CEDAR FALLS — Mark Farley doesn’t cringe when you go down the list of “Almost Panthers who became Hawkeyes.” The names keep coming up during the conversation, like over and over.
“I can go right down the list,” the Northern Iowa football coach said Monday. “There are those bubble guys who are all right there on the edge. Meyer, the kicker (former Hawkeye Mike Meyer, who graduated after climbing to second on Iowa’s career scoring list), we were in it with Michael. It was ‘If I don’t go there, I’m coming here,’ and he chose there at the end.”
Here are some of the other names: Tight end Allen Reisner (currently a Minnesota Viking) was committed to the Panthers out of Marion. Tight end Brandon Myers (a Tampa Bay Buccaneer) nearly ended up in Cedar Falls. Safety Tanner Miller (a free agent with the Packers after starting three years at Iowa) had UNI atop his list before Iowa called. Linebacker Bo Bower, a former West Branch prep who surprised in fall camp and is listed as a co-starter, had UNI on the list.
“Bo wasn’t committed, but he was considering us until the last day and then went down there,” Farley said. A few moments later, another name popped out. “(Iowa linebacker) Josey Jewell, he was another one,” Farley said.
Northern Iowa can claim one victory here. One pretty big victory, as in 6-3, 229-pound running back David Johnson.
Johnson had a nice career at Clinton High School, He was a Class 4A all-stater his senior year, when he helped the River Kings to an 11-1 record and accounted for 42 touchdowns. Iowa was interested to the point of offering a “gray shirt” offer. That wasn’t good enough.
“Coming out of high school, I didn’t even know what that was,” Johnson said. (By the way, a gray shirt is a promise for a scholarship in the second semester of your freshman year, leaving the prospect on the hook for tuition for a year). “I really didn’t want to take that on. (UNI) offered me a full ride and they had a couple of players who were from Clinton. I talked to them and they said it’s a great place to be and great atmosphere.”
Johnson jumped in with the Panthers with both feet. No doubts from day one.
“I kind of wanted to get my school paid for, so I didn’t have to be in debt,” Johnson said.
It’s been a great match for both sides. Johnson is No. 4 on UNI’s career rushing touchdowns list (32), No. 4 in career rushing yards (3,129) and No. 7 in points (264). He’s only the sixth UNI running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in two seasons. He’s just one of three players in UNI history to rush for 1,000 yards and receive for 1,000 yards. He currently has 1,198 receiving yards.
“This is an opportunity for David to get on the field against players who are wearing a different uniform and who are recognized as the best in the state,” Farley said. “He tends to step up to those moments.”
He absolutely does.
In four games against FBS schools, Johnson has gained 757 all-purpose yards. Against Iowa in 2012, he had 77 rushing yards and 77 receiving with a TD. Against Wisconsin in ‘12, he had 107 receiving yards and scored a pair of TDs. In the Panthers’ victory at Iowa State in 2013, Johnson rushed for 199 yards, had 41 receiving and scored four TDs in the 28-20 win.
“A couple of the schools didn’t look at me coming out of high school,” Johnson said. “That might give me a little bit more motivation to prove that they might’ve lost out on a player.”
Farley has no problems with how Iowa, usually late in the recruiting timeline, swoops in and steals a few gems. This is Farley’s 13th year as UNI’s head coach. He also played at UNI and is from Waukon. He knows what he’s up against when the Hawkeyes drop in.
“They’re fair and I have no qualms with what they do,” Farley said. “If they show up, and usually they’re showing up on Sunday or Monday of signing day week, hey, at least we knew we had the right player.”
— Iowa defensive tackle Darian Cooper, a 6-2, 282-pound junior, wrote on his Facebook page that he had successful knee surgery, but is out for the season. He didn’t participate in the Aug. 16 scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium. The nature of the injury is unknown. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has not updated Cooper’s status.
— Former Iowa running back Barkley Hill is No. 2 on the Panthers’ depth chart. He left Iowa after spring practice. If a player transfers to a school “down” a division (FBS schools offer 85 scholarships; FCS offer 65), he doesn’t have to sit out a year.
“Barkley has had a strong camp, he’s a strong runner,” Farley said. “He’s a lot like David in many facets. We can do similar things with either of them in the game.”
Michael Malloy, another former Iowa running back who left the team before spring, is on UNI’s roster, but isn’t in the two deeps.
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