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Back home in Ohio

BY BRENDAN STILES | NOVEMBER 13, 2009 7:20 AM

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When thinking about recruiting in the world of college football, one will first think of states known for elite high-school football — Texas, California, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

Much like these states, Ohioans are fixated on football in their everyday lives. It’s why year in and year out, Ohio State is among the top football programs in the country. It’s why, over the past couple of years, Cincinnati has begun to establish itself as one of the nation’s best.

Ohio has also been kind to other programs.

The state provided Michigan with two Heisman Trophy winners during the 1990s. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, a former Ohio State defensive coordinator and Cincinnati head coach, has used the Buckeye State in recruiting.

It has also been kind to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

When Iowa plays at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Saturday, 13 Hawkeye players will return home.

Unfortunately for Iowa, one player who will venture back but not suit up this weekend is junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a native of Mentor, Ohio, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury on Nov. 7 during the Hawkeyes’ 17-10 loss to Northwestern.

But while ankle surgery is going to prevent Stanzi from playing on Saturday, he will still join the team in Columbus. And as he has every game this season, he will represent the team as a captain at midfield for the pregame coin toss.

Stanzi’s services won’t be at Iowa’s disposal, but those of other Ohioans will be.

Senior wide receiver Trey Stross hails from Avon Lake, Ohio. But what ultimately led him to Iowa was the chance to play on the offensive side of the ball, as opposed to playing defense, as most schools envisioned him doing during recruiting.

“The problem with me in high school was that I was highly recruited as a free safety and not a receiver,” Stross said during the team’s media day in August. “That’s one of the reasons why I came here.”

Also making a homecoming of sorts this weekend is junior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, a native of Campbell, Ohio, and an alumnus of Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, the same high school attended by the famous Stoops brothers, who played at Iowa in the 1980s.

Johnson-Koulianos admitted his affection growing up for the home state Scarlet and Gray. As a kid, he said, he dreamed of one day being a Buckeye, and he loved watching Ohio State wideouts perform, such as Michael Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, and Ted Ginn Jr., all of whom now play in the NFL.

But Johnson-Koulianos said he feels he made a wise decision to come to Iowa.

“Ohio State is one of the superior college football teams,” Johnson-Koulianos said during the team’s media day in August. “So naturally, I loved everything about them.

“I came to Iowa, and I’ll tell you right now, if I had to do it all over again, I would certainly be here, without question. I’m glad things turned out the way they did, and it has been a hell of a time here.”

With the Buckeyes having been off Iowa’s schedule the past two years, this game is one Stross said he, Johnson-Koulianos, and Stanzi all talked about when the three lived in the dorms.

“I remember Derrell and I used to be roommates two years ago, and we used to talk about that day,” Stross said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun just to have your friends and family be at the game, because they usually don’t make the travel out here.”

With Stanzi sidelined, Stross and Johnson-Koulianos are now the two most prominent Ohioans on the Iowa roster. But they are not the only players from the Buckeye State who have played significant roles for Iowa.

Sophomore linebacker Bruce Davis, who recovered a critical onside kick in the Hawkeyes’ 35-3 win at Iowa State on Sept. 12, is a native of Cleveland. Sophomore defensive back William Lowe, who played in place of an injured Jordan Bernstine and suspended Shaun Prater early in the season, also hails from Cleveland.

Clearly, Ohio is one of the states head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff place the greatest emphasis on when it comes to recruiting.

“I think we’ve focused a little bit more and invested more time probably on Big Ten area states,” Ferentz said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

In Saturday’s game, these native Ohioans are ready to represent the Hawkeyes. Add in that the winner of Saturday’s showdown wins the Big Ten and heads to the Rose Bowl, and it shapes out just the way Johnson-Koulianos envisioned in the summer.

“It’s going to be a hell of a ball game. I know that,” he said. “We’re going to go there, and we understand the magnitude of a game like that, playing Ohio State, in November, at ‘The Horseshoe.”


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