Five-star safety Xavier Nwankpa commits to Iowa over Ohio State, Notre Dame

Nwankpa is Iowa’s first five-star commit since A.J. Epenesa in 2017.


© Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

Five-star safety Xavier Nwankpa from South East Polk announces his commitment play football for the University of Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Five-star safety Xavier Nwankpa committed to the University of Iowa over Ohio State and Notre Dame, his other finalists, on Wednesday.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder is the No. 1 safety and No. 11 overall prospect in the class of 2022, according to 247 Sports. Nwankpa, who is celebrating his 18th birthday, announced his decision at Southeast Polk High School. A crowd of several hundred people were on-hand for the announcement, which also aired on CBS Sports HQ.

“Over the next three to five years, I’ll be continuing my academic and athletic career at the University of,” Nwankpa said before pausing and reaching toward a red Ohio State hat to his left. After teasing the crowd, “X,” as his friends and family call him, pulled his hand back from the Buckeye hat, instead putting on an Iowa cap. Cheers ensued.

Nwankpa held scholarship offers from more than 30 Division I programs. He is the first in-state five-star player to commit to the Hawkeyes since Blake Larsen in 2001. Nwankpa is also Iowa’s first five-star commit of any kind since defensive end A.J. Epenesa in 2017.

The two-time all-state performer announced his top three schools in October. That same month, while taking an official visit to Iowa City for Iowa’s game against Penn State, the Hawkeyes moved to the front of the pack, Nwankpa said. Nwankpa informed Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz of his decision when Ferentz, defensive coordinator/DBs coach Phil Parker, and assistant defensive line coach/defensive recruiting coordinator Jay Niemann visited his home on Monday.

Ferentz, who is in his 23rd season as Iowa’s head coach, and Parker, in his 23rd year on Iowa’s defensive staff, were integral figures in Nwankpa’s commitment, he said.

“The coaching staff, the stability there,” Nwankpa said. “The guys already on the team and the commits, it felt like a brotherhood there and a place I could see myself succeeding.”

The commitment moves Iowa’s 2022 recruiting class, which now has 12 commits, to the 39th-best in the country, up from 52nd-best.

In the final game of his high school football career, Nwankpa led Southeast Polk to its first Class 5A state title in program history. The senior clinched the win with a fourth-quarter interception.

Nwankpa recorded 26 tackles and added a sack, one tackle for loss, and four interceptions as a senior, earning his way onto the All-Iowa Elite Team as a safety for the second straight year. He will play in the All-American Bowl in January before enrolling early at the UI for the start of the spring semester.

The Hawkeyes have intercepted 24 passes this season, which leads the nation and also ties a program record. That mark is also the most by a Power Five team in a single season since 2014.

Iowa cornerback Riley Moss was named Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, becoming the fifth Hawkeye to earn that honor in the past 10 seasons.

“That was a pretty big factor,” Nwankpa said. “Five of the last 10 Big Ten DBs of the year coming from Iowa, being my home state, that’s crazy. Obviously, that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Credit to coach Parker for getting those guys right. That’s just where I wanted to be.

“They have some of the best DB production in the country. I just wanted to go make something happen.”

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