Iowa football notebook: National Signing Day updates, analyzing upcoming Hawkeye QB competition

On Wednesday, head coach Kirk Ferentz held his first video conference since the cancellation of the Music City Bowl and discussed his team as it starts offseason activities.


Katie Goodale

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and Offensive Coordinator Brian Ferentz are seen without masks during the Iowa v Northwestern football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 21-20. Many Iowa Coaches wore Gaitor face guards, which the CDC has suggested is not as effective against the spread of COVID-19 as a regular mask.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa football program officially added Des Moines North running back Deavin Hilson and Jacksonville (Fla.) Bishop Kenny High School offensive lineman Michael Myslinski on Wednesday.

Both three-star recruits signed their national letter of intents with the Hawkeyes as part of National Signing Day. Hilson (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and Myslinski (6-3, 290) are the latest additions to a 19-player 2021 Iowa football recruiting class (including seven four-stars) that ranks 21st in the country according to 247Sports.

Hilson is the most recent recruit to commit to the Hawkeyes, doing so on Jan. 29. He is the first Power Five football recruit from Des Moines North since the 1970s.

“What really piqued my interest was seeing him play basketball a year ago,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said of Hilson on a Wednesday video conference. “We had football highlights and basketball highlights. I probably saw more potential just watching him play basketball.

“I think he’s demonstrated a real seriousness about not only playing college football but being a college graduate. He’s demonstrated that. It all kind of came together and we made the decision last week to move forward.”

Hilson is the only running back in this year’s Hawkeye recruiting class.

Myslinski decommitted from Texas in December, then committed to Iowa on Jan. 23 over Michigan State and Maryland, among other schools.

“Our intent was to continue to recruit him until he told us otherwise, and we just feel fortunate that things opened back up and we had the opportunity to continue on,” Ferentz said. “… I think his skill set and his mentality really match up with what we look for in a center. Really excited about that.”

Myslinski is the fifth scholarship offensive linemen in Iowa’s 2021 class.

Ferentz addressed other topics pertaining to the 2021 Iowa football team on Wednesday in his first video conference since the cancellation of the Music City Bowl:

There will be a competition at quarterback, but Petras has a head start

Spencer Petras’ first season as Iowa’s starting quarterback came under difficult circumstances.

Because of the pandemic shutting down team activities, Petras didn’t have a spring football season, or much of an offseason at all, to prepare to lead the team under center for the first time. And that may have been reflected in his play on the field.

Petras threw nine touchdowns compared to five interceptions in 2020 as a redshirt sophomore but completed only 57.1 percent of his passes. His play was inconsistent, ranging from dreadful first halves against Illinois and Wisconsin full of missed throws and sacks, to stellar second halves in the same games featuring a poised player in the pocket delivering precise passes.

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Petras led Iowa to a 6-2 record and the 16th spot in the final Associated Press poll in his first season as a starter (Iowa’s Champions Week game against Michigan and bowl game against Missouri were canceled because of positive tests within its opponents’ programs). Heading into the 2021 season, Petras is the favorite to start again.

“We have great belief in him, he’s a tremendous guy, a tremendous leader and he led us,” Ferentz said. “As a starting quarterback, we won 75 percent of our games. That’s not shabby. We expect him to improve like we expect everybody to improve. We think Alex Padilla is a good, young prospect and we have other guys, too, that we’ll learn more about this spring, hopefully.

“We plan an open competition. But the record shows that Spencer has done a really good job, and he’s our starter right now. So, somebody’s got to beat him out, but it’s got to be a fair competition.”

Padilla, Petras’ backup last season, and second-year player Deuce Hogan are the other candidates in the quarterback’s room who theoretically could compete for the starting job.

Ferentz said Petras has a “huge head start” on the other quarterbacks because of his eight games of starting experience. Iowa returned to the team facility for the start of offseason workouts last week and hopes to hold spring practices from mid-March to late-April.

“This guy got tested and fought through it,” Ferentz said. “That’s a real asset right there. But we’ll let everybody compete and we’ll go into it with an open mind, and Spencer knows that, and he knows it’s incumbent and for everybody to get better.”

Hankins’ return, Williams’ arrival provides boost to Hawkeye secondary

In an offseason full of departures for Iowa, the Hawkeye secondary has received some good news lately.

Four-year starting cornerback Matt Hankins elected to come back for a fifth season of eligibility (Hankins is one of four Hawkeye seniors returning), which was granted because of the pandemic, and Iowa picked up Northern Iowa defensive back Xavier Williams as a graduate transfer.

Hankins’ return means Iowa has all five starters from last season’s secondary (along with corner Riley Moss, strong safety Kaevon Merriweather, free safety Jack Koerner, and “cash” Dane Belton).

RELATED: Opinion | Projecting the Iowa football team’s 2021 starters

“I think what it all came down to, when [Hankins] settled down, settled in, he came to the conclusion: Another year of [college] football would be good for me,” Ferentz said. “He’s excited to be back here. And that’s one thing I made clear to anybody that’s thinking about maybe leaving or staying. There’s no sense staying if your heart isn’t in it and you don’t have both feet firm and committed to it.”

Williams played both cornerback and safety for the Panthers, and also handled punt and kick return duties. He earned Missouri Conference honors in 2018 and 2019 and was set to have a standout season had Northern Iowa competed in the fall.

“We’ll probably start him out at corner,” Ferentz said. “We think he’s got position flexibility. It’s a long year and it’s a long road ahead. So, we are eager to get him on the field in spring football and learn more about him as a player.”

Strength and conditioning coaching staff update

Ferentz said that it is the program’s intention to elevate interim head strength and conditioning coach Raimond Braithwaite to the permanent position.

Braithwaite took over on an interim basis in June of 2020 after longtime strength coach Chris Doyle reached a separation agreement with the University of Iowa.

Dozens of Black former players alleged Doyle of racist and demeaning behavior, and said he led a culture within the Hawkeye program that was built on bullying and that diminished the value of cultural diversity. Braithwaite, who is Black, has spent 17 years with the Hawkeye football program, and had been in the No. 2 spot on the strength staff since 2008. His FY2021 salary is $310,000. Doyle was making $800,000 in the permanent role.