Most of the Big Ten’s football programs filled their 2017 quarterback quotas in recent months, and some took care of their needs at that position with players that had been on Iowa’s radar.
Michigan State plucked Rocky Lombardi out of West Des Moines. Maryland and Rutgers kept local talents Kasim Hill and Johnathan Lewis close to home.
All three players reportedly held scholarship offers from Iowa, and their decisions to play elsewhere forced the Hawkeyes to extend their search for a quarterback. It took them off the college football’s well-worn path on a trip through Texas and led them to an under-recruited prospect coming off his first year as a varsity starter.
That quarterback — Peyton Mansell — ended Iowa’s quarterback search on Monday when he announced his commitment to the Hawkeyes. It brought an end to a whirlwind courtship that began last month.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound quarterback from Belton High School said his relationship with the Hawkeyes began when Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis came across his highlight reel. Mansell said Davis later realized that the quarterback prospect played for coach Bob Shipley, whose son, Jordan, was an All-American receiver at Texas when Davis was the offensive coordinator for the Longhorns.
Davis made a trip to Belton to watch Mansell throw in person, and Iowa offered a scholarship in late May. Mansell picked the Hawkeyes over offers from at least 16 other schools, including Rice, San Diego State and Southern Mississippi.
"The mentality they have is a lot like Belton,” Mansell said. “They’re not the most athletic team, but they develop everybody, and everybody has to be on the same page and bought in for them to be successful.”
Iowa was his only Power 5 conference offer.
“I think a little bit of it was just the location of Belton,” Mansell said of his community of 20,000, located 45 miles south of Waco. “Not a lot of coaches want to get out of the (Dallas) metroplex just to see one or two guys, especially since we practice early in the morning. I think it was a little bit of that and then I’m just a no-name kid from the middle of Texas. I’m OK with flying under the radar a little bit.”
Mansell completed 140-of-241 passing for 1,712 yards with 20 touchdowns and three interceptions last year. He also ran 113 times for 789 yards and 10 scores for a team that leaned on its rushing attack.
“When guys came in here and actually watched him throw live, rather than on tape,” Belton offensive coordinator Sam Skidmore said, “[Houston offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach] Major Applewhite came through here and — if they weren’t looking for more of a running-type quarterback, he said, ‘I’d offer him right now. He’s the best quarterback I’ve seen throwing the ball.’
“When you sit there and watch him throw it in person and see him make the throws and see the velocity in his arms, he makes throws against our defense in practice and they say, ‘We’re going to give that up, because there aren’t a whole lot of guys who can make that throw'.”
Skidmore joked that Mansell’s obsession with film study and late-night text message questions sometimes borders “on the annoying side.”
“I just say, ‘Hey Peyton, I’ll talk to you in the morning',” Skidmore said. “But I’d rather say ‘whoa’ than ‘giddy-up’ any day. He’s a football junkie. He wants to be good.”
Said Mansell: “There’s so much that goes into the game, and every day I’m learning something new, whether that’s mentally or physically. For me, I’m just trying to be the best I can be, whether that’s watching film or throwing the ball. I’m trying to sharpen the sword.”