Iowa coaches being rewarded for their belief in lightly recruited defensive back Geno State

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Geno Stone and the Iowa defense leave the field after a third down stop at Minnesota. Photo by Jeff Yoder

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Geno Stone’s story has been told over and over, but it never gets old.

The names change, but the angle to the story doesn’t.

You should know the angle by now: Kirk Ferentz and his assistant coaches see something in a high school player that every other power five coaching staff in the country doesn’t see, and that player goes on to reward the Iowa coaches for their trust and vision with his performance on the field.

Stone is the latest to join that long and now distinguished list, but not without some drama, frustration and hesitation.

Stone grew up in the western Pennsylvania town of New Castle, and though, he wasn’t a Penn State fan as kid, by his sophomore year in high school, it had become his dream school.

Stone wanted to be a Nittany Lion so badly that he took by his count nine unofficial visits during his senior year, but never was offered a scholarship. He was told several times his senior year that a scholarship was coming, only to be disappointed.

Stone eventually committed to Kent State from the Mid-American Conference, but then Michigan State came poking around. Stone was set to visit Michigan State late in the recruiting process, and to pledge his allegiance to the Spartans, but his visit was cancelled by Michigan State because it had filled all of its scholarships for defensive backs.

By then, Stone was so frustrated and tired with the recruiting process that he figured his best option would be to honor his commitment to Kent State, even with Iowa showing late interest.

But Stone’s mother, Erin Stone, had other plans.

She intervened and convinced her son to at least give Iowa some consideration.

Geno didn’t want to visit Iowa at first, but his mother’s persistence and persuasion eventually paid off and the rest is now a story that just keeps getting better, and that will add a key chapter on Saturday when 18th-ranked Iowa plays at No. 17 Penn State.

Stone doesn’t have much time to dwell on the past, but he said Tuesday that being passed over by Penn State still bothers him.

“There is days I think about it, but I try to put the past in the past and move on with the future and see what I can do now,” Stone said.

Stone is doing a lot right now for an Iowa defense that is ranked second in the conference in total defense behind Michigan, allowing just 258.1 yards per game.

He has started the last two games at strong safety and could start there again on Saturday depending on what defensvie formation Iowa plans to use agaisnt Penn State.

Stone also played a significant role on special teams as a true freshman last season while seeing action in all 13 games. His playing time increased as the 2017 season progressed.

“When I first got here, I thought I was going to redshirt,” Stone said. “But I was making plays in like individual drills for special teams and they put me on the kickoff team the second weeks of camp.

“And then later on in the season I gained more confidence each week in what I was doing preparing. The older guys showed me how to prepare for each game. So later on in the season when my time was called on me, I just knew I was ready for it.”

Stone carries 209 pounds on a muscular 5-foot-11 frame. He earned first-team all-state honors as a high school senior in a state loaded with Division I prospects, and yet, the big-time schools barely paid attention to him.

“My first question when I saw film (of him) was, ‘What is wrong with this guy? Did he rob a bank?’” Kirk Ferentz said to reporters on Tuesday. “He looked like a good player to me.”

Stone was asked on Tuesday why he thinks the major programs passed on him.

“They kept saying because of my size and my speed, that was the main reason,” Stone said. “But my football instincts make up for my speed.

“I don’t know why they said my size. But it is what it is.”

Whatever the case, their loss is certainly Iowa’s gain.

Nobody is ready to call Stone the second coming of former Iowa All-America defensive back Bob Sanders because there is only one Bob Sanders.

But their stories are similar in that they both grew up in western Pennsylvania and picked Iowa over a MAC school. Sanders picked Iowa in 2000 over his only other scholarship offer from Ohio.

The Iowa coaches mentioned Sanders a lot while recruiting Stone, along with former All-America cornerback and 2016 Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King, who also had picked Iowa over two schools from the MAC.

Sanders would go on to become a Hawkeye legend, and a star for the Indianapolis Colts before retiring in 2011, while King is showing signs of stardom in his second season with the Los Angeles Chargers.

“They told me that a lot about Bob and Desmond King,” Stone said. “That was one of the main things when they first started recruiting me, telling me I was like one of those guys. It’s probably one of the best things to be called after what they did for this program and what they did in the NFL.”

Stone is the latest in a long line of unheralded players who have thrived under Ferentz at Iowa. He isn’t even halfway through his Hawkeye career, but is already making a significant contribution without having been redshirted.

Stone is yet another example of what makes Ferentz special. Ferentz has a knack for seeing talent and potential where other coaches and talent evaluators don’t see it.

Ferentz also has built a program, and an environment at Iowa where under-recruited players can reach their potential.

So Stone owes a lot to his mother for convincing him to give Iowa a closer look because that decision has changed the course of his young life.

“She was like ‘Don’t pass up an opportunity. You never know what’s going to happen,’” Stone said Tuesday. “I thank my mom every day for that, for making me come here. That’s probably one of the best decisions (I’ve made).

“I was tired of those schools messing with me, so I had decided ‘I’m just going to stay close to home.’ But my mom pushed me to come out here. When I got here, I loved it, loved everything about it, so I got home and made my decision to come here.”