CEDAR RAPIDS – This hasn’t been a good week for the Iowa football program.
Prize recruit Christian French from Cedar Rapids Kennedy announced on Thursday that he will attend Oregon on a football scholarship. The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder picked the second-ranked Ducks over Iowa and Notre Dame.
French’s decision came just two days after star Iowa receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was arrested on numerous drug charges.
“It’s hard because you’ve got to go away from home and you kind of lose that hometown favorite,” French said. “But in order for me to be a man I’ve got to grow up and make my own decision. And I’ve got to do what’s best for me.”
French said he made his final decision after attending a Kennedy basketball practice Wednesday night. He then called Iowa assistant coach Reese Morgan and thanked him for the opportunity to be a Hawkeye.
“I hope they respect me as a person for making the decision to call them and letting them know so they didn’t hear it after the fact,” French said of the Iowa coaches.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz also met with French last Sunday to make one final appeal to him.
“It was good, like all the rest,” French said of his meeting with Ferentz. “I love his mannerisms. He’s a very calm, low-key guy. And he expressed the things that he wants and how I would help out his program.
“Nothing against him. I think he’s a great coach.”
French announced his decision in the Kennedy cafeteria before a large audience that included family members, classmates and faculty.
His classmates, with some wearing Iowa attire, cheered loudly when he announced his decision.
“It definitely was tough because a lot of kids here from Kennedy will go to Iowa and I won’t get to see them as much as I do now,” said French, who played both receiver and linebacker for Kennedy. “That’s why it took so long.
“I originally was supposed to make a decision a long time ago, but that’s how hard it was.”
French was seated at a table with his parents, his step-parents and Kennedy football coach Tim Lewis when he announced his decision.
There was also a hat from each of the three schools sitting on the table.
French provided a little drama by reaching for the Iowa cap. But then he turned and grabbed the Oregon cap and put it on his head.
“That was just a dramatic effect,” said French, who is ranked as the top recruit in Iowa and the 96th best prospect in the 2011 senior class by Rivals.com. “I didn’t want to offend anybody by doing that. It was just something I did to just mix it up a little bit.
“But I definitely knew which one I was going to choose.”
French will join an Oregon program that is one victory away from winning a national title. The Ducks will face Auburn in the BCS title game Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
Iowa, on the other hand, finished the regular season with a 7-5 record and with three consecutive losses after being ranked in the top 10 when the season began.
“That really had nothing to do with it,” French said of Oregon being more successful than Iowa this season. “It was just my personal feeling on what I felt they came to the table with.
“I felt at home (at Oregon). I felt at home at Iowa. But I felt I had to go away to grow up.”
French declined to say who finished second behind Oregon.
“There was no second,” he said. “It was that hard of a decision. Everybody was neck and neck. And I just finally chose one out of the group.”
French said he enjoyed his official visits to all three schools so much so that each of the three schools were at the top of his list for a brief time during the recruiting process.
“Every school that I went to after I went there I wanted to go there,” French said. “But then you’ve really got to think about it.”
Oregon recruited French to play tight end, whereas Iowa and Notre Dame liked him more at receiver and linebacker, respectively.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly spent about three hours at Kennedy on Tuesday making his sales pitch and learning more about French’s background and the people in his life.
Oregon tight end coach Tom Osborne accompanied Kelly on the trip to Cedar Rapids.
“When they came here, it felt right,” French said. “They came in with a plan and they did a very thorough job. And it wasn’t that the other schools didn’t. I prayed about it and just felt that was the right (decision) to make.”
Kelly, Osborne and Lewis were watching Kennedy’s basketball team practice Tuesday when Kelly suddenly disappeared. Lewis then noticed that Kelly was shooting baskets with Lewis’ son Matt, who is in the seventh grade.
“And they played for 20 minutes,” Lewis said. “And he’s sweating and he comes over and grabs a Gatorade.
“And while he was over there coach Osborne said that’s what I’m talking about. He’s not doing that to try and impress anybody. That’s just Chip Kelly. And that’s a perfect fit, I think.”
Lewis said Oregon also benefited from the fact that French would like to major in sports marketing.
The Oregon football program has a close relationship with Nike co-founder and chairman of the board Phil Knight. In addition to graduating from Oregon, Knight has made large financial contributions to the Oregon athletic department.
The Nike corporate office is also near the Oregon campus in Eugene, Ore.
“He loved Iowa, he loved the Iowa guys,” Tim Lewis said of French. “But really I think it came down to he wants to go into sports marketing.
“Nike is right there. And the guy that owns Nike is the one that pumped all the money into the school. You graduate from Oregon with a sports marketing degree, and you played football there, I think you’re very marketable.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football