have a hockey enforcer. We have a linebacker that led the country in tackles. We have a U.S. Army All-American. We have a high school All-American. We have a Florida-Georgia all-star participant. We have a Houston Touchdown Club finalist. We have two JC All-Americans. We have a two-time state champion. We have a 2500-yard rusher and we have at least five guys that run a sub 11-flat hundred meter dash.

Three of those players in this class of 25 are here today, I'd like to introduce them now then they'll be available when I get done with questions, as well as the rest our staff.

Finally, I'd like to announce some staff hires and assignments to go along with that. Mark Mangino, as well as being our offensive coordinator, will coach our tight ends. Todd Sturdy will move to quarterbacks. Brandon Blaney will join us and coach the offensive line, he comes from the Jacksonville Jaguars. And Tommy Mangino will join us from Arkansas and coach our wide receivers.

What recruits will come in and contribute significantly immediately?

I think the seven junior college players are certainly recruited for that purpose. Six on defense, we needed depth, we needed some experience injected with those guys. And so I think all six of those guys will have an opportunity to compete and I think Wendell Taiese, even though he's coming later now, did not enroll in this January class, didn't meet some academic requirements, I think he'll have an opportunity on the offensive line as well. I think I have to name two high school guys out of the eighteen and then tell you that the other sixteen will get an opportunity to compete. As I always say, I think it's harder closer to the ball than it is further away, to play right away as a true freshman. Allen with his ability, with his physical stature, I think has an opportunity to come in and compete right away. And then Colin Downing, the punter, was recruited with the starting position in mind.

Was there a specific area you wanted to address this time around?

No. I think there were areas where we took a few more guys and we needed that for depth reasons. There's two ways always that I am approaching it. One is just simple math. I like to have a three-and-a-half deep at all positions. We have two safeties on the field - I like to have seven safeties on scholarship. Same with defensive tackles. We put two on the field, I like to have seven defensive tackles on scholarship. Then beyond the numbers, you've just got to look strategically at: where do we have a need? Maybe where are we a little deficient right now, and then go after those position group players. Defensive back, we were a little bit low in numbers and so we went after that particular group. Defensive end we've dropped off and maybe some changes from within, but we went with those junior college kids to shore up that defensive end position on the roster.

What does it mean for the program to land a player like Lazard?

Well, this is our sixth recruiting class. I think the progression of where we're at right now, I don't know if saying it's on schedule is accurate or appropriate, but we're right where I expect to be right now and with that development I think a player of the abilities of Allen Lazard realizes that. With the early commitment, coming off our third bowl game in four years, the family background, you can understand that a little bit. Having a dip in the road and only winning three games and holding on to him, that's a showcase of where we've come and that. He knows the internal workings of what's in place, he sees the vision and completely buys in to it.

Do you feel fortunate to land the two under the radar running backs in very competitive states?

That's the unique thing about recruiting, the fun thing within our walls. These guys didn't fly under the radar to us. They're great players, great players. You're talking about 3800 yards between the two of them and one missed significant games because of an ankle injury. One is bigger and more physical yet has good speed. The other one has great speed and game breaking ability and had eleven - Mike Warren I am speaking of - eleven 40-plus yard runs called back and still ran for 2500 yards on the season. On some people's radar, they're underneath it. On ours we see them clear as can be.

Did you have to go on the road more because of the coaching staff changes?

No, no. In our program, it's my commitment to the recruits and the staff and the program and the families, I'm going to see every single player that we sign. Okay, if it's at all possible, I'm going to see every single player that we sign and their family. In addition to that, I've got to see some of the guys that we're competing to get that we lose in the process. Two things, NCAA changed the rules this year in the middle of the stream. Right in the middle of the season, they decided to change the rules and we lost recruiting days. That hampered our abilities to get that done to a certain extent. And then sadly, with Curtis' passing, we lost some days there on the recruiting trail. So what happened in the end, the last 14 days were a blur. I worked three time zones the last week. Started in the middle of Texas, went to the east coast, came back to the middle of Texas, finished up on the west coast. But that's our commitment to the kids we're bringing in. That's the culture that we want them to understand.

What's more important with JUCOs, the added physical maturity or mental maturity?

I don't think you tip the scale either way with that. There's mental toughness and then there's mental understanding. These three are going to be ahead certainly from a mental understanding point because they're going to get coached. They're going to get coached in the winter and they're going to get coached all spring ball long. But these seven guys we've identified physical traits that we think can immediately help our football team. Now we've got to bring them along with the mental piece to go along with it.

Do you believe the stigma associated with junior college players has changed and why?

Well, I think the quality of coaching, the development within those programs, I don't know that I could tell you there's more or less of them, but there's more players in those junior college programs. I think the players are developing more and so more guys are ending up in those programs with access to be recruited. We're always going to identify character and integrity and things like that in those kids whether it's high school or junior college, that we want to continue to add to our program. These three young men as well as the other four hit on all those criteria.

Was there anything different this time around that you were selling to recruits?

Yeah, this thing's been standing for a year so we've fully got a chance to utilize. It wasn't blueprints, it wasn't concrete and steel, it was carpet and cabinets and I think they appreciate this building very much. We have the addition to the stadium that's going to take place with the great generosity of the Reiman family and that's exciting to them. Any time that you can show growth, especially that extends to our loyal fan base and the Cyclone Nation like this enclosure of Jack Trice Stadium does, recruits get excited about that. We still continue to bring a number of players on campus for games. We had seven that were here officially for the Kansas game and they can tell you when you ask them, cause they were here, that the crowd that showed up for the game and the passion that they cheered with as well as the passion that our guys played with, had a big impact on their decision.

Do it change what you're looking for when you need guys to play right away?

I want to make sure I understand, are you just talking about where they're at with skill development, with the positions that they play?

Is there anything you look at differently than if they might not play that first year?

I think I can maybe answer that better with examples with these three young men right here. I'll go back to front. Devron Moore, safety, he possesses both coverage skills and physical skills. If we're going to advance our defensive play to a higher level in 2014, we can't put cover defensive backs on the field. We've got to put guys out there that are going to bring the wood and tackle as well as cover and intercept the ball and break passes up. Devron does that, okay. Jordan Harris, linebacker. First to arrive, last to leave, wearing out the machine watching videotape, suggesting to coaches things in the game plan because of what he's learned, calling out plays before they happen on the game field. That's a guy that can play MIKE linebacker for us. Gabe Luna, two words in comparison: Cory Morrissey. That's what I got, that's who he is. And I think our fan base will appreciate that and understand that comparison. He's blue collar, he's no nonsense, he had a vision to play four-year college ball, graduated from high school early without opportunities and went to a junior college to get started earlier on that path. Fundamentally sound, plays with his shoulders square, plays with a low base. So that's what I saw in these three guys and that's what excited us about these three guys.

Did you evaluate athleticism in the punter Downing, with his hockey background?

I'm looking for it and looked for it in Cole Netten when we signed him and, boy, I had some great fake field goals late in the year that I never got to use. Looked for it in him and looked for it in Colin. I said to him in the process, I said, now are you athletic enough, can we call some fakes with you? He sort of tilted his head at me and said, Coach, I'm a hockey player. He's pretty confident that he can get the job done.

What excites you about the three high school cornerbacks?

Athleticism and speed. Don't know if Mike (Johnson) can eclipse the 11 flat mark but the other two can. Damien Lawry, who's already on our campus, is a Wilmer-Hutchins graduate where (De'Monte) Ruth is from and everybody, including De'Monte, will tell you that he's faster than Damien and Damien can flat out fly. Brian Peavy, a player that I coached in college has coached him at Westfield High School. The Houston Touchdown Club Award is a very elite group. You're talking about a small group of nominees for the top player in the Greater Houston area. Nine interceptions and multiple other plays that he's making. You're always in the end looking for playmakers. Speed, size and all that is one thing but when you put the film on, they better make plays and they do. Mike Johnson, a very versatile player. Runs the ball good on offense, good with the ball in his hands, as well as a cover guy, and physical in nature also.

What specifically are you expecting from Jordan Harris?

A guy that'll knock people's fillings loose. You like that, don't you, Jordan? Yessir. That's how he played. Robert McFarland, who's on the staff at Co-Lin, former offensive coordinator here at Iowa State who helped make us aware of Jordan's presence down there, his son's on the team, plays receiver. And the first time Jordan went after him, his mother about removed him from the roster, I think, out of sheer fear. He's productive. He led the country in tackles at the junior college level. He shows up and plays very physical and he's got that mental approach to the game, he's very smart and Wally's very much looking forward to working with him.

What do you do with five quarterbacks on scholarship?

Well, quarterbacks and running backs are the one position where the numbers are higher in our program. We've got six running backs on scholarship right now and we're always going to be above that three-and-a-half deep level with those positions because of getting nicked up, because of durability, because of development. And Darius Lee-Campbell, DLC, he was too good to turn down in the class if we were fortunate enough to get him. If we didn't get him, we were not going to sign a quarterback in this class. But you want to recruit players that love to compete and whether you end up with five at one position or whatever it is at other positions, now let the competition begin this spring and rolling on towards August.

Did last season's record have any effect on how recruits perceived you?

I don't know if explaining is the right choice of words, the 2013 season got worse because of injuries on the offensive line and injuries to our quarterback that were far worse than I would have ever relayed to the media or even my friends. We knew we were going to be a very young football team. We knew there was an opportunity for a hiccup in the 2013 season. So those were the kinds of the things that we had to intimate to the players that we were recruiting so they understood. They did understand. And as we closed the season with two magnificent victories, that comes back around and there's trust and accountability that goes along with the statements that you've made and I think in the end the class felt that.

What was it about Lee-Campbell that made you take him?

Way too good of a dual threat. And in the end, I wouldn't have called it a piece of his re-recruitment, but any time you undergo a coordinator change, you undergo some position coach changes, you've got some work to do. And with Mark joining the staff and being able to talk about guys like Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson, guys that have effectively ran components of the offense that we could run and compare those guys to Darius, who recognizes those guys, Houston-area guys, he gets excited about that and we get excited about that. He's a true dual threat guy. He's a guy that's ran for over a thousand yards in a season, he throws an accurate ball, he's got great velocity on his ball, his ball doesn't get much air on it. All those qualities too good to turn down.

What impressed you about Ayeni and Pierson as D line recruits?

Athleticism. Both Terry and Dale are 260 or over and playing on the edge with the ability to move inside and make plays in there, whether it be a substitution package or whatever it is. They're physical enough and explosive enough that even at that size they can keep offensive linemen off their bodies and be able to go and make plays. With Gabe it's that blue-collar approach. He's always hammering, he's always advancing, he's always putting himself in a better position to make plays and taking care of his responsibility first and foremost.

Can you categorize this class among your six at Iowa State?

No. I'm like, I'm the realist approach to it, let's see three or four years ago how well they're playing. Whether they got three bananas or golden apples by their name or not, I don't know what they're going to become. I think it's a doggone good class. I don't think we've had a bad class in six years and I think the trend from 2014 and beyond is going to reflect that.

Do you still have one hire left?

I do have one hire to go. I expect to announce that within the next week. Staff's in the back if you want to take to them and three young men right here.

Iowa State NEWS


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