IOWA CITY — Mark Farley had his free safety of the future. Then, two days before signing day in 2010, Kirk Ferentz made a phone call to Farley’s future free safety.
Tanner Miller had an idea what was coming. His dad tipped him off. On a yellow school bus and on way home from a Mid-Prairie prep basketball game, Ferentz called and Miller committed.
Back to the drawing board for Farley, who simply shrugged.
“Yeah, we lost Tanner Miller,” Farley said. “Tanner was great, his family was great. We lost him I think it was on Monday night and signing day was Wednesday. We got the phone call on Monday morning.
“They were great about it and it didn’t surprise me. He was a great player, great hurdler, great young man. It was close to home for him. He’s done very, very well.”
Miller, now a junior, is in his second season as Iowa’s starting free safety. He has 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup this season.
Miller is busy with what’s in front of him. He’s not into the parallel universe of “what if.” He’s where he wants to be, but he does remember the conversation with Farley after the late jilt.
“He understood,” Miller said. “It was kind of a situation he’d been in before, with Brandon Myers. It was kind of the same way. They understood. I’m thankful both teams gave me the opportunity to play.”
Yes, Brandon Myers, former Iowa tight end from Prairie City-Monroe High School and now an Oakland Raider, also was in the UNI fold for a short time. Allen Reisner, another Iowa tight end and Marion High School product now with the Minnesota Vikings, flirted with UNI. Iowa kicker Mike Meyer, who’s 6 of 7 this season, also was nearly a Panther.
“I watch those last-second ones who got away and went to Iowa at the last second,” Farley said. “They’ve all done very well down there. From Brandon Myers to Meyer to Tanner Miller. Great players, great families, I wish them the best.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is guilt-free here. It’s a dog-eat-dog college football world and everyone has a ribeye tied around their neck.
“It’s like when Rocky and the Hulk met,” joked Ferentz, who referenced the wrestling match between Rocky Balboa and Hulk Hogan in Rocky III. “It was just business. The Hulk said it was just show business. You just do what you do.”
The Panthers play in the FCS division of college football. They have 63 scholarships compared to the 85 for FBS schools like Iowa and Iowa State.
That could change within the next five years.
Northern Iowa athletics director Troy Dannen said this week the school is exploring the move. Nothing is imminent, but Dannen sees financial opportunity in FBS.
“To try to look at the environment five years from now and how do you make sure you’re best positioned in five years,” Dannen told The Gazette. “A school like Northern Iowa and a lot of schools in the top end of FCS football, I feel, are going to be more aligned philosophically, ideologically, and be aligned more financially with the schools that are in those below-the-line conferences. We’re all growing toward each other and all of us are growing away from the Big Ten, Big 12 and those above-the-line institutions.”
Imagine an Iowa prep recruiting landscape with an FBS Northern Iowa, based in Cedar Falls. In the last year, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas State and Arizona State have taken recruits out of Iowa.
“There would certainly be more scholarships and Iowa kids would certainly have more opportunity,” Cedar Falls coach Pat Mitchell said. “We’ve had a great relationship with Northern Iowa over the years. A lot of our kids do go there as walk-ons, maybe the demand for walk-ons from the state would grow.”
Ferentz believes Iowa could lose out on the late signees they’ve been able to steal away from UNI. As far as walk-ons go, that’s always going to be a competition. Iowa, Iowa State, UNI and the Iowa Conference all have coaches scouting the state. There also are junior colleges with IWCC, Ellsworth and Iowa Central having established programs.
This season, Iowa has 25 walk-ons from the state on its roster, several of whom could be scholarship candidates for a UNI that, speculating into the future, could be offering full rides to play in the Mid-American Conference.
Kicker Marshall Koehn (Solon), center Tommy Gaul (West Des Moines Dowling) and linebacker Travis Perry (Urbandale) would be perfect candidates for full rides at UNI.
It’s five years down the road and, of course, nothing is written in stone for UNI and the FBS. Either way, Ferentz said the degree of difficulty in Iowa prep recruiting has gone up.
“I think we’ve already hit that spot,” Ferentz said. “A lot of people recruit in our state now besides the three in-state scholarship schools. I think it’s gotten tougher and tougher with every year.”
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