The highest rated football recruit in the state of Iowa’s history is staying home. Xavier Nwankpa, the five-star safety from SE Polk High School in Pleasant Hill, celebrated his birthday by choosing the University of Iowa over his other finalists, Ohio State and Notre Dame on Wednesday. Mark Freund from our sister station WHO13 in Des Moines, was there for the decision and spoke to the the recently crowned Iowa 5A state champion right after the announcement.
It was a close decision for Nwankpa. Along the way, he said he almost committed to each of the three schools at some point during his recruitment. But in the end, it was the Hawkeyes’ defensive track record that won him over.
“Their DB production has just been in and out every year,” Nwankpa said. “They have the top guys, send them to the league and that’s just something I want to be a part of.”
With five of the last 10 Big Ten Defensive Backs of the Year coming from the University of Iowa, it felt like a natural fit. The difference is many of the those past winners out of Iowa City were unheralded coming out of high school. This year’s winner, Iowa senior corner Riley Moss, was a two-star recruit, ranking 2,732 in the nation according to recruiting site 247Sports. They have Nwankpa ranked as the 11th best high schooler in the country.
“There’s nothing that’s produced like Iowa has, and they don’t even get the high-caliber guys, so I’m excited to see what I can do there,” Nwankpa said.
With the ever-shifting coaching landscape on full display this winter, the stability that’s become standard under Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz over the last 23 years in Iowa City, also weighed heavily on his decision. Notre Dame, one of the other finalists, had their head coach Brian Kelly, bolt for LSU in November.
“I want to be there with the coaches that watch me walk in, that watch me walk out,” Nwankpa said.
He told those coaches, Kirk Ferentz, Phil Parker and Jay Niemann, during a final in-home visit Monday night.
“Talking with my parents this past weekend, and this is where we thought would be the best place for me,” Nwankpa said. “I told Coach Ferentz and coach Parker Monday night. There were hugs all around, they were super ecstatic. It definitely softened the wound from this past weekend.”
It also gives him a chance to play at home in front of his family and community.
“It was super important,” Nwankpa said. “I get to put on for my community and where I’m from, and just show we can do it out here too.”
Nwankpa plans to graduate from high school this December and enroll at the University of Iowa early. Key freshman contributors Keagan Johnson, Arland Bruce IV and Connor Colby all did the same thing last year.