IOWA CITY, Ia. — They arrive without stars in their eyes, but a chip on their shoulder.
They are walk-ons, looking to beat the odds, make their way to the field and earn a scholarship. They are the heart and soul of Iowa’s football program. Under-recruited underdogs.
“Those are the guys that kind of make us run,” offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said. “They seem to play a little different sometimes.”
Recruiting is an inexact science. And Division I programs, limited to 85 scholarships, can’t take everyone who intrigues them. The next step is convincing players to come as invited walk-ons.
Reese Morgan has scouted plenty of players in his 15 seasons at Iowa. A highly respected Iowa high school coach before joining Kirk Ferentz’s staff, the Hawkeyes’ defensive line coach has a checklist he follows when evaluating prospects.
The first thing on Morgan’s ledger is to see if a kid has a love for football, a passion for the game.
“That precedes everything,” Morgan said.
He’s got to be tough, with enough ability to possibly play a different position than he did in high school. He’s got to have character, a guy who competes. Morgan likes a player to be successful in areas other than football, whether than be in another sport or in the classroom.
How does Iowa discover these underrated gems? Sometimes it’s word of mouth. Sometimes it’s watching a player on tape, and another catches the eye. Maybe it’s in a camp.
Eighty-five scholarships go in a hurry. Sometimes, all you can offer is an opportunity. Everyone who comes wants to be the next Dallas Clark, arriving as a walk-on and ending his career in the NFL. So who is the next diamond in the rough?
It could be this guy: a 255-pound tight end in a single-wing offense as a high school senior who didn’t jump off tape as a Division I prospect. Morgan went to see him play basketball against Waverly-Shell Rock. He didn’t have the same skill set as Go-Hawks star Klint Carlson, now at Northern Iowa.
“But in terms of competing and trying to shut a guy down, and move around, he was really unbelievable,” Morgan said.
We introduce you to Boone Myers, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Webster City. Myers is listed as the No. 2 left guard on the most recent depth chart.
Myers was offered a partial scholarship by Northern Iowa. Ivy League schools don’t offer scholarships, but Harvard and Yale wanted him. South Dakota State took a look. Iowa State and Iowa offered walk-on opportunities.
“I’ve always been a Hawkeye fan,” Myers said. “There’s going to be nothing better than when I finally get out there, get some playing time and prove to people what I can do.”
Brian Ferentz said that Myers, who could also play tackle, and two more redshirt freshmen — current No. 1 left guard Sean Welsh and No. 2 left tackle Ike Boettger — are a precocious threesome.
“They don’t always act and think as freshmen,” Ferentz said. “And that’s going to give them a chance, I think, to help the football team.”
As he spoke, Myers was standing near Iowa’s Outland Trophy candidate, senior Brandon Scherff. Some days, when Myers feels practice is going good for him, Scherff will bring him back to reality.
“He’s running people over, and no one’s getting by him, and that’s your goal,’ Myers said. “You want to be like Brandon. He’s a good role model. You want to be like him when you’re his age.”
But getting on the field, earning a scholarship and proving people wrong are today’s goals.
“Not recruited by a lot of schools, and coming here as a walk-on even though it is my dream school, it does kind of leave a chip on your shoulder,” Myers said. “You just want to prove people wrong.”
And be the next Dallas Clark.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football