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National Signing Day: Superlatives for 2021 recruiting class in Iowa high school football


Matthew Bain   | Des Moines Register
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The state of Iowa's 2021 class of football talent was nothing short of historic.

First of all, the Register was able to confidently create a top-50 ranking for the 2021 class. Accurately finding and ranking as many as 50 college-level football players in Iowa just four or five years ago would've been unheard of.

Of those top 50, 45 are playing on scholarship at a Division I school, 21 are headed to a Power Five program as scholarship players and two chose to play at a Power Five program over FCS and Group of Five offers.

So, to celebrate this 2021 class, the Register decided to assign superlatives to some notable talents moving on from the high school ranks.

Biggest steal: Aaron Smith, ATH, Waukee

College: Yale

Smith, a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder who could also run track in college, was a massive steal for Yale. He would've been the same for Northern Iowa or Liberty, too, the other programs in his final three schools. Overall, he held nearly 20 offers.

It's this simple: Although undersized, Smith is a game-wrecker. He's must-see football every time he touches the ball. As a senior at Waukee, he averaged 17.8 yards per touch on offense and special teams en route to 17 touchdowns. He added a pair of interceptions and a pick-six, too.

Power Fives came sniffing. Iowa, Iowa State, Nebraska and Kansas State showed interest. But an offer never came. We wouldn't be surprised if those schools come to regret that in a few years.

ANALYSIS: Matthew Bain's thoughts on Iowa, Iowa State classes

Best shot at early playing time: Arland Bruce IV, WR, Ankeny

College: Iowa

Bruce, the Olathe North (Kansas) transfer who helped lead Ankeny to the Class 4A state title, is labeled as a receiver at Iowa, but he can just impact the game in so many ways.

He actually levied the most damage as a running back with Ankeny, on his way to All-Iowa Elite Team honors at that position. But, of course, he can catch passes, too. He can return punts and kickoffs. He can play defensive back if necessary; his game-sealing interception in the state semifinals attests to that. And, as a former quarterback at Olathe North, Bruce can also make things happen in the Wildcat formation.

Bruce can just do too much for Iowa to keep him off the field for long.

Most likely first-round draft pick: Connor Colby, OL, Cedar Rapids Kennedy

College: Iowa

You'd know a whole lot more about the 6-5, 305-pound Colby if he hadn't committed to Iowa so quickly; he picked the Hawkeyes over offers from Ohio State and Michigan way back in June 2019.

The Hawkeyes have a habit of turning elite in-state offensive lineman into first-round NFL Draft picks (you can watch one of them, Tristan Wirfs, in the Super Bowl on Sunday even), and Colby feels like a dang good candidate for that in the 2021 class.

Best remaining prospect entering Wednesday: Ashton Cook, QB, Iowa City Regina

College: Iowa State (preferred walk-on)

In a bit of a surprise, the 6-5, 200-pound Cook chose to walk on at Iowa State over offers from Eastern Michigan, Northern Iowa, South Dakota and Western Illinois.

What makes the move more surprising? Cook is former Iowa tight end Marv Cook's son.

Cook jumped up to No. 22 in the Register's final in-state 2021 recruiting rankings thanks to his phenomenal senior season, which featured 185 completions on 276 pass attempts for 2,862 yards, 25 touchdowns and three interceptions. He led the Regals to the Class A state title and earned All-Iowa Class A First Team honors along the way.

His level of play is clearly that of a scholarship athlete, and it felt like he was knocking on the door of some bigger offers as he kept producing at a high level at Regina.

This is an underrated pickup for Iowa State.

Best position group: Quarterbacks

Even in a class as strong as 2021, the quarterbacks were able to stand out.

Of course, it helped that Kansas State recruit Jake Rubley moved from Colorado to Iowa due to COVD-19 postponing football in his home state.

Rubley finished ranked No. 8 in the in-state recruiting rankings. Next-highest was No. 16 Jase Bauer, Ankeny's star quarterback who picked Central Michigan over several FCS and Group of Five offers. Iowa City West's Marcus Morgan checked in at No. 21. Although he wound up committing to Iowa for baseball, he was seen as a fringe Power Five dual-threat quarterback with offers from Iowa State, Dartmouth, Bowling Green, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State and Central Michigan. Then Cook was at No. 22.

That's not even counting No. 12 OABCIG athlete Cooper DeJean, the future Hawkeye safety who put up unbelievable numbers as a high school quarterback, or No. 36 Jaxon Rexroth, Cedar Rapids Xavier's quarterback who chose to walk on as an athlete at Iowa over an offer from Northern Iowa.

That's six quality arms, quality athletes. That's rare for Iowa.

Best senior season: Tyler Moore, TE, Johnston

College: Iowa State

Moore was pretty much Johnston's entire passing offense this year. Defenses routinely double- and triple-teamed up, and he still earned a spot on the All-Iowa Elite Team. The Register bumped him up to No. 7 in Iowa, and 247Sports gave him a fourth star.

He also bulked up considerably from his junior to senior seasons, growing from a lanky 6-5, 205, to a formidable 6-5, 235. If Iowa State wasn't returning both Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen next year, Moore would have given Ankeny's Bruce a run for his money for best shot at early playing time.

Most intriguing: Seth Malcom, LB, Fremont-Mills

College: Nebraska

This is the low-hanging fruit, right? Malcom was a video game-like, prolific linebacker and running back with eight-player Fremont-Mills. It's always intriguing to see how a recruit who dominated eight-player football can translate to college football — let alone Power Five college football.

But Nebraska, Iowa State, Kansas State and Minnesota didn't offer the 6-3, 195-pound statistics machine for no reason. Malcom is an athletic marvel.

And those schools didn't offer based purely on Malcom's film from Fremont-Mills. He was a Midwest guy that consistently impressed at college camps. He'd have to, right? Power Five schools aren't going to offer a prospect only because he was a man amongst boys in eight-player football.

Most to prove: Jayden Williams, RB, Valley; Zach Twedt, LB, Roland-Story

Williams' college: Northern Iowa; Twedt's college: Iowa

These guys have something to prove for two very different reasons.

Williams didn't have a good senior season. There were reasons, sure. He had nagging injuries. Valley's brand new offensive line struggled to open holes and protect its quarterback this fall. But 138 carries for 452 yards (3.3 per carry) is not what you'd expect for a college-level high school senior.

And the latter stages of Williams' recruitment reflected that. Williams was one of several recruits to decommit from Kansas State this offseason. Afterwards, Williams' only new offers came from junior colleges. He soon committed to Northern Iowa, which means that might have been his intention all along. But ask him and he'll tell you: He thinks he's a Power Five-level running back. The Register dropped him from No. 14 to No. 26 in the final in-state 2021 rankings. You'd better believe he's eager to prove us wrong.

Twedt, on the other hand, didn't get to prove much of anything as a senior thanks to injury. He dislocated his shoulder during a Week 3 loss at Forest City and missed the rest of the year. While his peers got to show off improvements from their junior to senior seasons and rise in the rankings accordingly, all Twedt could do was watch from the sidelines as he dropped from No. 18 to No. 20 in the Register's final rankings.

Fully healthy now, Twedt has enrolled early at Iowa and is on the spring roster.

Matthew Bain covers recruiting and pretty much anything else under the sports sun for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network.  Contact him at mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.