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Eno Benjamin a casualty of Iowa’s old school recruiting principles

This past weekend, Iowa lost the commitment of one of the top recruits from its 2017 class. Four-star running back Eno Benjamin, who hails from Wylie Texas, decommitted on Sunday.

“I honestly never thought this day would come,” Benjamin said in a tweet announcing his decision. “I am the type of guy who stands by his word no matter what, but even people have moments where they break. There’s a lot that has to be said, but do the words really mean much at this point? I wish Iowa nothing but the best as you guys deserve. I’ll never forget my time as a Hawk and you fans are the best. With that said, I have officially decided to decommit from Iowa and fully open up my recruiting process. Thank you to those that understand.”

And with that, one of Iowa’s top prospects was gone.

The loss of Benjamin’s commitment was big for Iowa for a few reasons, first and foremost his national profile. As mentioned above, he’s a four-star running back, ranked as the No. 10 player at his position and the No. 26 recruit from the talent-laden state of Texas. Iowa has been working hard to build a legitimate pipeline into Texas for the past few recruiting cycles and Benjamin was one of the crown jewels of that effort. In fact, the Hawkeyes were the first program to offer Benjamin and he remained a huge fan of Iowa through its 12-2 Rose Bowl season as well as through his ever-growing recruitment.

When Iowa offered Benjamin, he was a barely known recruit with a ton of talent but a small profile. At this point in time, he has nearly 30 offers and boasts scholarships from the likes of Baylor, Boise State, Cal, Houston, Illinois, Miami, Michigan, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Utah, Vanderbilt and West Virginia, among others. Arkansas, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and UCLA are also featured on his interest list.

So was this just a simple case of a recruit realizing he has plenty of options and perhaps committed to early, or was there something more at play here?

On the surface, the first option seems realistic, but upon digging deeper, it’s clear that the Hawkeyes and Benjamin may have ended things for a different reason.

On October 17th, Benjamin told Rob Howe of Hawkeye Nation (and Today’s U) that he was working on fixing his relationship with the Hawkeye staff. He apparently had taken a few visits during the fall to other schools, and that had rubbed Iowa’s staff the wrong way.

“We’re working on fixing things with the relationship,” Benjamin told Howe. “(The coaches) weren’t too happy about the visits, but we have spoken on the subject and I’m still a Hawkeye.”

Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes operate under a “no visit policy” for committed recruits. It’s an old school view of recruiting but it does make sense when looking at it from Iowa’s perspective: The Hawkeyes have committed a scholarship, effort, time, energy and a spot in the class for a recruit, so they expect that said recruit shows that same level of commitment.

Apparently, Benjamin wasn’t on that level with Iowa, and that was despite the fact that he’s been one of the main peer-recruiters and supporters of Iowa football on social media ever since pulling the trigger to become a Hawkeye.

And there’s a lot that can be said about Ferentz and his old-school stubborn ways, but at the very least he’s consistent. Though Benjamin was the one who publicly decommitted, it does seem like the Hawkeyes were the ones who initiated that movement.

22 OCT 2016: Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz waits with his team to take the field before a Big Ten Conference football game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Wisconsin won, 17-9. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

And so, one of the top running back recruits in the nation is back on the market, and he’ll undoubtedly make some school that lands his commitment and signature very happy. Benjamin is a talented and explosive back with star potential both with his feet and through the air as a receiver out of the backfield, so he’ll be just fine through this whole process. The fact that he’s not a Hawkeye anymore doesn’t diminish any of his potential.

Some may question Iowa’s insistence on a “no visit policy” and it’s viability in 2016 and beyond, and those who do would have a point. Iowa recruiting has changed a lot lately, starting with Seth Wallace (now just a coach) and his revolution of more offers, heavier social media and marketing presence as well as a wider net. That has carried over to new recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell.

For the most part, Ferentz has been on board and has welcomed the changes in recruiting philosophy, and Iowa recruiting has been trending upwards as a result.

For proof of that, check out the rankings.

Iowa’s 2014 class was ranked No. 59 nationally. Iowa’s 2015 class was ranked No. 60 nationally and last cycle’s class, which got the full-on “New Kirk” treatment, checked in at No. 49. Even without Benjamin, Iowa’s 2017 class is currently ranked No. 25 nationally and features the program’s first five-star recruit in a long time, defensive end A.J. Epenesa, the No. 1 strong-side defensive end in the 2017 class as well as the No. 6 player in America, according to 247Sports.

So yes, Iowa is doing some nice things on the recruiting trail and Ferentz deserves a lot of the credit for switching some old recruiting habits up.

And that’s what makes the case of Benjamin so interesting.

Especially when you’re trying to recruit top recruits — players who have 30, 40 or even 50 offers — you’re going to deal with players looking around and taking visits. Top recruits have offers from all over the country and they don’t even have to be interested in flipping half the time to take a visit. Sometimes they just want to check out other schools and take advantage of their five free official visits.

Ferentz isn’t the only coach who has a no visit policy and there are reasons to like it, but one has to wonder how realistic it is for Iowa to stick with that policy as it continues to build a stronger national profile on the recruiting trail. Eventually, as Iowa keeps going after top recruits, something will have to give.

It’s an outdated way of thinking, especially if the Hawkeyes want to recruit at a big-time level. That could be worrisome for Hawkeye fans who want to see Iowa continue to thrive on the recruiting trail, but there is some good news. Speaking with the media last week, Ferentz did make it clear that he operates on a case-by-case basis when it comes to his recruiting policies.

“I think we just have to decide. It’s like anything else, you just decide every individual case and kind of go from there,” Ferentz said when asked about sticking with the no visit for commits policy. “I think it’s good to have policies and beliefs, and hopefully everybody that’s on board is on board and goes with us.”

With that in mind, it appears that Benjamin did indeed cross the line between “new school” and “old school.” He somehow proved to Iowa that he wasn’t fully on board, and the Hawkeyes asked him to open things up as a result.

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