When we broke at the end of last week, with five players left on the list, I thought those five would be obvious. In looking at the comments, we probably should address some things: Mark Weisman was a transfer. Dallas Clark was a walk-on during the pre-Rivals era. Ryan Donahue was a punter. Benny Sapp was amazing.
Now, the final five.
5. Micah Hyde
Class of 2009
Recruited as: High School Quarterback
Left as: One of the Best Defensive Backs in the NFL
Quarterbacks from Ohio have been good for Iowa. Ricky Stanzi was good. DJK was good, at least until he wasn't. And Micah Hyde was fantastic.
Hyde was recruited by most of the MAC as a dual-threat quarterback, but Iowa's love of high school quarterbacks in non-quarterback spots drew Phil Parker, which drew a late offer, which drew a late commitment from Hyde. He played in every single game while he was on campus and started 38 consecutive games from 2010 through 2012. He performed for a team that damn near won a Big Ten title. He performed just as well for a team that won four games. He played corner. He played safety. He played punt returner. He played option halfback for Tyler Sash one October day in 2010:
When he was done, he had recorded 240 tackles, intercepted eight passes, returned two for touchdowns, forced two fumbles, returned another fumble for another touchdown, led the Big Ten in interception return yards in 2010 (that play above certainly didn't hurt), and was a model for another generation of Iowa defensive backs. He was drafted by the Packers in the fifth round, and has built a career as successful as any former Hawkeye from the Ferentz era.
Those last two points cannot be underestimated. If you don't have Bob Sanders, Jovon Johnson and Antwaan Allen, you probably don't get guys like Charles Godfrey, Bradley Fletcher and Shaun Prater. If you don't get those guys, you probably don't get Micah Hyde. And if you don't have Micah Hyde, you likely don't have Desmond King and Joshua Jackson. Hyde is in a long line of Phil Parker defensive backs, but he's a key part of that line.
4. Kevonte Martin-Manley
Class of 2010
Recruited as: Another Michigan Project
Left as: An Unlikely Record Holder
Quick: Who is the all-time Iowa receptions leader?
It's not Quinn Early. It's not Danan Hughes, who was the all-time leader when Hayden Fry retired. Kevin Kasper held the title for a decade, but he was eventually passed by DJK. It's not them, though, and it's not Marvin McNutt, either.
It's Kevonte Martin-Manley. It's Kevonte Bleeping Martin-Manley, the two-star all-star.
KMM had four offers -- Iowa, Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Toledo -- when he committed to the Hawkeyes in December 2009. Iowa was headed to the Rose Bowl with two of the best receivers in program history on the flanks. He signed up. He redshirted. He played a year next to McNutt. And then he played for (1) one of the worst offenses that Iowa has ever fielded, (2) an offense that went through a three-way quarterback battle in August and fielded a first-time starter once that battle had played out, and (3) an offense that was still playing out that battle a year later, all coordinated by Greg Davis and increasingly reliant on the running game to avoid anything resembling a college-level passing game. And in those four offenses, Kevonte Martin-Manley set the gosh dang receptions record.
He also, quite famously, returned punts:
Kirk Ferentz benched KMM from the punt return team that afternoon just so he wouldn't break Nile Kinnick's single-game punt return yardage record. And when you think about it, that pretty well sums up the Kevonte Martin-Manley Experience: Success beyond what could be reasonably expected, and despite his coaches actively strategizing to limit his impact.
3. Akrum Wadley
Class of 2013
Recruited as: The Guy Who Played for the School Nextdoor
Left as: A Borderline Legend
Speaking of guys who succeeded despite coaching issues: Akrum Wadley ran for more than 2,800 yards at Iowa despite not having the grades, or not eating enough, or fumbling too often, or having a disorderly house. He left Iowa fourth all-time in rushing yards despite not truly being a starter until his senior season, fifth in yards from scrimmage despite his coaches never truly committing to him as a full-time back, fourth in rushing touchdowns despite splitting carries in every season.
He leaves with 2,872 yards rushing, 28 rushing touchdowns, and another 761 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 71 catches. He's the first Iowa halfback to post two 1,000-yard seasons since Fred Russell. He's not just one of the best two-star halfbacks in Iowa history. He's one of the best halfbacks in Iowa history.
2. Shonn Greene
Class of 2004
Entered as: Another Eastern Halfback
Left as: Should-Be Heisman Trophy Winner
The man who launched a thousand poorly-soundtracked Youtube highlight videos:
Including Shonn Greene kinda feels like cheating. For one, he has to be the only two-star recruit in history to hold offers from Iowa, Wisconsin, Clemson, Minnesota and Syracuse. For another, he spent a year in prep school after his high school graduation and somehow came out a three-star.
But any asterisk that would be otherwise required is nullified by the fact that, in 2007, Shonn Greene was moving furniture and attending Kirkwood Community College. In 2008, he damn near won the Heisman Trophy. In between, he posted arguably the best season by an Iowa halfback ever, rushing for 1,850 yards (the first halfback to crack 1,700 at Iowa) and 20 touchdowns (also a first). He ran for so many yards that, even though he'd been a non-factor in the three preceding seasons, Shonn Greene is eleventh in program history in rushing yards. And while he wasn't the sole reason for Iowa's win over Penn State -- the most important win of Ferentz's tenure -- his early production and touchdown gave Iowa a reason to believe. It turned out that a reason to believe was really all that team needed.
You can criticize these rankings for putting Greene, essentially a one-year flash of brilliance, at second and Josh Jackson's similar one-year rise to prominence far lower, and that's probably valid. All I can say in defense is that Greene's season led to something far greater -- a calendar year where Iowa did not lose -- while Jackson's team wasn't able to build on his similar magnum opus against Ohio State. Also, Josh Jackson probably shouldn't have won the Heisman Trophy, and Shonn Greene definitely should have.
1. Josey Jewell
Class of 2013
Entered as: A Late Local Offer
Left as: One of the Two Best Linebackers in Program History, Full Stop
So much of Iowa's history with two-star recruits stems from Reese Morgan's work as Ferentz's local recruiting whisperer. Jewell was one of the more obvious beneficiaries of Morgan's steadfast work on behalf of Iowa kids. From a 2014 profile, before Josey was Josey:
“He’s a guy Reese [who recruits Iowa and the plains] has felt very strongly about through out the process,” former Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson said in February 2013. “When Reese feels strongly about a person, that holds high regard in our minds. He knows these kids inside and out. When Reese really went to bat for [Jewel], coach [Kirk Ferentz] took that into account and offered him a scholarships.”
But the comment that always stuck with me on Jewell was the quote from Phil Parker during spring of his redshirt freshman season:
“You just watch the film and you just watch the guys running around on tape and you see him tracking guys down. Somewhere, he’s going to have to fit in our system, OK, because when you give that much effort and you attack the football the way he does and make plays the way he’s done, he’s going to probably show up."
And show up he did.
You can make the case that Jewell graduates as the best linebacker in program history. I wouldn't agree with you; Larry Station was also a two-time consensus All-American, and Chad Greenway was merely a victim of a loaded set of linebackers in reaching second-team status twice. But even if Jewell is merely on the podium of the program's best linebackers, it's an amazing story for a kid from Decorah who was only offered as a Signing Day Eve afterthought.
Jewell finished either fourth or fifth in program history for tackles recorded (UI officially lists him at fourth; College Football Reference has him down for four fewer tackles, moving him behind Brad Quast). He led the Hawkeyes in tackles three consecutive years, the first player to do so since Abdul Hodge and just the fourth to do so in the last 50 years. He was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, led the conference in tackles, posted three of the 25 best seasons for tackles at the University of Iowa, and hauled in every major award available to a linebacker.
Jewell is the unquestioned best two-star recruit during the Ferentz tenure. It's a testament to his talent and work ethic to get there on a list tailor-made for a Shonn Greene nostalgia play. But it's also a testament to Reese Morgan, unearther of rare finds, midwestern football picker, that he was the one battling to get Jewell in the fall of 2012. Phil Parker has shown that he can find speed and smarts, but nobody does the two-star circuit quite like Reese Morgan. He's the reason Jewell made it to Iowa City. He's the reason Jewell appeared on this list. And he'll be the reason when Kirk Ferentz plugs in another two-star recruit from the middle of nowhere and has success.