By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
Anyone involved in college football will tell you that recruiting never stops.
With the 2017 edition of national signing day less than a week in the past coaches have already begun to look ahead at next year’s group of recruits.
The 2016 season was a strong one for area football teams.
Regina and West High reached the state title game, Solon and City High each won playoff games and West Branch and Clear Creek Amana posted strong seasons.
That success in the fall made for a busy signing day for area football players last week.
Signing day 2018 should be equally interesting with a variety of future college players ready to stand out in the fal..
Here is an early school by school look at area players to keep an eye on leading up to next season and eventually the 2018 national signing day on February 7.
The Little Hawks reload every fall under head coach Dan Sabers and there is no reason to expect that to change this season following an 8-3 season that included a Class 4A quarterfinal appearance.
Expect Zach Jones to be a key piece of the puzzle on both sides of the ball for City High next fall.
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Jones had a team-high 39 receptions for 556 yards and four touchdowns as a wide receiver last season but was perhaps even more valuable on defense and special teams.
Jones made 36.5 tackles and had three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown from his defensive back spot.
He also averaged 18.1 yards on 14 punt returns, returning one for a touchdown.
Keep an eye on Bryce Hunger (6-2, 180) who showed flashes of his athleticism and range as a junior making 27.5 tackles including 3.5 for loss.
Expect Hunger to have a much more prominent role on both sides of the ball as a senior.
Many of the headliners from last year’s 4A runner-up team are gone.
Michigan recruit Oliver Martin, Iowa State signee Alex Kleinow and all-staters like Devontae Lane and Josh Van Roekel will graduate this spring.
The cupboard is far from bare at West High.
Quarterback Evan Flitz returns to run the Trojan offense after turning heads as a first-year starter last season when he completed 70 percent of his passes for 2,237 yards and 22 touchdowns against five interceptions in 11 games.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Flitz has already started hearing from college coaches.
“I’ve communicated with a couple of Ivy League schools, Penn and Princeton and I’ve also talked with the Drake coaches,” Flitz said. “A lot of them have just said after signing day, when they get this year’s class done I will hear from then more.”
Flitz is just part of a deep and talented West High junior class that includes wide receiver Traevis Buchanan, linebacker Dillon Doyle, Dillon Shephard, Jonathan Gannon among a large cast of experienced returners.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Buchanan emerged during the playoffs as a potential number one option for Flitz this fall, finishing with 30 receptions for 549 yards and a score.
Already a two-year starter on the offensive line the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Gannon is the returning anchor on the West High offensive line while Shepherd, a 6-2, 190-pound defensive end is the cornerstone of the Trojans’ defensive front.
Shepherd was a third-team all-state pick last season when he ranked fourth on the team with 48 tackles including a team-high nine sacks.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Doyle was third on the team with 54 tackles from his linebacker spot and grabbed 12 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns as a tight end.
“I’ve already had a few college coaches stopping in and asking about guys and have a few guys going on some junior day visits coming up here,” West High coach Garrett Hartwig said. “This senior class coming is very hungry, they are very together and they talented. There is a lot of hard work to go and a lot of questions to be answered but they are great to work with, we have had a great start to the offseason and there is definitely talent there.”
Clear Creek Amana
Cole White doesn’t have prototypical, defensive end size and he isn’t going to set any 40-yard dash records but what he did las well as anyone in the state last fall is get to the quarterback.
The 5-foot-10, 220-pound White tied for the state lead with 15 sacks last season and finished the year with 44.5 tackles and 20 tackles for loss.
The numbers along are enough to get White some attention but Clear Creek Amana coach Matt Hughes said the junior defensive end is a legitimate college prospect.
“He is a technician,” Hughes said. “He does great with is hands, he is undersized but he is going to be a college football player at what level who knows but if he wants to play college football he will have those opportunities.”
Jacob Barnhart is coming off a junior season in which he earned second team all-state honors in Class 1A and could be the next great offensive lineman for long-time West Branch coach Butch Pedersen.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Barnhart is a mammoth offensive tackle that seems to improve every time he steps on the field.
Barnhart was the anchor on a West Branch offensive front that helped pave the way for senior tailback Luke Lenoch to rush for better than 1,800 yards and 30 touchdowns last year.
“I think this next sixth months will tell us more,” Pedersen said. “He has the physicality, he has the frame, he has the mental approach but now we have to work on speed and quickness and strength.”
No program in Iowa history has had a run of dominance like Regina and the Regals have consistently pumped out college prospects during their state title run.
2018 should be no different with players like Jacob Vollstedt and Steve Sehl waiting to take over the reins at Regina.
Vollstedt was limited by injuries early but was electric in the post-season, rushing for 612 yards and nine touchdowns in four playoff games.
The 6-0, 200-pound Vollstedt led Regina with 1,114 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, caught seven passes for 220 yards and three TDs and also had 19 tackles while doubling as a linebacker.
“Isaac is a great football player and a tough kid,” Regina coach Marv Cook said. “He runs hard Already a two-year starter, Sehl had his best season as a prep last year as a junior.
After starting every game at tackle two years ago as a sophomore, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Sehl made the move inside to guard this season and was even more impressive helping Regina average 261 rushing yards per game.
Sehl also made 25 tackles and had two sacks as a defensive tackle.
“He fits the mold, he has a big frame he works incredible hard and he just plays,” Cook said of Sehl.” He did a good job as a sophomore playing tackle and then we moved him inside to guard and he plays both equally well and he has good feet and good length. I think he has great upside.”
Tyler Linderbaum caught the attention of college coaches with an all-state junior season and collected his first FBS offer this spring from Iowa State.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound defensive tackle had 42.5 tackles and had three sacks last year and returned an interception 70 yards for a score last season while helping Solon to a 9-2 record and a spot in the 3A quarterfinals.
“It didn’t surprise me at all (Iowa state offered) and I anticipate there are going to be more offers,” Solon coach Kevin Miller said. “He was a difference maker for us, there is no doubt about it. His junior year film is very impressive, he controlled the line of scrimmage.”