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Catching on quickly

BY SCOTT MILLER | OCTOBER 09, 2009 7:20 AM

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Kirk Ferentz remembers recruiting Greg Mathews in 2005. The then-No. 8 wide receiver in the country quickly thereafter decided to go to Michigan instead of Iowa.

The 11-year head coach also remembers recruiting Cedar Rapids native Adrian Arrington in 2002, only to have the highest-ranked player in the state sign with — you guessed it — Michigan, instead.

Ferentz will continue to recruit the top-flight wide receivers in the Midwest, but he knows Iowa’s run-first offense, which rarely features a down-the-field passing game, isn’t all too appealing to those wideout prospects with realistic chances of making it to the NFL.

In fact, since 2002, current true freshman and Cedar Rapids native Keenan Davis is the only four-star wide receiver recruit to sign with the Hawkeyes.

“Typically guys like that go to Michigan, and we try to find guys who can evolve into receivers, or find ways to fill positions,” Ferentz said.

Indeed, Ferentz has recruited high-school quarterbacks, running backs, defensive backs, and even track stars to be future Hawkeye wide receivers. In 2003, then-running back Andy Brodell signed with Iowa as an athlete. Five years later, the Ankeny native had posted 94 catches for 1,422 yards and nine touchdowns as a wide receiver in his Hawkeye career.

Similarly, junior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa’s leading receiver in 2008, was a high-school quarterback and running back. Junior Paul Chaney Jr., played defensive back, running back, and quarterback at St. Louis University High School, while also placing second nationally in the 200-meter dash. And sophomore Marvin McNutt was an accomplished high-school quarterback and basketball player at Hazelwood Central High School in St. Louis.

“If I were a high-school coach, I would definitely have … one of my best athletes playing quarterback,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s what most people do. A lot of times you find good [college] players at that position — guys who are going to be receivers, running backs, or [defensive backs].”

Trey Stross and Colin Sandeman are the only two current Iowa receivers listed on the team’s two-deep to exclusively play wideout as high-school seniors.

Despite Iowa’s apparent hodgepodge at wide receiver, the Hawkeyes have been able to have “a couple throws and catches I hadn’t seen in a decade,” Ferentz said.

As recently as the beginning of 2008, McNutt was listed as the team’s third-string quarterback. He officially made the switch to wide receiver during the 2008 season, and he has since looked the part, catching 12 balls for 242 yards. McNutt’s two-touchdown performance against Arkansas State on Oct. 3 served as his official coming-out party.

“Receiver is not really a tough position to pick up,” Stross said. “I know when I was in high school, the first two years I played quarterback, too. … It’s not really the hardest position because all you do is really run routes and catch the ball. They have done a good job; they’ve learned pretty fast.”

Both Johnson-Koulianos and Chaney made a seamless transition from their high-school positions to wide receiver, and now they’re the ones tutoring Davis, the true freshman who came into Iowa with his fair share of hype.

This season, and in the past with players such as Brodell, Ferentz is proving that he doesn’t need blue-chip, prototypical wide receivers to have a successful passing game.

His hodgepodge works just fine.

“I tried to make the best of it, because I had this thought in my mind for a while before they came to me that I might want to move to wide receiver,” McNutt said. “When they came to me, [I started thinking], ‘OK, there’s your opportunity, what are you going to do with it?’ ”


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