IOWA CITY — He identified the play and reacted to it so quickly, he was just a blur on television. Literally.
Michigan ran a speed option in the second quarter of its game against the Iowa Hawkeyes in early October. The pitch went from quarterback Shea Patterson to running back Zach Charbonnet, who appeared to have all kinds of room, certainly enough to pick up what was a third-and-9.
But Geno Stone sprinted from his strong safety position to Charbonnet and made a brilliant open-field tackle that limited Charbonnet to 3 yards. Michigan punted.
It was an indelible moment from a player whose career arc at Iowa still is pointing up.
“Some guys just have a knack for doing things better than others,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think that defies the measureables (of the player) ... They work at it, and they are very, very determined. Geno is certainly that way.”
Stone’s story has been well told. The junior from New Castle, Pa., was a huge Penn State fan who was so despondent his dream school wasn’t going to offer him a scholarship that he was going to pass up an official visit to Iowa.
His mother, Erin, all but started the car for him, telling him to stop feeling sorry for himself and hit the road. He did, and the rest is history.
Stone made the starting lineup in the sixth game last season and went on to become an honorable mention all-Big Ten Conference player. Just the latest in a line of under-recruited defensive backs who have shined for the Hawkeyes.
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Think Josh Jackson, Micah Hyde, Amani Hooker and Desmond King, all playing these days in the NFL.
“Kent State and the Patriot League schools were looking at him, too,” Ferentz said. “He’s just a good football player. Maybe he’s not quite tall enough, not quite fast enough, but he plays good football. I hate to use the word ‘instinct,’ because it makes it sound like a guy doesn’t work at it. He works at it. Instinctive players tend to be guys who study and get a little edge through being smart players. He’s a smart football player. He was a quarterback (in high school), so that probably helps, too. He’s just a good, all-around football player that other people thought maybe wasn’t quite (good enough). But we thought he was good enough.”
Stone was asked Tuesday what he thought about his play in 2019. His interception total has dwindled from four last season to one so far this season, though he ranks third on the team in tackles.
He did a great job helping Iowa weather a spate of injuries in the secondary earlier in the season, both at cornerback and free safety. The Hawkeyes host unbeaten Minnesota Saturday afternoon at 3 at Kinnick Stadium.
“Me, personally, yeah, I definitely feel like I took a step in my game,” Stone said. “Being a leader, just being a field general out there. Trying to help the defense as much as I can. Definitely my run-game support I feel like I took another step. Just tried the best that I can.
“As a team, I think we’ve taken a step (defensively), too. We’ve stopped the run very well, we’ve kind of limited the big plays. Last week (a loss to Wisconsin) hurts a lot. But, as a whole, I feel like we’ve definitely taken a step forward.”
Stone isn’t big at 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, which probably hurt his recruiting. It’s just that he plays big.
He thinks bigger this season.
“The passing game last year, I feel like I played exceptionally well,” he said. “Had four picks and everything like that. I don’t have those same numbers as last year that way, but I wanted to be more into the run game. I feel like I probably missed some tackles last year that I shouldn’t have missed. I have probably missed some this year, too, but I feel like I’m playing way better.”
Stone was asked what’s next.
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“Just take the next step,” he said. “I mean, there is always room for improvement. So I’m just trying to put it all together from here on.”
Is he an all-Big Ten player?
“I would say that I am,” Stone said. “But that’s not up to me. That’s up to the Big Ten, everyone else. But myself, I feel like I am. I was honorable mention last year, blessed to have that. But, yeah, I feel like I have improved.”
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