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Hawkeyes find football talent close to home

[ 2 ] August 26, 2011 |

One way to measure the success of the Solon football program is by counting state titles, a number that currently stands at four in a row.

There are subtle reminders, too, including the Iowa’s football team’s 2011 preseason depth chart of all places.

Of the 24 players listed as starters, only two — sophomore middle linebacker James Morris and junior strong safety Collin Sleeper — attended the same high school, that being Solon.

“Obviously, they’re great kids and very talented kids,” said Solon football coach Kevin Miller. “I’m proud of not only what they did at Solon, but what they’re doing at Iowa.

“I think they’re ambassadors of our program and of what Iowa football symbolizes as well, and that’s playing the game the way it was intended to be played. They play hard and they play physical. They’re coachable.”

City High also has two graduates on Iowa’s depth chart, including junior James Ferentz, who is the starting center and the son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Redshirt freshman A.J. Derby is the other former Little Hawk listed on the big Hawk’s two-deep as the co-backup quarterback.

Throw in former Mid-Prairie star Tanner Miller, who’s listed as the No. 2 free safety, and that’s five players on Iowa’s preseason depth chart with local ties.

“It’s something to be proud of,” said Morris, who started six games as a true freshman last season. “People in those towns I think should be proud of that.

“It’s something we take pride in. I think it’s cool.”

Tanner Miller used to be a rival of Sleeper and Morris in high school, but there was always a mutual respect.

They now have plenty to reminisce about.

“It’s awesome to know that you’ve got teammates from the same conference as you, 2A football players at Iowa,” said Miller, who led his high school team to a 19-5 record as a junior and senior. “We’re really good friends, and we obviously share some stories back in high school.”

Morris was the first member of Iowa’s 2010 recruiting class to commit to the Hawkeyes before his junior year of high school.

Tanner Miller then received one of the last scholarships for the 2010 class late in the recruiting process.

Sleeper, on the other hand, came to Iowa as a walk-on and was willing to play wherever the coaches put him.

Kevin Miller said he isn’t surprised by Sleeper’s rise up the depth chart because Miller knew what Iowa was getting in terms of an all-around player.

Sleeper missed part of his senior season at Solon with a thumb injury. But he returned in time to help lead the Spartans to the first of four consecutive state titles in 2007 as a running back and defensive back.

Sleeper and Morris formed an overpowering one-two punch in the backfield that paved the way through the playoffs.

“They were a pair back there, I’ll tell you that,” Kevin Miller said. “They were both very quick and elusive and powerful.”

Sleeper and Tanner Miller are both listed at 6-2, which is at least an inch taller than Iowa’s previous two starting safeties, Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood.

Tanner Miller also was an all-state basketball player in high school in addition to being a state-champion hurdler.

Kevin Miller said he thinks kids from in state sometimes get overlooked as athletes because Iowa isn’t known for producing many.

“I think people dismiss the fact that they’re athletic or have some of the same characteristics as a player from Chicago or Ohio,” Kevin Miller said. “That’s something you hear frequently from people.

“That’s just a small-town player (from Iowa) compared to kid from Ohio or Pennsylvania or California or wherever football is certainly king.”

Tanner Miller and Morris were among nine true freshmen to play for Iowa last season.

“You don’t really have an idea if you’re going to redshirt or not when you come in here,” Tanner Miller said. “You just try to play to the best of your ability and that’s just how it happened to work out.

“I think I’m where I’m at based on talent. When I came in here I just wanted to learn the best I could from the guys older. All I could do is take care of what I could control. And all I did was play to the best of my ability. And that’s just how it happened to work out.”

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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