Two minutes of footage from a Dec. 19 practice in Iowa City. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com
Iowa RB Akrum Wadley also discusses the future of the Hawkeye backfield. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com
Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell was a consensus all-American, won the Lott IMPACT trophy and was B1G defensive player of the year. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com
Iowa DE Parker Hesse discusses the Pinstripe Bowl opponent. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com
- Sights and sounds from Iowa’s pre-Pinstripe Bowl practice
- What Akrum Wadley does with his bowl rings
- Josey Jewell returns from national-award circuit
- The key to stopping Boston College
Samson Evans is probably the best high school football player in Illinois.
Gatorade thinks so, naming him its Illinois Player of the Year this month. The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Northwest Herald all did the same.
And it makes sense: For two consecutive years, Evans quarterbacked Prairie Ridge to the Class 6A state title and led the team to 28 straight wins — the state’s longest active streak. During that run, he piled up 5,720 total yards (4,177 rushing) and 94 touchdowns (72 rushing).
But he won’t play quarterback at Iowa, the school he’ll officially sign with (alongside Prairie Ridge teammate Jeffrey Jenkins) this week.
Instead, the Hawkeyes view Evans, at 6 feet and 200 pounds, as a jack of all trades. A running back, slot receiver, punt returner — basically anything that’ll get the ball in his hands.
"He just makes plays," Prairie Ridge head coach Chris Schremp told HawkCentral. "People ask me, 'What does he do well? Does he run fast? Does he have good vision? What is it about him?' And the answer is just, 'Yes.' He does whatever he needs to to score touchdowns.
"I’ve been in our area and our conference for 21 years, and I think he’s the best player I’ve seen up here."
Most schools Evans was considering next to Iowa (Minnesota, Syracuse and Purdue) offered the same type of role.
Northern Illinois didn't, though. The Huskies saw Evans as a quarterback, and they recruited him hard.
Evans said he seriously considered that option. And who could blame him? He’d played quarterback for the past three years, and he’d proven himself to be elite at the high school level.
He said he’d spend sleepless nights sitting up in bed, scribbling pros and cons of different schools and different positions on scraps of paper.
But in the end, his eye on the future eventually pulled him to Iowa City. He wants to see if he’s got a shot at the NFL, and he knows that opportunity wouldn't come at quarterback. He believed Iowa could mold him into an elite running back or wide receiver — positions where he’d have a chance to make a career.
"That was a huge aspect," Evans said. "That was the thing — 'What if I don’t turn out to be a quarterback? What if I go to NIU and they put me somewhere else?' I figured Iowa’s past history of transforming people into different positions, different body types — that would be the best bet for me."
Now, Evans wasn’t a high school quarterback in the traditional sense, like Nate Stanley or fellow 2018 recruit Spencer Petras. Prairie Ridge runs a triple option, and Evans' rushing production outpaced his passing production nearly three to one. He ran constantly, and when he wasn’t running, he’d often block for his teammates. He also played varsity wide receiver as a freshman.
So 247Sports and Rivals don’t list Evans as a quarterback. He’s classified as an athlete. Rivals gives him two stars and the 247Sports Composite gives him three, ranking him the No. 88 athlete in the 2018 class.
"You’d be hard-pressed to find a more productive player in the Midwest, that’s for sure," 247Sports Midwest recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said. "I think the question is just, 'How is he going to translate what he did in high school to the next level? And to a new position?' He can clearly run. He’s clearly a tough football player. If you win that many games and you roll up that many yards and touchdowns, you clearly know how to play football. So the missing piece is going to be learning positional skills.
"But you just assume that a kid who’s done what he’s done is going to be able to pick those things up."
Iowa has a track record of converting high school quarterbacks to different positions. It obviously has several tight end success stories, in Marv Cook, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Dallas Clark. Marvin McNutt was a quarterback in high school.
Recently, it moved Regina's Drew Cook to tight end and Dowling Catholic's Ryan Boyle to wide receiver (before returning him to quarterback). It had some success turning Pella quarterback Noah Clayberg into a safety, but he recently announced his intention to transfer.
Jay Scheel was a four-star quarterback out of La Porte City, Iowa, who the Hawkeyes recruited as a wide receiver. Injuries kept Scheel’s career from ever lifting off, though.
So, yes, the future carries uncertainty for Evans. But he's ready to embrace the challenge.
"I have what it takes," he said.
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.