116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WAVERLY — From hell and back to causing hell for defenders.
Drake George’s journey hasn’t been as smooth as expected, including a short-lived experience at Iowa Western after high school. His path led to Hawkeye Community College, where he considered becoming a truck driver.
Mom talked him out of driving semis. Best friend and cousin, Freddie Hosch, encouraged him to join him at Wartburg. A call from Knights football coach Chris Winter was the clincher to lace up the cleats and pad up again.
So, after a detour and brief stall, George’s winding road led him to the Knights and a college football field. The former Western Dubuque all-state wide receiver is making the most of his opportunity.
George leads Wartburg in receptions and receiving yards after the first two games. In the season opener, he hauled in a 36-yard touchdown pass and surpassed the 100-yard mark with eight catches the following week. The Knights (1-1) host Coe (3-0) on Saturday at Walston-Hoover Stadium, beginning at 1 p.m.
“I’ve gone through hell and back,” George said. “Really, I’ve matured and learned a lot. I’ve been working toward playing that first game, getting back out there. Scoring that touchdown and being with teammates, getting the win. It means the world to be back out here playing.”
The 5-foot-9, 181-pound wideout was a highly-touted recruit, tallying 1,165 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on 74 catches and helping the Bobcats reach the Class 3A state title game in 2018. He had aspirations for NCAA Division I football, but had been on Wartburg’s radar since a visit his junior season. Despite opting for the NJCAA route, Winter continued to follow him.
“The guy is showing flashes of what he had going on in high school,” Winter said. “Obviously, he was a great prep. A big-time high school player and someone who played in the state championship game. He had a lot of success there his junior and senior year of high school.”
George floundered without football. He just passed the time without any inspiration or motivation. Winter’s call and Hosch’s persuasion finally got him out of a funk.
“At the time, it sounded like a great thing for me, because I didn’t have any ambition,” said George, who is studying social work. “I felt Wartburg could be the place I could get back on track and be competitive. Be with a lot of great guys and coaches.”
Another factor was his family. George recalled their support and pride in his football achievements. He wanted to give them more reasons to cheer.
“My family absolutely loved to watch me play,” George said. “I was doing nothing at Hawkeye. I felt like if I can’t make my family proud doing that, then why am I wasting my time, making nobody proud?
“Football anchors me now. It gives me the structure I needed.”
George arrived on campus in the midst of the pandemic and just before the 2020 football season was canceled. The American Rivers Conference spring season didn’t result in a single game for Wartburg. George used the year to train and regain football shape.
“It’s definitely challenging,” Winter said. “We’ve seen guys try it and it didn’t work out for them. It’s one thing to have that success at the high school level. It takes commitment and work ethic, but when you jump up to the college level, he’s had to put in a lot of work.
“Drake has really pushed himself. There’s a physical aspect, getting yourself into shape and getting conditioned to be ready to play at the college level. There is also the mental aspect, learning an advanced system and new terminology. That was probably the bigger challenge and he’s done a nice job making the adjustment.”
George recalled the first time facing experienced and talented defenders in practice. He received a taste of reality and realized plenty of work remained.
“It was humbling,” George said. “Part of me thought I could just come back and I’d be the same old me that I was.
“College football is a different speed and physicality. I was working back to that and even now I have a long way to go. I’m not where I need to be.”
George has demonstrated his ability in the first two games this season. He can serve as a slot receiver and can be asked to stretch the field – something he did a lot for Western Dubuque. George has 10 catches for 144 yards.
“We got the ball to him in space,” Winter said. “He did what I remember him doing, making guys miss, yards after catch. He’s the type of guy that can get himself open. He’s a good route runner. We expect to see him continue on that trend.
“It’s been great to see. I’m happy for him.”
And that first touchdown reception?
“Over the past couple years, working toward this, getting back into shape and getting football ready, I need that one to make it feel real again,” George said. “All this time in the offseason we’re practicing and practicing, doing all this stuff and not getting games. It felt real but I didn’t feel like I was a football player again yet.”
George isn’t content with the early-season contribution. He has his sights on bigger goals, but appreciates the chance to be back on the field.
“I’m just trying to take it week by week, day by day,” George said. “We have a great squad. I think any one of our receivers can put up numbers. We have a super-talented team. I’m getting more comfortable in coach’s system. (Quarterback) Jace (Moore) and I are starting to get a pretty good connection. I’m hoping I can continue to help the team. Put up numbers that can benefit us.”