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Harty: Future of Iowa receivers could be faster

[ 0 ] September 13, 2012 |

There is no way to make the Iowa football team faster at receiver this season, but the issue is being addressed.

Iowa’s 2013 recruiting class currently has 16 high school seniors in it and four likely will play receiver in college, including St. Louis natives Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Andre Harris. They both made verbal commitments to Iowa on back-to-back days in June.

The other two receiver recruits are Derrick Willies from Rock Island, Ill., and Matt VandeBerg from Brandon, S.D. VandeBerg accepted a gray-shirt offer, which means he won’t immediately be put on scholarship at Iowa.

“They’re all very good athletes,” veteran recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. “Then it’s just a matter of breaking them into the program. But they’re all good.”

Lemming said they’re all fast, too, which should bring a smile to first-year Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis. He said after being hired that Iowa needed more speed at the receiver positions.

The Iowa passing attack has looked out of sync and has failed to produce a touchdown after two games. The struggles can be blamed on dropped passes, poorly thrown passes, but also to a lack of separation and playmaking by the receivers.

Iowa is ranked 112th in total offense with a 286-yard average heading into Saturday’s game against Northern Iowa and 97th in passing offense with a 182.5 per-game average.

Lemming, who has been evaluating high school football prospects for more than 30 years, thinks speed might be the greatest strength for each of Iowa’s four receiver recruits.

Willies is an accomplished hurdler in track and the biggest of the four receiver recruits, listed at 6-foot-3 and 190-pounds. He caught three touchdown passes in his most recent high school game last weekend.

“He’s another guy who can separate after catching it,” Lemming said of Willies, who transferred to Rock Island High School last January after earning all-state recognition at Burlington High School as a junior. “He’s a big, physical guy. He has legitimate big-time speed and is a red zone threat. I went and saw him and I thought he was big time.”

Lemming also raved about the speed and playmaking skills of Harris and Mitchell. He said Harris and Mitchell have been clocked at 4.4 and 4.5 seconds, respectively, in the 40-yard dash, which, if accurate, would be an upgrade for the Hawkeyes.

“I made three trips to St. Louis and I sat down and talked about (Harris),” Lemming said. “He’s slightly built, but explosive.”

Harris is listed at 5-11, but only weighs 157 pounds, while Mitchell carries 185 pounds on a 6-foot frame.

Mitchell also carries quite a load for his high school team, playing quarterback, receiver and defensive back in addition to returning kicks.

“Mitchell is a real good catch for (Iowa),” Lemming said.

Mitchell has 193 receiving yards and 118 rushing yards after three games. He also has scored four touchdowns and made an impact on defense.

“He’s definitely a playmaker,” said Reginald Ferguson, who is Mitchell’s coach at Vashon High School in St. Louis. “He’s very talented. He has an ability to make big plays once the ball is in his hands.

“For us, he’s very versatile. He’s been recruited as a defensive back. He’s a special teams’ guy. He’s just a phenomenal athlete. But his natural position is wide receiver.”

As for VandeBerg, he’s been on Lemming’s radar for quite a while, earning a spot in Lemming’s preseason magazine before his junior and senior seasons.

“I really like him a lot,” Lemming said of VandeBerg, who returned a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown in his last game. “He can run. He’s another sprinter.”

With Willies now attending Rock Island High School, all four of Iowa’s receiver recruits are from out of state, which is not unusual.

The state of Iowa rarely produces receivers who are capable of playing at the BCS level.

Ferentz’s job would be easier if home-grown receivers such as Tim Dwight, who attended City High, came along on a regular basis. Dwight was a dynamic performer and one of the fastest players to ever wear an Iowa uniform as evidenced by his success as a sprinter in track.

He and Tavian Banks, a former star running back from Bettendorf, played at Iowa from 1994-97 and formed arguably the most explosive homegrown one-two punch in the program’s history.

“That doesn’t happen a lot,” Ferentz said. “So that’s one that’s kind of burnt in there.”

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

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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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