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Inside Arizona RB Eli Sanders' recruiting visit plans for Iowa and Iowa State

Matthew Bain   | Des Moines Register

Quietly, without fanfare or any red-carpet treatment, a major Iowa and Iowa State recruiting target will take "unofficial official" visits to both schools this Saturday.

Due to the dead recruiting period caused by COVID-19, Arizona three-star running back Eli Sanders can't take school-sponsored visits. So, the rising prospect, who decommitted from Boise State in late December and has narrowed his choices to the Cyclones and Hawkeyes, will fly to Iowa with his family and tour both campuses for their own visits.

But Matt Campbell, Kirk Ferentz and all the coaches recruiting Sanders can't have any face-to-face contact with him during the dead period.

That's where Iowa receiver signee Arland Bruce IV and Iowa State offensive lineman signee Dodge Sauser come in. Both recruits have been in regular contact with Sanders and, on their own volition, will be de facto team ambassadors for Sanders' visits.

"Who’s going to win the in-state battle when it comes to him?" Sauser told the Register. "I’m sure Arland over there, just like me, they’re really trying to sell him on Iowa and stuff like that, just like I’m trying to sell him on Iowa State."

According to Sauser, Sanders and his family are flying in Friday night and planning to tour Iowa and Iowa City Saturday morning, and then drive over to tour Iowa State and Ames Saturday afternoon and evening. He will then announce his decision Sunday.

It's unclear when exactly all this will occur, but at some point during Sanders' time in central Iowa, he plans to hang out with Bruce in Ankeny, and Sauser, a Grinnell product, will accompany him while he tours Iowa State and Ames.

Bruce said he hopes to bring Ankeny teammate and Hawkeye receiver signee Brody Brecht along for the visit. Bruce said Iowa's top two remaining targets are Sanders and Florida three-star offensive lineman Michael Myslinski, and he and fellow signees are working hard to recruit both to Iowa City.

"The main message is that Iowa State already has a running back in the class," Bruce told the Register. "And, obviously, with the class that we have, with all the linemen, I want to say that we have three or four four-star offensive linemen, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to come play behind an offensive line of that caliber. I know Iowa State has Breece (Hall), but that’s a once-in-a-generation talent right there. So I think his best option would be with Iowa and the guys we have up front."

Bruce said the tentative plan is to just hang out with Sanders in and around Ankeny, perhaps bring some Ankeny teammates along to get Sanders a sense of what Iowans are like, and just give him a sense of what the Iowa program is like. They'll be sure to go get a Hawkeye hat and shirt, too, Bruce said with a laugh.

Sauser said Sanders is the top remaining Cyclones target he and fellow signees are recruiting to join the 2021 class. He calls Sanders "definitely a guy we've got to have."

The plan for Saturday? Sauser hopes to take Sanders around campus, show him Jack Trice Stadium and the dorms, and maybe take him to some top spots and restaurants around Ames.

And the main recruiting message?

"The big thing is, you look at the success Iowa State had this season — New Years Six bowl win, finishing ranked in the top 10, we’re right there in the Big 12 title (race) just as well — and if you look at the future of this program moving forward, almost all of our starters from this year are coming back and we’re just trying to keep building on this success at Iowa State," Sauser said. "I really think that we’ll continue to do that they did this year for many more years to come."

Sauser said he recently spoke on the phone with Sanders, and that his main question was: "What is it about Iowa State that makes it so special?"

Sanders didn't specifically ask about Iowa State having another running back recruit in Florida three-star all-purpose back Deon Silas, Sauser said, but he does know that Silas and Sanders have spoken to each other.

"The two of them together in that backfield could really be something special," Sauser said.

Sanders is a consensus three-star prospect. The 6-foot, 190-pound prospect is the No. 656 prospect in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.

"What sticks out to me is how explosive he is," Bruce said. "He doesn’t dance around. He just picks a hole and goes. He reminds me a lot of Mekhi Sargent. I’ve never seen him get caught. He’s 6 foot and over 200 pounds, so he’s an all-around back."

Sauser remembers following Sanders in his state championship game last month.

"The first play of the state title game, he had an 80-yard touchdown run, just untouched," Sauser said. "Watching his film, he’s just a really special back. He’s got really good size, great vision. And there’s a lot of times you see him try to split two defenders and you think he’s going to get tackled, but then he just splits them and takes off for a touchdown.

"It’s really going to be interesting to see his decision on Sunday, and hopefully it’s the right one."

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 and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.