IOWA CITY — It sounded as though Kirk and Brian Ferentz did their homework and had a plan to try to keep offensive tackle Brandon Scherff.
The junior, a first-team all-Big Ten pick, listened to what Iowa’s head coach and offensive line coach had to say last Sunday, after Iowa’s postseason banquet, but he had already made up his mind. No matter what they said, Scherff already planned to return for his senior year at Iowa in 2014.
Kirk Ferentz had former Iowa offensive linemen Robert Gallery and Riley Reiff ready to talk to Scherff. Gallery had the chance to go after his junior season in 2002, but stayed and was the No. 2 pick in the 2004 NFL draft. Reiff left Iowa with a year of eligibility remaining and was the No. 23 pick in the 2012 draft.
Hold the phone, never mind.
“He [Kirk Ferentz] didn’t need it at all,” Scherff said Friday. “I had it going through my mind, but sitting through the meeting with my family, confirmed my decision. I’m glad I’m staying.”
Center Austin Blythe is smart. He openly recruited Scherff to stay with the Hawkeyes for 2014. Scherff was ranked as the No. 7 offensive tackle in the 2014 draft class according to CBSSports.com’s Prospect Rankings. That put him in the first or second round. Blythe was the first guy to know, even before he told his coaches.
“He [Kirk Ferentz] said we want you to stay, but we know you have the opportunity to go play in the NFL,” Scherff said. “We’re behind your decision and will back you up whichever way. I wanted to tell him right there that I was staying, but I waited until after the meeting to tell them.”
This was a bit of an upset victory for the Hawkeyes. Scherff gained notice throughout the season. He was named first-team all-Big Ten on the coaches ballot and was named to Athlon’s third-team all-America on Friday. Scherff climbed to No. 15 on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s “Big Board.” Kiper wrote “Big, athletic, powerful and mean, Scherff has the body type and ability to drop and move his feet as a pass-protector, but he’s particularly special as a run-blocker because he will drive a defensive end to the second level and finish his block.”
Running back Mark Weisman didn’t recruit Scherff. He wanted to give him space, but the junior running back smiled when discussing the news Friday.
“Very exciting,” Weisman said with a laugh. “Very exciting to find out. I was happy for him either way. It’s always good to have a great player like that come back for your team.”
So, the Iowa offensive line in 2014 received a significant boost in Scherff. Blythe, who’ll be a junior, also returns. Jordan Walsh and Andrew Donnal shared one guard spot. Donnal, who’ll be a senior next year, has more of a tackle body at 6-7, 305 and could be the right tackle to Scherff’s left.
Ryan Ward, 6-5, 290, spent his redshirt freshman season as the No. 2 right tackle behind Brett Van Sloten. Ward, a highly regarded recruit out of Providence Catholic (New Lenox, Ill.) High School, could challenge for that spot. Eric Simmons (6-2, 295), Sean Welsh (6-3, 285) and Mitch Keppy (6-5, 295) are in the chase for a guard spot.
At the very least, Scherff’s return keeps Iowa from fielding two new starters at tackle in 2014. Scherff didn’t find himself in the position to choose school over the NFL by accident. He said he’ll go into 2014 focused on improvement.
“I can always improve,” he said. “I can play smarter, I can play faster. I can focus on technique and I can be a much better player next year.”
Scherff, a Denison native, said his parents, Bob and Cindy, did field the calls from agents looking to sign their son.
“They had never been in that,” he said. “It’s kind of a neat situation to be in. We have a whole other year to worry about that.”
Scherff will take out an insurance policy for the 2014 season. The NCAA has an insurance program where a player can get a low-coast loan for the premium and pay it later. Typically, a $5 million policy will cost anywhere from $45,000 to $65,000. Gallery took out a similar policy for his senior season in 2003.
Scherff missed the final five games of the 2012 season after suffering a dislocated ankle and broken fibula. He missed some time this season struggling with some pain in the leg.
“Injuries are always part of football,” Scherff said. “They said it’s very slim you’ll have a career-ending injury. That’s not something I’m worried about.”
Here’s the craziest reason why Scherff decided to stay a Hawkeye: He likes it.
“I love playing here, I love this atmosphere,” he said while decked out in workout gear, preparing for a strength-and-conditioning session. “It’s like a family around here.”