Iowa: Inside the wild week leading to John Waggoner’s commitment

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — What is important to you?

The question from Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle lingered as the Hawkeyes’ top recruiting priority thought for a second on a summer day.

Slowly, John Waggoner rattled off what he cared about in recruiting.

Family culture.

Blue-collar mentality.

Good people on staff and as teammates.

When Waggoner finished, Doyle asked him one question: Why not Iowa? After all, the Hawkeyes checked off every box.

“That kind of always stuck with me,” Waggoner said. “This is the place I should be.”

He thought it, but never said it. The recruitment of the 4-star Dowling Catholic High School (Iowa) defensive end continued until the edge of the December signing period.

Getting him to utter the words ‘‘I’m committing to Iowa’’ was far from easy. It was a long process, one that needed six days and multiple in-person meetings and phone calls in late November/early December for Waggoner to finally call coach Kirk Ferentz and say it.  

Wednesday, Nov. 29

Iowa planned to deploy its trump card early in the end-of-year contact period. Ferentz planned to visit Waggoner during the school day.

It was as big of a meeting for the Hawkeyes as for Waggoner. He was their top priority for much of the year.

The Hawkeyes received one of the first cracks at the recently re-opened Waggoner sweepstakes. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound prospect slowed his recruitment during the season, focusing on winning Dowling Catholic’s fifth straight state title.

It became a little too much for him. Seventeen or eighteen programs extended offers. Waggoner lost count.

At first, it was cool to receive a scholarship offer from a Michigan or Ohio State, but then his recruitment took off like a toy sponge in water. It expanded quicker and faster than he anticipated.

In April, Oklahoma called Dowling Catholic coach Tom Wilson trying to get in touch with Waggoner. Shortly after, Waggoner texted Wilson big news. The Sooners offered.

It was just the start. By the end of the day, Penn State and LSU did as well.

“This is insane,” Waggoner said.

The offers were good. They provided options, yet also altered his recruiting. Waggoner imposed a July commitment deadline. He had a good idea of where things sat, but the magnitude of the decision, and his choices, weighed on him.

So he essentially hit pause on his recruiting, putting it on the backburner. Waggoner wanted to make a decision when he was ready and in-season wasn’t that time.

“He was overwhelmed by it,” Wilson said.

He fully jumped back into recruiting waters in late November. Because he stepped out doesn’t mean the currents stopped flowing.

Some of his suitors moved on. Minnesota, Nebraska, UCLA, Iowa State and, yes, Iowa, were still there.

When Ferentz strolled into Dowling Catholic, he congratulated Waggoner on winning state. They discussed Waggoner’s senior year.

Finally, they spoke about recruiting. Ferentz prides himself on being honest and he certainly was with Waggoner. He said defensive end isn’t a recruiting priority and the Hawkeyes needed to use the few scholarships left primarily on positions of need.

The December signing period, and a big recruiting weekend starting on Dec. 8, was forcing everyone’s hand. There are only so many spots in a class and not much room, if any, for a player at a luxury position.

Ferentz didn’t say his scholarship disappeared. Like Waggoner’s feelings for Iowa, the true meaning of the conversation went unsaid.

“I just knew at the end of the day it was a good time to make a decision,” Waggoner said.

Friday, Dec. 1

Waggoner slept on his Ferentz conversation. He tried not to obsess or fret over things. He heard defensive end wasn’t the team’s biggest recruiting focus before.

He learned during his recruiting process anything can happen, and his decision was coming on his time schedule.

“I don’t think that they forced my hand,” Waggoner said. “I knew I had other places I could have gone.”

Still, he mulled his situation over with his parents and Wilson. His coach knew the drill.

Scholarships are like puzzle pieces. Teams must fit all their needs and moving parts together into a coherent picture. Late in the process, things change quickly and what seemed like a perfectly shaped part might not squeeze in 24 hours later.

Waggoner wanted to make his decision on his time, but the December signing period is changing recruiting. The chance to use December for official visits and wait until late January to make a decision are likely over.

So, Wilson passed on some advice. The next time you call Ferentz, know your decision.

“It’s either one way or the other,” Wilson said.

Waggoner needed some assurance, and clarity, on where things sat. He called Ferentz and both sides were straightforward and honest.

Waggoner hung up feeling optimistic. He believes Ferentz felt the same way.

“Definitely was a relief to know that there was going to be a spot for me and everything was going to work out,” Waggoner said.

The call ended without Waggoner declaring his intentions one way or the other. That doesn’t mean the decision was still up in the air.

Sunday, Dec. 3

Wilson describes Waggoner as if he’s a union sheet metal worker, not a teenager. Waggoner is quiet and walks with a blue-collar mentality. He wants nothing more than to roll up his sleeves, put in an honest day of work and attack the task at hand.

Instead of a hammer and ladder, his tools of the trade are the weight room, agility exercises and position drills.

“I think that fits the Iowa mold,” Wilson said.

Waggoner does, too. He kept thinking back to the summer conversation with Doyle after meeting with Ferentz.

He liked the Hawkeyes. They met his criteria and, if he was honest with himself, they remained his top school entering November.

There was no epiphany, a moment when everything became clear. Waggoner just needed to see what was before him the entire time.

“I knew this was still the place I wanted to be, so why not get it over with and focus on basketball season,” Waggoner said.

With that, he called Ferentz. He finally spoke the sentence that seemed to be waiting there since the summer.

I am committing to Iowa.

There was one hold up. Ferentz needed him to finalize everything with defensive line coach Reese Morgan in-person first.

Tuesday, Dec. 5

Waggoner knew where he was going. Some family and friends did, too. No one else did and he wouldn’t tell anyone else. It ate at him. He didn’t like holding this a secret.

“It was a little bit hard because people would still ask me questions about it and I couldn’t really answer them at the time because I wasn’t releasing the information yet,” Waggoner said.

Holding back complicated his day. He wasn’t just meeting with Morgan. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck was heading to Dowling to try to lock down an official visit. Nebraska also planned to fly into town.

Wilson always thought the finality of committing played a big role in Waggoner delaying his decision. Telling other programs thanks, but no thanks isn’t a fun conversation.

“He understandably was hesitant on that,” Wilson said.

But now wasn’t the time for indecisiveness. Wilson and Waggoner agreed it was best to meet with Morgan in the afternoon before seeing any other team.

Waggoner contacted Minnesota. Fleck cancelled his trip. Wilson reached out to the Cornhuskers.

Morgan and Waggoner’s afternoon conversations started out like any of their dozens of others. It started with small talk, Morgan grilling Waggoner about his basketball season before diving into the main topic.

Waggoner repeated his pledge. Morgan confirmed the official visit. It was an anticlimactic ending to a wild recruiting week. Waggoner’s lingering stress disappeared once the conversation ended.

“It was exciting to kind of get the news out,” Waggoner said.

It didn’t take long for word to spread once he tweeted about it.

Solon High School (Iowa) defensive tackle Tyler Linderbaum, an Iowa commit, saw Waggoner’s commitment on Twitter and a smile quickly spread across his face. Linderbaum knew the Hawkeyes just landed a potential difference-maker.

“He is a good player,” Linderbaum said. “He is on a team that’s won five straight championships. He is a big part of that with his athleticism, speed and size.”

The decision didn’t surprise Wilson. Based on their conversations, he figured Waggoner was heading there following the in-person Ferentz visit.

Waggoner just needed an intense, thought-provoking six days to finally say what was on the tip of his tongue.

“The weight of the world was lifted off of John,” Wilson said. “He was where he wanted to be and he was going to be an Iowa Hawkeye and now he’s ready to go to work.”

The post Iowa: Inside the wild week leading to John Waggoner’s commitment appeared first on Land of 10.

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