'I'm just playing football, man': Chester Graves, the country's top juco prospect, isn't even thinking about recruitment

Matthew Bain
The Des Moines Register

IOWA FALLS, Ia. — Chester Graves doesn’t do the whole recruiting thing. Like … at all.

The Iowa Western linebacker — who is the country’s No. 1 junior-college prospect for 2019 — doesn’t even know all the schools that have offered.

Iowa Western linebacker Chester Graves (4) is the country's top junior college prospect, according to 247Sports.

"I have no clue," he told the Register after Iowa Western's 33-10 win at Ellsworth on Saturday. "I’m just playing football, man. I’m not worried about that."

Graves is one of a few prospects in the country that can afford to not give a hoot about recruiting. He’s good enough that, whenever he’s ready to make a decision, there will be plenty of schools who’d love to have him.

And plenty of schools would.

Iowa Western reports the Kansas City, Missouri native holds offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Nebraska, TCU, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Houston, Southern Mississippi and Florida Atlantic. Kentucky and Arizona recently offered, too, and lots more are interested.

Originally a four-star 2017 recruit, Graves picked Ole Miss over Iowa, Iowa State and others out of high school, before he ultimately needed to take the junior-college route. As a freshman at Iowa Western, he racked up 67 tackles and 20.5 tackles for loss en route to NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year honors. He’s already up to 40 tackles through six games this season.

At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Graves can play linebacker or defensive end. He’s an elite, plug-and-play defender.

"He’s freakishly athletic for his size," Iowa Western head coach Scott Strohmeier said. "We’re playing him at linebacker right now, so he’s playing linebacker, he’ll play some end. We can be so versatile with him because he's so versatile. Shoot, he could play (middle linebacker) if we had to. He could be our starting defensive end.

"He’s just so athletic for his size. Teams have to account for him wherever he's at."

Graves is slated to graduate in May. So, if he doesn’t commit to a school by winter, he’ll likely add more Power Five offers as schools re-evaluate needs during spring practice. (That's what happened with the Hawkeyes and Mekhi Sargent.) Iowa wants to add another high-end linebacker if it can; it recently offered Kuony Deng, a four-star junior-college linebacker out of Kansas. It also wants another 2019 defensive end. Iowa State isn't actively looking for another linebacker or defensive end, but it'd certainly add Graves if he wants to be a Cyclone.

Of course, Graves isn’t thinking that far ahead.

"He is the total opposite of most junior-college kids," Strohmeier laughed. "He's not into this recruiting stuff. Some kids, they love being recruited. He just wants to play ball and figure it out later. That’s good. But some schools maybe shy away because they don't feel he’s as interested right now. He’s going to go to the school that wants him the most."

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 mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.