CEDAR RAPIDS — Many Iowa State fans and alumni live in this city, but geography is geography. The University of Iowa is a half-hour from Cedar Rapids, Iowa State almost two hours.
OK, fine. But the only high school that claims three players who are prominent on the 2019 Cyclones is Cedar Rapids Washington. With two starters in senior offensive tackle Julian Good-Jones and sophomore middle linebacker O’Rien Vance, and a receiver in the rotation in junior Landen Akers, the Warriors are big in Ames.
Throw in starting offensive tackle Bryce Meeker (Prairie), and you have a Cedar Rapids quartet.
Good-Jones has started 38 straight games for ISU. Akers made his presence felt last season with a 55-yard reception in an upset win at nationally-ranked Oklahoma State.
Vance had two tackles for losses in that game at Stillwater, but his breakthrough was in his first career start, the Cyclones’ 29-26 triple-overtime win over Northern Iowa in this season’s opener. He had two quarterback sacks and eight tackles.
“I was literally trying not to cry watching it because I was so happy,” said Washington head football coach Maurice Blue. “I was like ‘Oh my God, he’s doing it!’
“That’s the guy they’ve been waiting for. He’s getting it figured out and it’s just fun to see.”
Blue didn’t overlook his other two guys, saying “Julian’s Julian. He’s been a four-year starter, and Landen’s out there making plays (he had a 21-yard reception against UNI). It’s just fun watching those guys do it.”
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The three players come from a time when Washington had five straight state playoff appearances, from 2013 to 2017. That included a 13-1 record and state runner-up finish in 2014.
They go back to a time when former Warriors head coach Tony Lombardi coached the three and other Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area middle school-aged boys on a summer travel team called the Longhorns.
“Julian was convinced he was a basketball player back then,” Lombardi said. “He was 6-5 and he ran pretty well.
“I told him, ‘Julian, you’re a 6-5 low post player. I don’t care how many AAU games you play in, you’re not playing in the NBA.' I didn’t say it to be mean.
“Julian’s got a chance to be in the NFL. We had that conversation when he was a freshman in high school.”
Akers, Lombardi said, “never aspired to be a football player back then. He was a track athlete. I knew if he played football he had a chance to play at the next level.
“He was a good defensive back, good at changing directions. But he has long strides and he’s fast. I said, ‘You’re a receiver, man.’”
Lombardi, as you can surmise, liked for his high school players to play where they had the best chance to fit in college ball. Vance, he said, could easily have been plugged in at running back in high school and earlier.
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“At a lot of high schools, he might have been a tailback,” Lombardi said. “You could run the ‘I,' go conservative, make less mistakes. I knew O’Rien could play right where he’s playing. When he played linebacker (on the Longhorns) the action went away from him and he could run down anything and make plays.”
Three contributors from one high school on one D-I team isn’t a rarity, but it’s uncommon. The only Iowa high schools with two players on the Hawkeyes’ latest two-deeps are West Des Moines Dowling and Woodbury Central. The latter sent offensive line twins Landan and Levi Paulsen.
Good-Jones was a 2015 Iowa Shrine Bowl teammate of the Paulsens of Moville. Tuesday, Landan bragged that Woodbury Central also has offensive linemen Kurt Countryman at Northern Iowa and Austin Rapp at Division II Chadron (Neb.) State.
“That’s really, really cool,” Landan said. “I’m from a town of 1,500 people and I graduated with 38 kids.”
He said the trio of players from Washington at Iowa State is “great for Cedar Rapids. If you have three guys at the D-I level from any school, it’s incredible.”
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