IOWA CITY — Sometimes in college football, you meet your best friend for life in line waiting to do a drill.
It probably went down that way between Geno Stone and Amani Hooker. Stone came to Iowa in 2017 as a 2-star recruit who was talked into Iowa over Kent State because of late offers and the poker game that is college football recruiting. Hooker’s story wasn’t all that different. The only real difference is Stone is from Pennsylvania and Hooker is from Minneapolis.
Hooker also was a year older. So, after his turn as Iowa’s cash safety last year, Hooker saw an opportunity to jump to the NFL and he took it. Hooker also was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year in 2018. He ended the season with four interceptions and was No. 2 on the Hawkeyes with 65 tackles. He also tied for the team lead with seven pass breakups.
Hooker had a resume that told him he probably was ready to go. This season, Hooker has 19 tackles going into the Tennessee Titans’ next round of the playoffs.
Hooker was drafted in the fourth round and signed a four-year contract worth $3.2 million with a signing bonus of more than $700,000.
“Geno and Amani Hooker are tight,” Iowa defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker said. “Obviously, there’s some transactions and they’re still friends.”
It’s quite an influence when you see your friend and the player you probably learned a lot from getting paid. That’s a strong, strong pull.
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But in the end, Stone knew he had to make his own decision and a lot went into Stone’s social media post Monday that said he’s headed to the NFL.
“I asked Amani how hard it was to leave and step away from the program,” Stone said. “It’s not like you want to let your teammates down. You want to come back. You want to finish with your class, but at the same time, you’re trying to do what’s best for you.”
What is best for Stone?
Safety becomes a numbers game in the draft. Last year, 19 safeties were picked. Hooker was the 11th. The top safety was the Green Bay Packers’ Darnell Savage. He went No. 21 and received a four-year, $12.5 million contract and a $7.1 million signing bonus.
Hooker was the 11th safety picked. Penn State safety Nick Scott was the last safety picked in the draft, going in the seventh round and signing for a $77,000 signing bonus.
That’s the financial range.
Stone, a second-team all-Big Ten pick on the coaches ballot and honorable mention on the media ballot, already knows his speed and athleticism will be in the crosshairs.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Stone said. “The measurables could be a big part of it. I can’t change my height (5-10), I can change my weight (210). I don’t see a crazy growth spurt happening. But my speed, that’s something I’m going to have to work on after the season is over.
“If I leave this year, I’m going to have to work on my speed. If I leave next year, I’m going to have to work on my speed. In my head, that’s not going to make the decision. Either way, I’m going to have to work on my speed. It’ll come down to what I feel the most comfortable with.”
So what will the Hawkeyes look like at safety in 2020?
Defensive coordinator/secondary coach Phil Parker has an eye for the Iowa prep walk-on grinder types, and he hit the jackpot last year with junior free safety Jack Koerner, whose profile went from zero to 60 mph last season. Koerner had a pick, broke up five passes and finished second on the team with 81 tackles.
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The player who should have an immediate opportunity in front of him is sophomore Kaevon Merriweather, who started the first game, suffered a foot injury and then ended up taking a redshirt. The 6-0, 210-pounder showed the brains and skill to make a start last fall, so he’s got a resume. Sophomore Dane Belton could make the move from cash safety, too. Merriweather, Belton and maybe Dallas Craddieth and Sebastian Castro gain some ground.
“It’s kind of hard thinking about it,” Stone said in the Holiday Bowl postgame. “I got kind of emotional about it. It’s hard to leave something like this after a win. You just think so much about leaving all of your brothers. I have one more year left, but at the same time, I want to do what’s best for me.”
So, 19 safeties drafted with a range of signing bonuses from $7.1 million to $77,000. It’ll be interesting to see where Stone fits.
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