Iowa Football

Geno Stone fulfills dream of playing at Penn State, only as member of Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Geno Stone reacts after making a tackle against Penn State last year at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Geno Stone reacts after making a tackle against Penn State last year at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Mom knows best. Never, ever forget that.

Geno Stone won’t, for sure. Without her prodding, he wouldn’t have ended up playing football at the University of Iowa.

The sophomore safety had a dream school, and it was not the Hawkeyes, but their opponent Saturday. He’d been to camps at Penn State, at least two handfuls of games over the years, and on nine unofficial visits to campus as a senior at New Castle (Pa.) High School.

That’s near Youngstown, Ohio, approximately 160 miles from State College. In the end, Penn State broke his heart and never extended him a scholarship.

“They talked to me, told me I was a guy they wanted,” Stone said. “They told me my senior year that they were going to offer me in the next couple of weeks, but they never did ... That kind of hurt me. It is what it is. I ended up here.”

Not before a little more drama.

Stone had a visit lined up the final two weeks of recruiting season two winters ago with Michigan State. He went so far as to tell Spartans coaches he was all in with them.

Then that dream died, too. MSU called him back, canceling his trip because it had three other defensive backs already lined up.

Understandably frustrated, Stone became dead set on honoring his original commitment to Kent State. He was more than done with this whole recruiting thing, even though Iowa had come in late and was showing sincere interest.

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“My first question when I saw film (of him) was, ‘What is wrong with this guy? Did he rob a bank?’” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He looked like a good player to me.”

Iowa asked Stone to make an official visit, but he balked.

“I didn’t want to come,” he said. “I didn’t know where Iowa was on the map or anything. Didn’t know anything about it. So I was like ‘No, I don’t want to go.’”

Then Erin Stone stepped in. She implored her son to at least give the school some consideration.

It was the Big Ten Conference, she told him. Take a visit, and see what it’s like.

No harm in that.

“She was like ‘Don’t pass up an opportunity. You never know what’s going to happen,’” Geno said. “I thank my mom every day for that, for making me come here. That’s probably one of the best decisions (I’ve made).

“I was tired of those schools messing with me, so I had decided ‘I’m just going to stay close to home.’ But my mom pushed me to come out here. When I got here, I loved it, loved everything about it, so I got home and made my decision to come here.”

Stone played last season as a true freshman, primarily on special teams. Injuries have given him an opportunity this season at strong safety, with Amani Hooker moving down into the box against teams who use multiple-receiver sets.

He has not looked out of place whatsoever, appearing to be another in a long line of under-looked recruits who eventually develop and flourish in Iowa City. That’s the cornerstone of Iowa’s program.

“I know he’s not quite fast enough, maybe not quite tall enough, (but) we said the same thing about Micah Hyde,” Ferentz said. “Not comparing the two, yet, (but) he does a lot of things really well. That’s where the similarity is in my mind.

“Micah wasn’t, I wouldn’t call him a flashy player or ‘wow’ player. (But) I wish we had 30 of those guys on a team like him. He was so good as a football player. Geno is a little bit understated, but he’s got a good energy to him. Again, he’s not the tallest guy, fastest guy, but I think he’s a pretty good football player. For what we do, he fits in pretty well. Seems to be our kind of guy.”

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Stone said he heard a lack of speed and size was what deterred a lot of big-time programs from recruiting him. He especially doesn’t understand that second knock, considering he’s a solid 5-foot-11 and 209 pounds.

He said Iowa’s pitch included throwing out names like Desmond King and fellow Pennsylvania native Bob Sanders. He could be like them, the Hawkeyes told him.

Stone’s uncle actually played against Sanders and his team in the Pennsylvania state semifinals back in the day, so he was familiar with the former NFL Pro Bowler.

Speaking of Pennsylvania, he’s very much looking forward to making that trip back home Saturday. He’ll be playing a game at Beaver Stadium, even if it’s not in the way he always had envisioned.

“I know how the atmosphere is in the stands,” Stone said. “As a player, I know it’s going to be loud, noisy, going to be a great atmosphere to play in. There will be 110,000 people there cheering against you. But it’s going to be great to be there.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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